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Feb 17, 2014 01:00 AM EST

LGB Individuals Living In Anti-Gay Communities Are Likely To Die Prematurely


Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals who live in anti-gay communities die early, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that LGB individuals who lived in communities with high levels of anti-gay prejudice have a shorter life expectancy of 12 years on average compared with their peers in the least prejudiced communities, according to a recent study.

"Our findings indicate that sexual minorities living in communities with higher levels of prejudice die sooner than sexual minorities living in low-prejudice communities, and that these effects are independent of established risk factors for mortality, including household income, education, gender, ethnicity, and age, as well as the average income and education level of residents in the communities where the respondents lived," Mark Hatzenbuehler, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Socialmedical Sciences, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers constructed a measure capturing the average level of anti-gay prejudice in the communities where LGB individuals lived, beginning in 1988, using data on prejudicial attitudes from the General Social Survey, one of the primary sources of social indicator data in the social sciences. They then linked this information on sexual orientation and community-level prejudice longitudinally to mortality data via the National Death Index.

"The results of this study suggest a broadening of the consequences of prejudice to include premature death," Hatzenbuehler said.

Based on their study, 92 percent of LGB respondents living in low-prejudice communities were still alive; in contrast, only 78 percent of the LGB respondents living in high-prejudice communities were still alive.

They also found that homicide/violence and cardiovascular diseases were all substantially elevated among sexual minorities in high-prejudice communities. LGB respondents living in high-prejudice communities died of suicide on average at age 37.5, compared to age 55.7 for those living in low-prejudice communities, a striking 18-year difference.

Researchers said homicide and violence-related deaths are one of the most direct links between hostile community attitudes and death. Based on their results, homicide rates were more than three times more likely to occur in high-prejudice communities than in low-prejudice communities.

Of the deaths in high-prejudice communities, 25% were due to cardiovascular disease, compared to 18.6% of deaths in the low-prejudice communities.

"Psychosocial stressors are strongly linked to cardiovascular risk, and this kind of stress may represent an indirect pathway through which prejudice contributes to mortality. Discrimination, prejudice, and social marginalization create several unique demands on stigmatized individuals that are stress-inducing," Hatzenbuehler said.

The study is online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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