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The effects of junk science on LGBTQ mental health

Studies and statistics can be interpreted in wildly different ways. It’s concerning how false and misleading uses of data collected about LGBTQ people affect our communities. In general, studies and resulting data about LGBTQ people and mental health are a positive step in moving toward culturally competent mental health care for all. For example, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law studies LGBTQ people and laws affecting them. The organization also provides potential solutions to rectify the imbalances in social and economic systems.

LGBTQ people suffer from a proportionately higher level of mental health issues and suicides than straight people. There are also a lot of false claims about this complex issue, and this is a concern. For example, the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity peddles the antiquated belief that queer and transgender identity are mental illnesses that require treatment. The misleadingly named organization is a new incarnation of the National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality, which has a long history of peddling damaging reparative therapy along with other junk science. The organization’s misleading information supporting reparative therapy has been considered as actual evidence in the current debate about and drafting of state-by-state legislation to outlaw the use conversion therapy on minors. (Conversion therapy has been discredited by every reputable mainstream medical and psychiatric organization.) Further, the organization’s junk science has received unwarranted media attention, influencing public opinion and fanning the flames of anti-LGBTQ hatred and violence.

The game of battling studies and statistics is a sort of pushmi-pullyu situation. Like Doctor Dolittle’s fictional animal with two heads at opposing ends of its body, studies exist and statistics are extracted and used in various capacities both nefarious and righteous. For example, the Williams Institute’s statistics, such as a 2011 study on the prevalence of people who experience same-gender attraction, was twisted into anti-LGBTQ news by hate websites in a way that directly contradicted the legitimate study outcomes. The Christian Post claimed that the Williams Institute study was inflating the numbers of self-identified LGBTQ people.

There are dozens of online news sites spreading false information about LGBTQ people on a daily basis. Anti-LGBTQ propaganda organizations, including Focus on the Family, The American Family Association, the Family Research Institute, and LifeSite News, use their own dubious studies and statistics along with completely legitimate statistics and solid studies, but skew the information with their own anti-LGBTQ bias.

The American Psychiatric Association’s removed homosexuality from its classifiable mental illness list from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in 1973. However, anti-LGBTQ groups and organizations and their news organs still have at their core a belief in this discredited notion.

In reality, everyday acts of oppression and abuse contribute to trauma that negatively affects mental health in a disproportionate number of LGBTQ community members. But disinformation about the community, skewed reports, hate-filled pronouncements, and wrong-headed interpretations of studies about LGBTQ people are part of the all-too-commonplace discrimination and aggression that many people even don’t see. However, such lies, along with daily abuses and aggressions, acts of discrimination and oppression, take a huge toll; they are not just hurtful, annoying, or tiring – they are debilitating, and they negatively affect people’s mental health.

Members of the LGBTQ community are fighting for their very lives and wellbeing every day in a homo- and transphobic society. In the end, they are not just data points, statistics, or study subjects; they are living, breathing human beings. And they are strikingly resilient.

Featured image: “Two Hands Filled With Paint” by fotografierende. Public Domain via Unsplash.

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