New research shows discrimination more greatly harms LGBTQ people of color

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The 2020 Philadelphia Queer March for Black Lives. (Photo by Kelly Burkhardt)

A coalition of leading LGBTQ rights groups has released the most extensive summary to date of scholarly data on the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and racial discrimination. The research brief, authored by the What We Know Project at Cornell University, discovered overwhelming consensus among peer-reviewed and other studies that “discrimination inflicts profoundly greater harm on LGBTQ people of color in a wide range of areas.”

The research shows that LGBTQ people of color experienced “grossly disproportionate rates of discrimination over the past year, poorer mental and physical health, greater economic insecurity, and attempts to die by suicide.”

In addition, the research found that LGBTQ people of color are more likely than white LGBTQ people to live in states without protections against discrimination and with statewide anti-LGBTQ laws that harm LGBTQ people.

“This research brief makes clear the tangible harms that discrimination inflicts on LGBTQ people of color, and the urgent need for public policy that reflects what the research tells us about how we can reduce those harms,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, the study’s author.

“The majority of Black LGBTQ people live in the South, with nearly half (44%) of all Black women couples raising children. Even today, most of these states still do not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and have overtly discriminatory laws on their books,” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force.

Johnson said, “It is no wonder the disparities are so profound and it is a testament to the strength and resilience of our people that they are doing as well as they are. For our community and for our children it’s time for federal action.”

Among the details of the research were data that many in the LGBTQ community as well as the Black community will find surprising and disconcerting. LGBTQ people of color don’t just fare worse than their white queer and trans peers, but also worse than their Black cis-het peers.

The research uncovered that over 5.5 million LGBTQ people of color live in the U.S. A greater number of LGBT people are people of color compared to non-LGBT people. And Black LGBTQ Americans are disproportionately likely to live in states without protections against discrimination. The majority of Black LGBT Americans live in the South (51.4%, more than twice the share of any other region), where most states lack anti-discrimination protections.

A full 43% of LGBTQ people of color report experiencing past-year discrimination of some kind, compared to 31% of white LGBTQ respondents, and 53% of Black LGBTQ youth say they have experienced racial discrimination and 41% have experienced anti-LGBTQ discrimination this past year.

LGBTQ people of color face higher odds of discrimination than both non-LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ white people, and some of the numbers are staggeringly different. For example, LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely to experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination, such as slurs or other verbal abuse, when applying for jobs than white LGBTQ individuals — 32% vs. 13% — nearly three times that of their white peers.

LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely as white LGBTQ people to experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination when interacting with the police — 24% vs. 11%.

“This important brief only further solidifies what we have known for a very long time — the combination of racism and anti-LGBTQ discrimination has serious and long-lasting effects for the health and well-being of LGBTQ people of color. This research highlights why federal non-discrimination protections are overdue and vital to protecting the most some of the most under-represented and vulnerable members of our community,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Rupert-Gordon added, “Federal anti-discrimination protections are absolutely necessary in protecting and supporting all LGBTQ people, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color.”

Black LGBT Americans are more likely to experience economic insecurity than Black non-LGBT Americans. The majority of Black LGBT people (56%) live in low-income households (below 200% of the federal poverty level) compared to 49% of Black non-LGBT Americans, and Black LGBT adults are also more likely to experience food insecurity than Black non-LGBT adults (37% compared to 27%).

Experiencing discrimination is associated with greater odds of harm to psychological and economic well-being, which is reflected in data on disparities for LGBTQ people of color. Hundreds of studies conclude that experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination increases the risks of poor mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use, and psychological distress.

The report noted that “while racial discrimination on its own is not associated with mental health disorders, the combination of racial discrimination with gender and/or sexual orientation discrimination is significantly associated with increased odds of a past-year mental health disorder.”

This is exponentially worse for LGBTQ people of color, who face disproportionate odds of suicidality, which is linked to discrimination. For example, while 12% of white LGBTQ youth attempted suicide, the rate is 31% for LGBTQ Native/Indigenous youth, 21% for LGBTQ Black youth and 18% of LGBTQ Latinx youth.

The research also found that while supportive laws, family and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes for LGBTQ people of color, anti-LGBTQ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual minority populations. For example, states with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBT residents between 2014 and 2016 were linked with a 46% increase in LGBT mental distress.

Black LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming space, reported attempting suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%). Latinx and Native American/Pacific Islander LGBT youth were 50% more likely to attempt suicide than white LGBT youth.

LGBTQ students who experience discrimination “based on multiple social identities” report more use of deliberate self-harm compared to LGBTQ students who experience racial discrimination alone or who do not experience significant discrimination of any kind. The mental health impact of discrimination doesn’t end with adolescence. Black LGB adults are over 40% more likely to have made a serious suicide attempt in their lifetime than white LGB adults.

“These painful figures highlight an indisputable link between discrimination, economic security, mental and physical health. People with multiple stigmatized, marginalized social and political identities, particularly Black LGBTQ+/Same Gender Loving people, bear a disproportionate amount of the weight illustrated by the data in this study,” said David Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition.

Among LGBTQ people surveyed, 51% of Black respondents say discrimination harms their ability to be hired, compared with 33% of white respondents; 41% say it has an impact on their ability to retain employment, compared with 31% of white respondents; 77% of Black respondents report that discrimination impacts their psychological well-being, a rate nearly 50% higher than the total LGBTQ survey population.

Johns argued that “statutory equality for LGBTQ+ people nationwide is a necessary foundation to remove the gaps in existing civil rights laws if we are to ever live up to our country’s founding promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all.”Read the entire PDF report at freedomforallamericans.org/.

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Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.