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SciLine hosts intersectional briefing regarding LGBTQ+, Black communities
by Emily Reilly
2020-09-16

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Recently, SciLine held a media briefing discussing mental health in LGBTQ+ and Black communities.

Yale School of Medicine's Dr. John Pachankis and Tufts University's Dr. Madina Agenor were panelists who contributed to the conversation of racial LGBTQ+ intersectionality and the mental health effects of being a part of these communities. SciLine Director Rick Weiss moderated the briefing.

Pachankis is the director of Yale's LGBTQ+ mental health initiative and focuses his research on finding effective mental health treatments for LGBTQ+ people and its assessment. He began by defining structural stigma, explaining where it is seen today in LGBTQ+ populations and how that can be damaging to one's mental health. He cited a study of structural stigma by Mark Hatzenbuehler at Harvard University.

"Mark has elegantly shown this in a natural experiment that took place before and after certain U.S. states passed constitutional amendments against marriage equality in the 2004 election," said Panchankis. "The mental health of LGBTQ+ people living in those states became worse, whereas the mental health of LGBTQ+ people living in other states and the mental health of heterosexual individuals was unaffected."

Pachankis went on to reference findings that showed differences in the quality of life, suicide and depression rates in sexual minorities in highly structurally stigmatized European countries such as Poland and Russia, versus less stigmatized countries like the Netherlands. The stigmatized countries prompted more psychological demands for the LGBTQ+ population.

Possible solutions begin with destigmatization, LGBTQ+ empowerment therapies and the identification of supportive communities for them.

"These treatments have the power to reduce the shame and loneliness through which structural stigma jeopardizes mental health," said Panchankis.

Agenor spoke about intersectionality and the health of Black people in the US. She emphasized that intersectionality shows that Black LGBTQ+ people have unique concerns and lived experiences. They not only experience LGBTQ+ discrimination, but also anti-Black structural racism.

"In 2017, the National Center for Transgender Equality released a report showing that the burden of various health outcomes, including HIV, psychological distress, suicidal thoughts and behaviors and sexual victimization, was considerably higher among Black transgender and non-binary individuals compared to both their white counterparts and, also, to the US population overall," said Agenor.

Agenor pointed out that journalists and scientists often report health disparities but rarely include the reasons why. Social, political, and structural determinants of health, specifically income and housing, monumentally affect the health of Black LGBTQ+ people. Agenor cited a series of graphs emphasizing the reasons behind the health disparity. For example, a 2015 national survey of transgender and non-binary people found that 40 percent of all Black respondents had experienced housing discrimination or instability in the past year with the highest prevalence occurring among Black transgender women.

"We should really be thinking about addressing both the social determinants of health and the structural determinants of health and really seek to implement and develop laws, policies, rules, practices and institutions that promote equity and justice at the intersection of not only sexual orientation and gender identity but also race/ethnicity and social class," said Agenor.

SciLine also hosted a Q&A for media viewers to pitch in their questions for the panelists. Questions sparked talking points about barriers for transgender mental healthcare, establishing widespread resources for LGBTQ+ patients, access to LGBTQ+ care during the current administration, research on microaggressions, police treatment of Black LGBTQ+ people and much more.

"Research shows that the sooner we can make our society more just, from nstitutional commitments to equality to our day-to-day interactions with each other, the sooner we can expect that no one population will bear a disproportionate burden of mental illness," said Pachankis.


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