Protecting the LGBT community is good health policy
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When it comes to laws and policies addressing legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the best available science should always be the foundation.

Research shows that sexual minority individuals exhibit higher rates of physical and mental health problems than do heterosexuals – including depression, substance use disorders and cardiovascular disease. Transgender populations also report poorer health than heterosexual or cisgender (those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) populations - including mental health distress and thoughts of suicide.

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Experimental evidence suggests that the unique, consistent stressors experienced by these groups are significant contributors to health disparities.

Unfortunately, the federal government appears not to be heeding the scientific evidence as it rolls back or threatens to curtail the limited protections that have been granted to sexual and gender minorities.

The Department of Education recently wrote to schools across the country stating that Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination does not protect transgender students. The Department of Justice said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people. The Department of Health and Human Services plans to expand policies allowing health care providers to deny services to LGBT people based on religious or conscience-based beliefs. The White House is threatening to eliminate a Department of Defense policy allowing transgender Americans to serve in uniform.

These individual initiatives contribute to a legal and social environment that is stigmatizing and stressful for sexual and gender minority Americans. Psychological science suggests that living in a culture that tolerates discrimination contributes to adverse health, in part due to the resulting harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization.

Public policies can contribute to social environments, worsening or alleviating the stigma of being a sexual minority. For example, research has shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals living in states without policies protecting them from employment discrimination and hate crimes are at an increased risk for psychological disorders. And after the implementation of state-level bans on same-sex marriage, the rate of psychological and alcohol use disorders increased by nearly 2.5 times in those states, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

A supportive climate characterized by policies granting equal rights and prohibiting discrimination reduces stigma and stress, serving a protective role for mental and physical health. A nationally representative study found that the implementation of policies permitting same-sex marriage was associated with a 7 percent decrease in adolescent suicide attempts. Other research found that the legalization of same-sex marriage was linked to reduced rates of seeking medical and mental health care among sexual minority men. Also, workplaces that have implemented LGBT-supportive policies have benefited from improved health among those employees, as well as greater job commitment, job satisfaction and productivity.

In 1975, the American Psychological Association first called on psychologists to take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness that had been ascribed to lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations. The discipline of psychology is concerned with the well-being of people and groups and therefore with threats to that well-being.

APA supports legislative, administrative and regulatory solutions that promote equality for, and combat discrimination against, sexual and gender minorities. We urge Congress to support and pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Congress also needs to pass the LGBT Data Inclusion Act, which would require uniform collection of data about LGBT people in federal surveys, surveillance systems and research. Data collection is critical to better understand the sources of mental and physical health disparities in the LGBT community, which is necessary to craft effective policy solutions.

Psychological science demonstrates the harms of discriminatory public policies and the benefits of supportive ones. The current climate in Washington is likely to increase stigma and stress in sexual and gender minority populations across the nation, with negative effects on physical and mental health. We urge Congress and the administration to consider this as they craft and implement policies affecting sexual and gender minorities, and we ask that they not turn back the clock on existing, hard-fought protections.

Evans is CEO of the American Psychological Association