Recent psychological research suggests that positive media representations showing people being supportive of gay individuals can help reduce LGBTQ people’s anxiety and depression around coming out and living as an out queer person.
The research, conducted at Georgia Southern University, specifically looked at the effects of videos, showing positive and negative interactions with gay people, on the anxiety and depression levels of LGBTQ-identified students.
Participants first took a survey to measure their level of outness to others. They were then randomly assigned to view two videos depicting either a positive or negative interaction between people based on one character’s knowledge of another’s homosexuality.
The video clips came from the films Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name and the HBO series Euphoria:
The videos taken from Moonlight portray both conditions, with the positive video depicting a kiss between the two Black male leads and the negative video showing the main character as a young boy being beaten in the schoolyard and called homophobic slurs. The positive video from the film Call Me By Your Name shows a scene where the two white main characters share an intimate kiss while walking through the streets at night. On the other hand, the negative video taken from Euphoria shows one of the white main characters being harassed and threatened by another White character because of their sexuality.
After watching one of the videos, participants then answered questions to determine their anxiety and depression levels as well as their other reactions to what they saw. They then watched a second video that showed a negative interaction if the first video they saw showed a positive interaction (or vice versa). Participants then answered the same questions to test their emotional reactions to the second video clip.
The results showed, somewhat unsurprisingly, that positive media depictions of people showing support to gay individuals lessened their anxiety and depression levels. However, the lead researcher said that further studies are needed in order to develop a more nuanced understanding of how media affects LGBTQ emotions.
“Future research should dive deeper into existing research, specifically revolving around LGBT mental health, Black communities, intersecting identities, and resiliency … [and] should consider measuring participants’ resilience levels against negative social and political factors in order to assess differences in participant attitudes towards the video[s],” researcher Christian Marrero wrote.
The study’s findings echo previous findings on the positive effects of LGBTQ-friendly media representation. A 2011 study revealed that positive media role models serve as sources of pride, inspiration, and comfort to LGB individuals.
Psychologist Jennifer O’Brien Ph.D. also wrote, “When people see representations of themselves in the media, this can foster a great sense of affirmation of their identity. Feeling affirmed with one’s own sense of self can boost positive feelings of self-worth, which is quite different than feeling as if you are wrong or bad for being who you are.”
Media analysts have also suggested that exposing non-LGBTQ individuals to positive LGBTQ media depictions makes them more likely to support queer people and progressive civil rights legislation for queer people.
This especially matters on Spirit Day, a day dedicated to ending bullying against LGBTQ youth. The studies suggest that positive depictions of queer people may actually help reduce the stress and anxiety of coming out and living an out life. That could help undo the harm caused by anti-LGBTQ discrimination, giving queer people and their straight allies a stronger, prouder sense of what it means to be LGBTQ.