Post by Rohmteen Mokhtari, Former HRC Coordinator, Family Project
Laws that discriminate against LGBT people and families are often discussed in legal or moral terms. But a growing body of research indicates that they are also an important public health concern.
A study by José Bauermeister in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence is the latest to reveal the very real impact of discriminatory laws on the health and well-being of the LGBT community.
Researchers asked gay men under the age of 25 whether they aspired to raise children along with questions to assess mental health. They then compared results from those living in states with marriage equality and equal access to adoption for same-sex couples to those living in states with discriminatory marriage or adoption laws.
In states without discriminatory laws, gay men who wanted to raise children had greater self-esteem and fewer symptoms of depression than gay men who did not plan on children. In public health speak, the dream of one-day raising children was a “protective factor” associated with better mental health outcomes.
But for those in states where discrimination was written into marriage and adoptions laws it was a very different story.
Not only was the desire to have children not a “protective factor”, it was actually associated with lower self-esteem and increased depressive symptoms.
Bauermeister says his study is “the first to examine how young gay and bisexual men's hopes about the future—in this case, their dreams about becoming fathers—may fail to be a protective factor towards their psychological health if they live in states where LGBT discriminatory policies are in place".
HRC President Chad Griffin has often spoken movingly about two Americas, one in which LGBT people can enjoy the benefits of legal equality and another in which the LGBT community suffers at the hands of state-sanctioned discrimination.
It’s clear that this divide can have an incredible impact on the dreams and aspirations of LGBT youth.
A 2010 study in the American Journal of Public Health looked at the health of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults before and after a number of states passed ballot initiatives banning marriage equality.
It found an alarming spike in rates of mood disorders and anxiety in those states where the discriminatory initiative was on the ballot.
And the impact isn’t limited to members of the community. A 2011 study suggests that family members of LGB people are also impacted by discriminatory ballot initiatives.
It turns out, writing fairness and equality into our laws can make us a more just and healthy country.
For more on HRC’s work to improve the health and well-being of LGBT individuals and their families, visit http://www.hrc.org/issues/health-and-aging.