A new meta-analysis of scientific studies has found overwhelming evidence that anti-LGBTQ discrimination harms LGBTQ people’s health.
Cornell University’s Center for the Study of Inequality reviewed thousands of studies in peer-reviewed journals, looking for studies that evaluate the link between discrimination and health outcomes.
They narrowed their scope to 300 studies that took place in the U.S. and focused on discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They found that 95% of the studies showed a connection between discrimination and negative health outcomes, and 82% showed “unambiguous evidence that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is associated with harms to the health.”
And the effects weren’t minor. Discrimination was found to put LGBTQ people at risk of depression, anxiety, suicide, PTSD, and other mental health disorders.
Discrimination also increased the risk of physical conditions, including substance use. Several studies found increased levels of cortisol – a stress hormone – in LGBTQ people who had encountered discrimination, which is associated with heart disease and high blood pressure.
The effects of discrimination weren’t limited to its direct victims – people who are exposed to discrimination also experience minority stress and increased expectations of rejection, worsened their self-image, and can create internalized stigma.
One study of transgender people found that trans people who had had trouble in the past accessing bathrooms had higher levels of cortisol.
Another study looked at states the implemented “license to discriminate” laws – laws that allow organizations and businesses to discriminate if they claim that their religion requires them to discriminate – and found that “the proportion of sexual minority adults reporting mental distress increased by 10.1 percentage points.”
“That’s powerful evidence that policies or practices that deny a gay couple a wedding cake are not mere expressions of religious freedom — they inflict genuine psychological harm,” wrote researchers Nathaniel Frank and Kellan Baker in a Washington Post column.
Frank said in a press release that the effects of discrimination are “compounded” for LGBTQ people of color, queer youth, and transgender people.