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Gays in high-prejudice communities die early: Study

Posted on Feb 16 2014 | IANS

New York, Feb 16 : Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals who lived in communities with high anti-gay prejudice have a shorter life expectancy - 12 years on average - compared with their peers in least prejudiced neighbourhoods.

In first study-of-its kind, researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked at the consequences of anti-gay prejudice for mortality.

"The results suggest a broadening of the consequences of prejudice to include premature death," noted Mark Hatzenbuehler, assistant professor of socio-medical sciences at Columbia University.

Sexual minorities living in communities with higher levels of prejudice die sooner than sexual minorities living in low-prejudice communities.

"This is 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," explained Hatzenbuehler.

"In fact, our results for prejudice were comparable to life expectancy differences that have been observed between individuals with and without a high school education," he added.

In order to examine the relationship between prejudice and mortality, the researchers constructed a measure capturing the average level of anti-gay prejudice in the communities where LGB individuals lived, beginning in 1988.

This information on sexual orientation and community-level prejudice was then linked longitudinally to mortality data via the National Death Index, through 2008.

The authors were able to examine whether mortality risk differed for LGB individuals who lived in communities that were characterised by high versus low levels of prejudice.

By the end of the 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.

The authors also found that suicide, homicide/violence, and cardiovascular diseases were all substantially elevated among sexual minorities in high-prejudice communities.

"Discrimination, prejudice and social marginalisation create several unique demands on stigmatised individuals that are stress-inducing," said Hatzenbuehler.

This approach overcomes many of the limitations of individual-level measures of stigma and prejudice, which have characterised most stigma and health research to date, said the study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

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