Why Pride is needed to alleviate LGBTQ prejudice
June is important in the international LGBTQ+ calendar as Pride month, most notably in the USA, a month dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ community around the world. Though often it’s a time to party and have fun, there is a deeper, more profound meaning to Pride. Pride is about the community owning and celebrating their identity and feeling proud about who they are. This is important and necessary, because there is a huge amount of evidence that suggests living with a LGBTQ+ identity can have significant negative effects on a person’s mental health.
A government report in 2018 found that LGBT people were generally less satisfied with their life than the general UK population. For trans people this was particularly low. More than two thirds of LGBT people avoid holding hands with their partners for fear of a negative reaction. Two out of five people who identify as LGBT had experienced verbal harassment or physical violence. It was noted that nine out of ten incidents went unreported because people said, they happened all the time. It was ‘normal’ to live life with these attacks on their person and identity.
In the same year Stonewall reported that 52% of LGBT people had experienced depression in the previous year, while more than a third of LGBT people had hidden their idenitity at work for fear of discrimination.
One of the saddest stats of all is that which relates to suicide rates. The Trevor Project wrote that lesbian, gay and bi youth contemplate suicide three times more than heterosexual peers and are five times more likely to have attempted suicide. Clearly then living with and coming to terms with an identity that isn’t the ‘norm’ can have devastating consequences.
Why would people who identify as LGBTQ+ be suffering?
As I see it, from the moment we are born we are surrounded by discourse that continually reinforces and protects the belief that it is ‘normal’ that people are heterosexual and cisgendered. We only have to look at the messages, beliefs and images in the media to see this. Yet for people who are born with and develop an identity that doesn’t fit this ‘norm, the pressure in their life to just be themselves can become increasingly problematic.
Drawing on my own experience and knowledge, the dawning realization that you are ‘different’ is terrifying. You can feel like there is no one to tell because there is so much negative talk spoken in society about people who are ‘different’. Internalised mental issues can start, as people struggle alone with confusion about who they are and conflict with what to do about it.
There is societal pressure to conform and though many people who identify as LGBTQ+ may perform the role expected of them, the performance is often understandably inauthentic. Often they will stand out, leading to mockery, bullying, abuse and attacks. This can lead people to either resist and fight the attack, or flea and withdraw both externally from society and internally in their mind.
The Home Office reported a 25% increase in hate crime reported by the police against people based on their sexuality between 2017/2018. For people who are transgender, the increase was 37%, the largest for all identities, including race. Remember, this is only the reported crime, many instances of hate crime will go unreported because people are frightened or they think nothing will or can be done. It may seem that the society we live in is more tolerant, yet the facts show that people are increasingly being targeted because of their identity.
It is no wonder people who identify as LGBTQ+ have issues with their mental health. From early in their development as a child to life as an adult, they have to contend with so many personal and social battles because of their identity. They may tell lies or hide the truth in order to fit in or stay safe, which can create terrible mental conflict for someone, because they also desperately want to be honest and live an authentic life. People can live in fear of being outed, discriminated against or being subject to direct or indirect prejudice and abuse. They manage internalised shame created by the social world which tells them they are ‘not as they should be’. Numbing the stress, fear, pain and anger with addictions to sex, drink or drugs, which can lead to further mental health issues.
The pressure doesn’t come from being born gay, lesbain, bi, trans or queer, the pressure comes from the world around each of those identities, that says it’s wrong, shameful or immoral.
This is why Pride and the LGBTQ+ movement are important. Not just in how it helps people to feel better about themselves, to raise their head and feel supported. But also in how the movement seeks to improve the quality and rights of people from the community all over the world. The past few decades have seen monumental shifts in legal and social reform in many countries. This means that for many LGBTQ+ people, they are treated equally before the law.
Yet there is still much work to do in many countries around the world. Homosexual acts are still criminalised in some places, with a death penalty for being gay. Little is also said or appreciated about domestic violence and violent crime against LGBTQ+ people. People still experience discrimination and prejudice; children are still bullied because of their identity.
So in this hopefully sunny month of June, while you are going about your day, if you hear a mention of Pride, please take note of all the good work that each Pride around the world does and how important it is to millions of people. If you can, show it your support.
The message behind it is very simple.
Treat people equally and have respect for yourself and for others.
Though you may not think Pride personally relates to your life, the message is universal.