Harming Thy Neighbour: Counting the Mental Health Costs of Religious ‘Anti-Gay’ Prejudice

Presentation Type: Oral
Conference Stream: Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Presenter: Babucarr Sowe
Presentation Title: Harming Thy Neighbour: Counting the Mental Health Costs of Religious ‘Anti-Gay’ Prejudice
Room: Murray
Program schedule: Friday 14 August 2015 at 16:00
Duration: 25 mins


Mental health disparities between heterosexual and non-heterosexual populations are largely thought to stem from homonegative prejudice undermining the wellbeing of sexual minority individuals. Although decades of research attests that homonegative prejudice is generally strongest among religious adherents and contexts, the deleterious impact of religious anti-gay prejudice has largely remained unquantified. Insights from two novel studies providing mental health data in this area will be discussed. First, an Australia-wide study of Christian and non-religious lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) individuals (N=579) found that of all respondents LGB Christians exhibited the highest levels of internalised homonegativity and distress, in accordance with the religious and familial anti-gay prejudice they reported. Despite having apostatised, former Christians still reported greater religion-sexuality distress than their non-religious counterparts suggesting that exposure to anti-gay religious environments can have enduring psychological impact. Study 2 (N=1600) extended these findings internationally with a heterosexual comparison group, incorporating a broad range of clinically relevant mental health and substance use indices, and implementing crowd-sourcing recruitment techniques to limit selection bias. Results to be discussed are among the first to robustly implicate religious (as well as general) anti-gay prejudice in mental ill-health. Specifically, prejudice predicted higher scores on depression, anxiety, stress, and shame measures; experiences of physical, verbal and sexual abuse; and substance use behaviours. While non-heterosexuals generally faired worse on mental health and suicidality indicators than their heterosexual counterparts, homonegative prejudice largely appeared to predict worse outcomes across all sexual orientations – implying more broadly that anti-gay environments have the potential to harm everyone.

Presentation slides (PDF)