Coming out to friends, family, and loved ones can be a major hurdle for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals because it’s exposing a major part of themselves to others. Disclosing their LGBTQ identity to others means they’re putting themselves in a vulnerable position. A major psychological decision involves coming out to others, especially parents. When coming out involves religious beliefs it can make it even harder on LGBTQ individuals.
The process of coming out is hard enough on an individual, but coming out to highly religious family member’s or friend’s makes that process even harder. Those who are highly religious tend to show more bias towards lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGB) than the general population. They tend to attribute homosexuality to sinful choices. In the Roman Catholic Church they view homosexuality as essentially disordered toward evil, making it harder on LGBTQ individuals who grew up in religious families to disclose their sexuality. The process of coming out includes adjustments to family dynamics, causing some parents to withdraw support eventually rejecting their LGB child.
Those with religious parents, family members or friends are often harshly rejected, but religion can play a huge role in an LGBTQ individual’s life. Past studies have shown that characteristics such as tolerance, love, kindness, forgiveness, higher levels of personal well-being, and overall physical and mental health tend to be associated with religion and spirituality. So why is it harder for LGBTQ persons to come out to religious family members? In many religious beliefs like the LDS culture they don’t believe in same-sex marriage because it takes a man and a woman to conceive a child, LBGTQ individuals are unable to do that. They believe God created a man and a woman so that’s how it should be. A study of 142 Mormon adults with same-sex attraction discovered that individuals who were unable to communicate about their same-sex attraction to their religious family members or friends ended up having more symptoms of anxiety and depression. Without the support of our family, friends, and loved ones, coming out can be an even harder process.
Such findings indicate that it’s harder for religious individuals to accept LGBTQ individuals for who they are and their sexuality. Adolescent individuals who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual, have same-sex attraction, have sexual or romantic relationships with someone of the same sex have a higher chance for experiencing depressive symptoms compared to heterosexual adolescents. Some of the depressive symptoms include ideas of suicide. In the past year LGB youth are twice as likely than heterosexual youth to contemplate committing suicide. With these results it suggests that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have higher levels of emotional distress.
LGBTQ individuals are not only being rejected by people with religious beliefs, but also by their fathers. Research on families indicated that fathers tend to react more negatively than mothers when their LGBTQ child comes out to them, which makes it so fathers are less likely to be told first if at all. Mothers and sisters were less likely to be verbally abusive than fathers and brothers towards their LGBTQ individual. Making it harder for gay men to come out to their fathers, especially first. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals experience harassment and prejudice at home, school, or in the workplace. They are also victims of verbal and physical abuse. Coming out is a very hard process, especially for gay men who are coming out to their fathers.
What is most troubling about these results, however, is that the one place people are supposed to feel the most love is the place they are feeling the most rejection from, instead of making these individuals feel comfort, love, and support they are feeling anxious, depressed, and rejected. Religion and spirituality influences individuals’ meaning-making systems providing them with a source of social support and coping resources that contribute to their well-being. Without that social support LGBTQ individuals have a higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and have a higher risk of committing suicide. By categorizing their identify LGBTQ-identified individuals might be able to cope with the negative experiences, but this can cause them to reject their faithful traditions or attempt to harmonize conflicts by trying to change their sexuality or their gender identity. Showing acceptance in a religious setting is so important to LBGTQ individuals and their trying process of coming out.
Having love and support from the people that matter most to LGBTQ individuals is such an important part of their coming out experience, without that support from the people that matter most can cause the individual to have lower self-esteem. Providing an important source of love and support religious/spiritual identities help LGBTQ persons accept themselves for who they are and claim their genuine identity. Religious/spiritual identity seemed to be a source of strength that inspired closer family relationships with those who were in the process of coming-out. These participants felt acceptance and support was shown when shared religious/spirituality was involved. The importance of sharing religious/spiritual beliefs during the coming out process is crucial.
An increasing body of research shows that many LGBTQ-identified individuals that come from religious backgrounds, have religious family members or friends have a harder time coming out, causing them to have anxiety, depression or lower self-esteem. However, sharing the same religious beliefs and sexuality as others can help give LGBTQ persons the love and support they need. Knowing the effects of not having that support from those that matter most exists, by changing cultural attitudes we will be able to lower the rates of depression, potentially lowering suicide rates. By practicing what is preached in religious societies, by being more loving and accepting of others LGBTQ individuals can feel better about their coming out process.
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