Diversity Issues for Lesbian, Homosexual and Bisexual People
The 21st Century has brought us new and greater understanding of issues surrounding diversity as it pertains to lesbian and bisexual issues. In the past it was assumed that homosexuality represented a deviant manifestation of some form of mental illness. It was not until the late 1950s (Hooker, 1957) that this idea began to be questioned as an absolute and the lifestyle brought into closer study. It is to be the purpose of this paper to review issues surrounding the homosexual, lesbian and bisexual lifestyle, to identify the general nature of the lifestyle as it exists today and to examine the state of diversity issues as they pertain to this group.
As previously mentioned, for many years homosexuality and lesbianism, as well as bisexuality were classified as mental illness. Evelyn Hooker (1957) was one of the first to do in depth studies in which she found no significant difference in studies of homosexual vs. heterosexual men in terms of cognitive abilities or on projective testing. The definitive study by Fox (1996) was one of the first which definitively stated there was no evidence of psychopathology in studies of bisexuals, solely related to their sexuality. These individuals still tend to suffer from diversity issues and prejudice as strong as any which may be related to race, religion or ethnic background, and in some cases the individuals have to deal with multiple diversity issues, making them multiple minorities.
While some significant difference do exist in the psychological functioning of homosexual, lesbian and bisexual men and women, these are mostly found in studies to be related to elements of stress related to the lifestyle, for example diminished self-esteem, increased evidence of suicide attempts and substance abuse issues, in most part related to the emotional distress of stigmatization due to the lifestyle (Gonsiorek, 1991). Much has been made of the issue of homosexuality as being a choice rather than a predetermined behavioral pattern. Much of the literature which still exists classifying homosexuality and bisexuality within the frame of mental illness appears to be scientifically unsound, presenting with methodological errors and well as flaw in group comparison, sampling procedures and a general lack of scientific support for the association of the gay and lesbian or bisexual lifestyle as one associated with mental illness.
To date, all of the major mental health associations have disavowed such studies, starting with a statement from the APA in 1975 which urged mental health professional to begin treating homosexual and bisexual patients without a vision to change the sexuality but rather to allow the patient to explore the issues of distress they experience while still maintain what they felt was their true sexuality. The ethical code of psychologists includes a statement which affirms this belief, in that there should be no discrimination against homosexuals based on lifestyle.
Statement of the Issues of Diversity in the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Community
Homosexual, lesbian and bisexual people who also belong to racial of ethnic minorities face special issues in their need to not only face their needs as sexual being but also encompassing these lifestyles into what is considered norms for their culture. (Chan, 1992) These cultural issues may be the source of enormous personal and social stress for these people, as they may find it difficult to find even one group to which they can turn for acceptance and belonging. The greatest problems surrounding diversity issues appear to come into play in youths belonging to racial or ethic groups who are also beginning to identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual. These people may suffer not only from stigmatization surrounding sexuality but also issues arising from their social status within their minority group. The attitude of the culture from which they come is also significant, since if a culture views their sexuality as wrong, and they also experience racism or prejudice, especially within the gay or lesbian community, this may lead to significant social isolation, depression and many of the psychological issues previously discussed. Issues surrounding procreation which come from the ethic group, gender roles, religious dynamics all serve to stand as stumbling blocks for the homosexual who comes from a minority group. (Gock, 1992). These issues will all serve to present significant stressors for homosexual and bisexual youths and adults, who may find themselves estranged from their families and yet not fully engaged into the homosexual or bisexual community. Particularly at risk are bisexual client, on their own a minority no matter what their racial or ethic backgrounds, They are unable to gravitate to the more common polarization groups such as heterosexuality or homosexuality and as a result may find themselves feeling particularly isolated. There is a feeling within some homosexual communities that bisexuality more likely represents a "failure to commit" or else gender confusion, and as such even experiences some prejudice within the community itself. Fox' study (1996) failed to show that bisexuals who find it impossible to commit to exclusive sexuality with one gender do not, as is popularly believed, suffer from some form of development arrest and are generally not psychologically ill. Never-the-less, this particular sexual preference tends to cause the most problems regarding a lack of respect for the individual's choices and feelings.
One should not forget that issues of diversity cannot be attributed to ethnic or minority people alone. There are special issues to be dealt with on either end of the age spectrum for homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals. Adolescents finding their sexual identity may find themselves estranged from parents and peer group, and of all teens are felt to be at highest risk for becoming homeless or street people and having to live as prostitutes. (Kruks, 1991) There is also a greater risk of family violence with these adolescents as the victims. It is also more likely for the young homosexual to be involved in issues of substance abuse, and even have greater rates of suicide; both attempted and completed (Remafedi, French, Story, Resnick, & Blum, 1998).
Diversity issues must also be considered when addressing the differences which occur in middle aged and aging lesbian, homosexual and bisexual populations. The challenges which are presented to the aging homosexual or bisexual can have significant issues which may not be universal to their own generation. It is a truth that older homosexual and bisexual people of today grew up in an entirely different world as related to their sexuality. While their straight peers share with them issues of health and aging, the emergence of greater tolerance toward gays and lesbians and the emergence of AIDS have been issues that the older generation has weathered, while a more tolerant atmosphere, and disease modifying (if not curative) drugs have always been known to adolescent and younger homosexuals and gays today (McDougal, 1993; Frost, 1997). All aging populations, regardless of sexual preference, have to deal with issues of health and finance. But the issues surrounding end of life and aging issues tend to be a bit more complex for the homosexual and bisexual community. This is especially evident in issues in which older lesbian, gay and bisexual couples, whose unions are not legally recognized, come into issues in which their legal rights to be involved in the lives and finances as well as health care issues come into question. There is some data, however, to indicate that the lifetime of stigma from already being a minority can help older gays and bisexuals to adjust towards the prejudices of ageism better than heterosexuals, simply because they have lived with these issues so long. (Kimmel, 1995).
It should also be understood that the issue of diversity also extends to homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals who are also challenged with physical disabilities. These individuals can be considered a double minority in much the same way as those of ethic background, and have challenges related toward their sexual orientation and the expression of their sexuality within the framework of their disability (Rolland, 1994). This in itself is a whole second issue of diversity, but must be considered when one is to consider diversity issues related to the homosexual of bisexual lifestyle.
Definitions of Key Terms
.For the purposes of this paper, we shall define these subjects as follows:
1) Homosexuality and lesbianism: meaning a sexual orientation leading to a choice of partners of the same sex.
2) bisexuality as sexual orientation in which one feels attracted to both males and females, although there may be a proclivity for one over the other
3) Diversity: The state of being different or diverse, used to describe people and population groups, diversity encompasses such factors as age, gender, race, ethnicity, ability, and religion, as well as education, professional background, and marital and sexual status.
Evaluation and Critique
There is a significant amount of literature to support the issues and challenges of diversity in the homosexual, lesbian and bisexual lifestyles. It ranges from questions or choice, to issues of morality, to accepted norms within social and ethnic groups and…