By Allison Hydzik
Instead of focusing on what is going wrong to cause poor health in this
population and trying to fix it, the Pitt-led research team is looking at what
is going right – and how to promote it.
“We’re finding that there’s this subpopulation of gay men who have
negative experiences, such as childhood bullying and homophobia, but they don’t
go on to have the poor health outcomes – such as depression, substance abuse
and sexually transmitted diseases – that we would typically expect,” said Dr.
Herrick. “Discovering what gives them this resiliency could really help in
designing strategies to promote health and well-being.”
|Amy Herrick, Ph.D.|
Dr. Herrick is the lead author of a report on this phenomenon in a
recent issue of the journal AIDS and
. The research grew out of last year’s Center for LGBT Health
Research “Summer Institute,” where the center brings in top researchers from
across the country to tackle a hot topic in LGBT health.
The team explored a pattern of resilience known as “internalized
homophobia resolution.” Internalized homophobia refers to a gay man taking
negative societal perceptions about homosexuals and thinking badly of
themselves. The ability to overcome, or resolve, these feelings is a form of
Over 1,500 gay and bisexual men were surveyed for the study. Less than
a third of them reported never experiencing internalized homophobia. Of those
who did report internalized homophobia, a greater proportion were younger,
racial and ethnic minorities with less education and lower income than those
who weren’t struggling with it.
“Something we found interesting is that the likelihood of these men
overcoming their internalized homophobia increased with age,” said Dr. Herrick.
“So, even though our society has made significant strides toward accepting
sexual minorities with campaigns like the It
Gets Better Project
, it doesn’t seem to help with resiliency – that comes
naturally with time. We know that maturity tends to bring more of a reliance on
internal factors in forming self-perception, whereas youths put more emphasis
on external cues to determine their self-worth.”
Nearly 81 percent of the men surveyed who were older than 56 reported
no internalized homophobia, whereas only 69 percent of the men ages 20 to 35
were able to say that.
“Now that we know these resiliencies are occurring, we need to
determine the process by which they happen,” said Dr. Herrick. “From there we
can look to incorporate such strengths into life-saving intervention efforts.”