A new study from the University of Rochester finds that the process of “coming out” has significant emotional benefits for people who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. While previous studies have documented the effect, they did not take into account the impact of the environment in which a person might come out:
By teasing out the effects of different contexts, this study shows that “environment plays a huge role in determining when coming out actually makes you happier,” says Nicole Legate, a doctoral student at the University of Rochester, who led the study with Ryan and Netta Weinstein from the University of Essex in England. Among accepting groups, individuals experience significant psychological payback from being open about their sexual identity. But among hostile groups, the costs and stigma of identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual cancel out these benefits.
In judgmental contexts, “those who come out may actually feel no better than those who conceal,” says Legate.
It has long been a claim of anti-LGBT groups that being LGBT is the reason why LGBT groups face numerous health and wellness disparities. This is circular reasoning, but particularly so in light of this study. By continuing to propagate stigma, opponents of equality are contributing to the very negative well-being they then use to prop up their own arguments.
This study also speaks to the importance of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools. Young people might be aware of their sexuality as early as middle school, and GSAs help create the positive environment that allows coming out to be a rewarding experience. Conversely, studies have demonstrated that conservative attitudes about sexuality increase the suicide risk for teens. In addition, prejudice-motivated bullying leads to long-term physical and mental health concerns. The school environment is crucial for making sure that queer teens are set on a path to live healthy and happy lives.