Anti-LGBT referendums harmful

By Liu An-chen 劉安真  / 

Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 8

The Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance has submitted three anti-LGBT referendum proposals to the Central Election Commission. If there really are such referendums in November, what would that mean for LGBT people?

Try to imagine the following scenarios: A teenager who has not revealed their sexual orientation to their family might hear their parents say: “Why would the government allow those people to get married? They are perverts.”

A student who chooses not to come out at school might hear teachers and classmates make statements against the right to marriage equality or sarcastic remarks about same-sex couples.

Many gay people would see Line chat room messages fiercely defaming education about homosexuality and opposing marriage equality.

Should they stand up and refute these assaults? Regardless of whether they do, they would never feel good.

Walking down the street, they would see slogans campaigning against same-sex education and marriage equality, which tells LGBT people: “We do not want our children to know of the existence of your kind lest they become like you” and “We do not think you should enjoy the same right to marriage as straight people.”

On Facebook, LGBT people might see their friends voicing anti-LGBT opinions or calling on people to vote against same-sex education and marriage equality. It is next to impossible that this would not affect them.

Many people have said that those with anti-LGBT opinions have also been made to feel bad, as their statements encounter equally fierce criticism from LGBT rights advocates, so why keep emphasizing the harm caused by the referendums to gay people?

Regardless of whether someone supports or opposes LGBT rights, they would have to face pressure from people who disagree. The difference is that verbal assault is always directed toward gay rather than straight people, because there would never be controversy over the “normalcy” of heterosexuality or whether schools should incorporate heterosexual relationships into the curriculum.

Therefore, the dispute over LGBT rights is unfair, as gay people must not only bear the psychological pressure inflicted by debating others, but they must also see that society’s antipathy toward their sexual orientation has not disappeared.

This feeling of belittlement is something that LGBT people have to experience throughout their lives and is repeatedly evoked by the debate over LGBT rights. It time and again inflicts pain upon them and makes them feel like “abnormal,” second-class human beings.

As a result, there is reason to be worried about the aftereffects of the referendums. They might bring severe pain to young LGBT people who do not have much support or resources, as well as those who have not come out to their family and friends.

As to their effects on mental health, evidence can be found in overseas studies.

In the US in 2004, 14 states passed referendums defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, which bears a striking resemblance to a question posed in one of the referendum proposals.

Mark Hatzenbuehler and others analyzed the prevalence of psychiatric disorders from 2004 to 2005 and compared the results with the prevalence from 2001 to 2002. They found that the prevalence of mood disorders — including depression and bipolar disorder — had increased 36.6 percent, generalized anxiety disorders rose 248.2 percent and alcohol addiction grew 41.9 percent among self-identified LGBT respondents from 2004 to 2005.

In the same period, there was no significant increase in the prevalence of any psychiatric disorder observed among LGBT people in states that had not voted on amendments narrowly defining marriage. No significant change in the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among straight people was found as a result of the referendums or policy changes.

Another study, conducted in 2016 by David Frost and Adam Fingerhut, studied gay people living in four US states that held referendums on same-sex marriage in 2012 and examined the effects of daily exposure to campaign messages and debates regarding the right to marriage equality had to their mental health.

They found that, during the referendum period, daily exposure to the large volume of negative signaling regarding same-sex relationships led to an increase in negative emotions and a decrease in positive feelings, as well as less relationship satisfaction.

On May 22, 2015, Ireland held a marriage equality referendum. The following year, a survey was published about its psychological and social effects on Irish LGBT people. It showed that in the months leading up to the referendum, 71 percent of the participants reported having negative feelings often and 63 percent said they often felt sad, while 57 percent said that they rarely felt happy.

Among the respondents who saw posters against marriage equality on buildings, 80 percent reported being upset by these images, while 66 percent reported feeling anxious and 64 percent felt distressed.

Younger LGBT people suffered the greatest negative effects and felt more anxiety than their elders. They also felt more fear when hearing their family members’ negative comments on marriage equality, as many had not come out to their families.

Although the children of LGBT parents were not surveyed, stories told by the participants showed that these children might have experienced the greatest negative impact. One parent mentioned during an interview that his or her child “would come home from school crying,” likely because they heard hostile remarks about LGBT people at school.

When compared with urban areas, LGBT people in rural areas were more likely to have negative feelings after their family members expressed opposition, possibly because they have fewer LGBT friends, as well as more family members who oppose same-sex marriage.

The families of LGBT people were also affected by the referendum, with 64 percent reporting that they often had negative feelings during the period.

These studies show that if there is an anti-LGBT referendum, the social atmosphere would be unfriendly to gay people, who would have to endure hostility toward their identity on a nearly daily basis.

Preconceived ideas and wrong information about LGBT people, stigmatization and disputes with friends and relatives are scenarios more likely to expose gay people to social rejection and antipathy. These experiences could cause feelings of shame and disgust toward their sexual orientation at a time when they are in the process of establishing an identity and self-respect, and could lead to strong inner conflict, which in turn might cause depression or anxiety disorders.

As a social worker, I want to call upon LGBT Taiwanese to pay attention to their physical and mental health during the referendum period. If they encounter pressure and frustration, they should seek help from a supporter or at a supportive association.

People who are opposed to gay rights should not forget that a child might be listening and be hurt by their comments at home, in church, in school or in Line chat rooms.

Liu An-chen is an assistant professor at Hungkuang University’s College of Medicine and Nursing.

Translated by Chang Ho-ming