Cornell University’s What We Know Project in conjunction with a coalition of leading LGBTQ rights groups last month published a comprehensive curation of data on studies that chart the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and racial discrimination.
The findings found that discrimination inflicts profoundly greater harm on LGBTQ people of color in a wide range of areas, including grossly disproportionate rates of: experiencing discrimination over the past year, poorer mental and physical health, greater economic insecurity, and attempts to die by suicide.
In addition, LGBTQ people of color are more likely than white LGBTQ people to live in states without protections against discrimination and that state anti-LGBTQ laws harm LGBTQ people.
“This research brief makes clear the tangible harms that discrimination inflicts on LGBTQ people of color, and the urgent need for public policy that reflects what the research tells us about how we can reduce those harms,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, the study’s author.
LGBTQ people are more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be people of color, and Black LGBTQ Americans are disproportionately likely to live in states without protections against discrimination. For example, 42% of LGBT people are people of color compared to 32% of non-LGBT people and the majority of Black LGBT Americans live in the South (51.4%, more than twice the share of any other region), where most states lack anti-discrimination protections.
LGBTQ people of color face higher odds of discrimination than both non-LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ white people. For example, LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely to experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination (slurs or other verbal abuse) when applying for jobs than white LGBTQ individuals (32% vs. 13%). LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely as white LGBTQ people to experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination when interacting with the police (24% vs. 11%).
Black LGBT Americans are more likely to experience economic insecurity than Black non-LGBT Americans. For example, the majority of Black LGBT people (56%) live in low-income households (below 200% of the federal poverty level) compared to 49% of Black non-LGBT Americans, and Black LGBT adults are also more likely to experience food insecurity than Black non-LGBT adults (37% compared to 27%).
Hundreds of studies conclude that experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination increases the risks of poor mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use, and psychological distress.
LGBTQ people of color face disproportionate odds of suicidality, which is linked to discrimination. For example, while 12% of white LGBTQ youth attempted suicide, the rate is 31% for LGBTQ Native/Indigenous youth, 21% for LGBTQ Black youth, and 18% of LGBTQ Latinx youth.
While supportive laws, family, and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes for LGBTQ people of color, anti-LGBTQ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual minority populations. For example, states with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBT residents between 2014 and 2016 were linked with a 46% increase in LGBT mental distress. Black LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming space, reported attempting suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%).
Supportive laws, family, and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes for LGBTQ people of color.
• Suicide attempts by LGBT youth dropped by 7 percent in states that legalized same-sex marriage.22
• The corollary is that anti-LGBTQ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual minority populations. States with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBT residents were linked with a 46% increase in LGBT mental distress.23
• Black LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming space, reported attempting suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%). Those with high levels of family support had rates of past-year attempted suicide nearly one third as high as those who lacked such support (22% vs. 8%).24
• Protective measures that have been found to help reduce anxiety, depression, and suicidality among LGBTQ youth include: Establishing inclusive practices and anti-discrimination policies; peer, community, and family support, including dedicated school groups; access to affirmative mental health and social services; societal confrontation of attitudes and norms that exacerbate minority stress; and practitioner training and interventions designed to disrupt negative coping responses and build resilience.
Experiencing discrimination is associated with greater odds of harm to psychological and economic well-being, which is reflected in data on disparities for LGBTQ people of color.
• Hundreds of studies conclude that experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination increases the risks of poor mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use, and psychological distress.
• LGBT people of color have work-place experiences that are more negative than those of white LGBT employees, reporting that their success and work-life balance are fostered less extensively, they have less transparent evaluations, and they are respected less by supervisors.
• Among LGBTQ people surveyed, 51% of Black respondents say discrimination harms their ability to be hired, compared with 33% of white respondents; 41% say it has an impact on their ability to retain employment, compared with 31% of white respondents; 77% of Black respondents report that discrimination impacts their psychological well-being, a rate nearly 50% higher than the total LGBTQ survey population.
• While racial discrimination on its own is not associated with mental health disorders, the combination of racial discrimination with gender and/or sexual orientation discrimination is significantly associated with increased odds of a past-year mental health disorder.
LGBTQ people of color face disproportionate odds of suicidality, which is linked to discrimination.
• Around 25% of LGBTQ youth of all races have attempted suicide, but the rates are starkly higher for LGBTQ youth of color than their white counterparts: While 12% of white LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide, the rate is 31% for LGBTQ Native/Indigenous youth, 21% for LGBTQ Black youth, and 18% for LGBTQ Latinx youth.
• In a 95%-non-white LGBT sample, those who report experiencing anti-LGBT victimization (such as bullying and harassment) are 2.5 times more likely to report a past-year suicide attempt compared to those who do not report victimization.
• Black LGBTQ youth who experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination face twice the rate of past year suicide attempts compared to youth who do not (27% vs. 12%). Black LGBTQ youth who experience race-based discrimination also face higher odds of attempting suicide than those who do not (20% vs. 14%).
• Black LGB adults are over 40% more likely to have made a serious suicide attempt in their lifetime than white LGB adults.
• Latinx and Native American/Pacific Islander LGBT youth are 50% more likely to attempt suicide than white LGBT youth. Latinx LGBT girls are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide than white LGBT youth.
• LGBTQ students who experience discrimination “based on multiple social identities” report more use of deliberate self-harm compared to LGBTQ students who experience racial discrimination alone or who do not experience significant discrimination of any kind.
Reflecting on the study’s findings, key executives from participating LGBTQ Advocacy groups weighed in:
“These painful figures highlight an indisputable link between discrimination, economic security, mental and physical health. People with multiple stigmatized, marginalized social and political identities, particularly Black LGBTQ+/Same Gender Loving people, bear a disproportionate amount of the weight illustrated by the data in this study. Statutory equality for LGBTQ+ people nationwide is a necessary foundation to remove the gaps in existing civil rights laws if we are to ever live up to our country’s founding promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all,” said David Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition.
The majority of Black LGBTQ people live in the South, with nearly half (44%) of all Black women couples raising children. Even today, most of these states still do not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and have overtly discriminatory laws on their books. It is no wonder the disparities are so profound and it is a testament to the strength and resilience of our people that they are doing as well as they are. For our community and for our children it’s time for federal action!” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force.
“This important brief only further solidifies what we have known for a very long time—the combination of racism and anti-LGBTQ discrimination has serious and long-lasting effects for the health and well-being of LGBTQ people of color. This research highlights why federal non-discrimination protections are overdue and vital to protecting the most some of the most underrepresented and vulnerable members of our community. Federal anti-discrimination protections are absolutely necessary in protecting and supporting all LGBTQ people, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights.