Science Proves Homophobia is Really Screwing With Our Homogay Heads

A recent study in Montreal on the effects of bullying on gay teens has a shocking conclusion: anti-gay bullying negatively impacts the well-being of gay people. I know that this feels like common sense… but now it is also a scientific fact, which is unfortunately necessary in a world where so many like to imagine that gay people will disappear if they never ever think about them ever.

The research came out of Concordia University, where the study began in 2003 – well before the rash of suicides in the US this fall, confirming that gay bullying has been a longtime problem. Michael Benibgui, who was then completing his doctorate thesis, conducted the study using interview material and saliva samples from 63 opt-in participants.

In his analysis, Benibgui found that the cortisone levels for his participants were irregular. Cortisone is a hormone released to reduce stress; levels are typically higher in the morning and low in the evening. The study participants, however, had high cortisone levels throughout the day as a result of facing harassment, violence, and rejection for being out.

So what does this mean?

Well, it means that anti-gay bullying has biological effects. (High cortisol output can cause memory loss, cardiovascular problems, bone-density depletion, and suicide.) And it means that anti-gay bullying is no longer something we can disregard as a “growing pain.” Bullying is no longer just something that makes gay people feel bad at school: it has a proven, profound effect on the lives of gay people and has emotional, mental, and physical consequences. Anti-gay pundits can’t argue that it’s not real if its effects are scientifically measurable, and as the Prop 8 trial showed us, quantifiable evidence of our second-class citizen status is immensely useful when trying to change that status in court.

As Benibgui best put it, the study essentially proved that “homophobia is bad for your health.” It represents the first scientific proof of a biological link between homophobia and its consequences.

Benibgui began the research to explore the high rates of suicide that exist in the queer community, saying:

“Compared to their heterosexual peers, suicide rates are up to 14 times higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual high school and college students. Depression and anxiety are widespread. To learn why this occurs, we studied the physiological impact of homophobic social environments on a group of healthy young LGB adults.”

What Benibgui found is extremely valuable. THIS DATA IS A SCIENTIFIC REASON TO CHALLENGE HOMOPHOBIA, VIOLENCE, AND HARASSMENT, EVERYONE. This is a big deal! Benibgui isn’t the first researcher to come up with data confirming that bullying is a problem – a recent report in the Journal of Homosexuality called for violence against and the mental health of queer teens and adults to become a national priority. But that was backed up by sociological data, and horrible as it is, there will always be people for whom that’s not “real.” Saliva samples are gross, but also “hard science.”

Hopefully, his research will inspire action in communities within and beyond Montreal to improve the lives – and futures – of queer people everywhere.


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Carmen

Carmen spent six years with Autostraddle, most recently as Community Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Managing Digital Editor at Ms. , host of Bitch Media's POPAGANDA podcast and Contributing Editor and co-founder of Argot magazine. Her words have also been published by BuzzFeed, ElixHER, Everyday Feminism, Girlboss, Mic, MEL, and Feministing, among others. Her successful work over the last decade in digital feminism—as a writer, social media maven and activist leader—has earned her the titles of "digital native," "intimidating to some," and "vapid and uninteresting." Everything else you need to know about her you can find out at carmenfuckingrios.com.

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40 Comments

      • I was at a sporting match last weekend and from so many different directions all around me came the call “[player’s name] is a faggot!”, “[player’s name] takes it up the ass”, etc., etc., etc., in an almost continuous stream. If you asked any one of those fans if they were homophobic I’d bet you almost all of them would say, “no”. But it’s the dominant culture all around us. “Faggot” is such an entrenched abuse word that these guys practically wouldn’t even recognize what it is they’re saying. I have to agree with Bill here.

      • Citing exceptions doesn’t make heterosexual privilege go away. All straight people have heterosexual privilege. Some are blatantly homophobic, some are opposed to homophobia. But the biggest problem is people with privilege who deny it, and they’re the majority.

        You know, those people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman but they don’t hate gays. Or those people who say “faggot” and “pansy” but swear it’s not a reference to gays. Yeah, they’re mostly the problem.

    • Some straight people yes. All of them? No.
      For instance, my very heterosexual brother is just the opposite of bigoted assholes, having two gay siblings and accepting us like it’s no big deal. He actually gets angry when people are being homophobic. Gives me a little hope in the world.

  1. i found out recently that my cortisol levels are all kinds of crazy…and i don’t get bullied (at least not outright), but i have a sneaking suspicion that just being OUT in general, and dealing with all that entails in our society (for me a process that has spanned the last five years or so), is enough to screw w anyone’s hormones.

  2. …yay?
    I mean, scientific evidence is awesome and all, but still… I’d almost rather NOT know that the way some asshats act will negatively impact our health… But in my hypothetical awesome world where this is true, unicorns exist, the weather is always nice, and the blonde in my spanish class is my girlfriend.

  3. this is an interesting subject but I’m sure we can scientifically breakdown many issues and find out that it results in some sort of health problems. So the discovery of this doesn’t have much impact imo.

    It’s sad that research had to be done in the first place. Regardless of the effect even if there wasn’t an effect, the shit needs to stop.

    • For one thing, the information in this study can prevent other people from having to go through what I and many others did while we were in school. There was constant bullying and rape/death threats because school administrators didn’t see a reason to give enough of a shit to stop it. Now they’ll have a harder time ignoring what’s happening and I think that’s an impact worth celebrating. :)

    • Not only can we break down many issues scientifically, we do. There have been all kinds of studies examining health disparities among different minority groups. Gays are certainly not the only ones. It’s just that one of the most common arguments against gay rights is the repeated falsehood that gays aren’t a real minority group.

      I do think that to stop bullying, we have to identify and enumerate the different types of bullying. I mean, it might make sense to tell an asshole to just stop being an asshole. But often they don’t know what exactly they’re doing that makes them seem like an asshole. Sometimes it’s because they’re just privileged in some way and don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a certain type of discrimination. Like when gay men say something sexist, you’d think they’d know better. But no, they gotta be told.

  4. Fuck yes! I mean, I’m obviously not happy about the effects of bullying, but having this proof is awesome. I think I might start sending some of this information out to schools near me…

  5. Pingback: THE MOST CAKE » Blog Archive » The Week in Gay: more GOProud, homophobia is bad for you, and yay it’s lesbian prom season again

  6. Ya even if its not necessarily bullying, like a friend or family member. They are voicing there opinions on you that they are straight and only believe straight lifestyle. You know it still hurts, still twists the knife. So finally I’m like right at the beginning “ok, don’t tell me what you think” haha. Cause that sh*t hurts :(

    • exactly. the study also concluded that having supportive friends and family was the best defense. it sucks when your family just doesn’t get it… and it sucks even more when you’re also being bullied at school.

  7. This article’s timing is no less than perfect.

    Two days ago, I spent about half an hour telling my girlfriend just how depressed I was…because i was gay.

    The only prescription that can fix it is an EQUAL RIGHTS AND ACCEPTANCE COCKTAIL. AMIRITE?

    And maybe a couple xanax.

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