There have been great strides in the acceptance of those in the LGBT community in recent years. Increasing numbers of public figures are embracing their sexual orientation in mainstream media, and in doing so become advocates for greater equality. Events such as Pride continue to gain popularity as an all-inclusive cultural event, while the representation of gay characters in TV and film has also been rebalanced. But despite the obvious progress, prejudice and discrimination still exist. During the 2014 Winter Olympics, Russia found itself under the spotlight for its harsh anti-gay laws, suggesting that for all the barriers we have supposedly broken down in more progressive nations, there is still a long way to go.
Tackling the issue is made all the more difficult by the many forms discrimination takes, from direct insults and unequal treatment to hate crimes in the most extreme circumstances. Arguably, the most problematic are the sorts of comments that are normalised to the point of being passed off as good-natured humour. But the fact remains, these kinds of misguided remarks and stereotyping of people in the LGBT community merely add further weight to the more blatant forms of discrimination. Those throwaway lines aren’t endearing. Not anymore; if they ever were… People may not mean to be derogatory in most cases, but their words have the same frustrating and demoralising effect.
This, however, only tells half of the story. Discrimination often starts in the home, and hence usually in the formative years of a young adult’s life. It’s reported that 50% of LGBT teens experience a negative reaction(s) from their parent or guardian, 30% experience physical abuse and 26% are kicked out their home as a result. Estimates have it that LGBT adults are six times more likely to be depressed, three times more likely to use drugs and eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than adults who didn’t experience this kind of rejection.
So what can be done?
If you’re experiencing discrimination either in school or the workplace, the unfortunate fact of how successful you are in dealing with it depends not only on how pro-active you are but how proactive the hierarchy is in those institutions. It can often be the case that prejudice isn’t confined to one social group or demographic. Here are some steps that will help turn the tide of stigma:
Confront: This doesn’t have to be antagonistic. It doesn’t even need to be done in front of everyone. It can be a quiet word with the person who may be unintentionally causing you distress. The circumstances of abuse are going to be different for everyone, as is the capacity to tackle the issue head-on. Some people may prefer to call someone out straight away, other’s may prefer to do so privately. Work within the limits of your own comfort zone.
Escalate: For many people confrontation just isn’t an option. Socially, we generally don’t like to break ranks for fear of being dismissed as overly sensitive or arguing over trivialities. Intimidation also plays its part, as well. Making a stand is hard. If you feel you’re being harassed or bullied in any way for your sexual orientation, it’s in your interest to make a formal complaint about the person(s) involved. If your claims aren’t being heard, continue to escalate it up the hierarchy until you find someone who will take action.
Confide: If it’s possible to confide in someone about your struggles then you absolutely should. Being able to talk to someone is extremely beneficial when dealing with any kind of abuse situation. The more you isolate yourself, the more likely you are to become susceptible to low moods and the onset of depression-like symptoms. If you don’t feel you have any friends or family who can empathise, there are many helplines catering specifically people suffering sexual discrimination.
Get Rid of Toxic People: This one can be hard, and not quite as straightforward as getting away from more overt abuse. It can be especially difficult if it’s necessary for you to have close contact with the person(s) in questions, due to work commitments or education. If you’ve tried confronting them with no success, don’t feel comfortable or that it’s worth your time, approach someone who can mediate in the first instance. Escalate. If this fails, you need to ask them to facilitate removing them from your personal space.
Seek Professional Help: If you’ve experienced severe discrimination, which has caused you to develop a shame and guilt complex, seeking professional guidance is sometimes a necessary step in reclaiming your sense of worth. This is especially true for those who may have had negative upbringing and received a lack of support from parents. Prejudice can create deep-rooted mental and emotional scars that need properly addressing.