HOMOSEXUALITY AS AN ILLNESS
Historically, homosexuality has often been treated as a mental illness in need of a cure. Treatments include(d):
"re-education" through psychology
locating the "gay gene"
"de-gaying" through prayer
Professional literature lagged behind the decision that homosexuality per se was not a mental illness e.g.
The British Medical Journal was still discussing the potential of different treatments for homosexuality in 1975
The World Health Organisation only declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1992
(In 1992 the Vatican put out a statement describing homosexuality as an "objective disorder")
These views still exist today in some quarters. Homosexuality continues to be referred to as a mental disorder in some still-used psychiatric texts and anecdotal evidence shows that this view is common in society in general and is still held by some mental health professionals. It must be remembered that many people working in this field had their views formed by opinions and attitudes that were prevalent 30 or 40 years ago.
The fact that a person is gay, lesbian or bisexual does not mean that they are suffering from a mental disorder. Evidence suggests that gay men, lesbians and bisexuals may suffer more mental distress than the general population, but that mental distress may develop for many different reasons. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals do face additional and particular pressures from living in a heterosexist society. These pressures can be highly detrimental to mental health.
WHAT "PRESSURES" CAN LEAD TO MENTAL ILLNESS?
By the law. Until recently it was legal to sack people simply for being gay or lesbian. There were legal discriminations in terms of: age of consent; security of housing tenure; adoption; serving in the armed forces; criminal injuries compensation; funeral procedures; access to partners in hospital. It is only very recently that some laws have been changed to reduce some of these areas of discrimination
Religion. Some religions have taught their followers that certain groups of people are inferior.
The media. The media has power to decide what information reaches the public and how it is presented. The press has been responsible for many instances of negative stereotyping.
Heterosexism. Everyone is assumed to be heterosexual unless there is evidence to the contrary. Society is structured to support heterosexuality and heterosexuality is assumed to be superior. This attitude is still common amongst professionals working in the areas of counselling and psychotherapy.
The education system. The system also teaches which groups are superior and which are inferior. Gay, lesbian and bisexual issues are very rarely discussed. Section 28 of the Local Government Act referred to same sex relationships as "pretend families".
Groups. Families and peer groups often pressure their members to conform to beliefs deemed to be acceptable within the group. Anything falling outside of this is often rejected. The rejection may take many forms.
Homophobia - the fear of feelings of love for one's own sex and the hatred of those feelings in others - may be experienced by gay men, lesbians and bisexuals about themselves. If people are continually told that they are inferior, abnormal, sinful, unacceptable then some people may come to believe it and may experience feelings of self-disgust. This can result in depression, emotional trauma or suicide.
EXAMPLES OF HOMOPHOBIA IN ACTION
Students reported their clothes being set alight and chemicals thrown on them in science lessons, being urinated on, burned with cigarettes while being held down, being dragged around the school playing field by the hair, being raped (Rivers, Young, gay and bullied: Young People Now, January 1996)
GAi Project Survey (Nottingham 1997) found that 65% of respondents had been victims of homophobic incidents (abuse, harassment etc) and in 25% had been victims of homophobic violence
82% of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals had been verbally abused and 60% physically attacked at school. (Rivers - the bullying of sexual minorities at school (2001) Education and Child Psychology Vol.18 no. 1)
19% of gay men attacked because of their sexuality; 12% had their property damaged because of their sexuality; 40% insulted due to their sexuality; 48% insulted at school because of their sexuality; 28% bullied at school because of their sexuality - in each case the figures were a little lower for lesbians (2000-2002 Warner, McKeown et al British Journal of Psychiatry no. 185)
64% of respondents had seen other students being homophobically bullied. 26% had been homophobically bullied themselves. !8% had witnessed teachers homophobically bullying students (3Consultancy Survey of 3 schools in Northamptonshire 2003)
47% of young LGB people in London had experienced harassment or physical abuse at school and 83% had been verbally abused (PACE survey 2003)
The "I Count" survey (Nottinghamshire 2003) found that 43% had experienced abuse, harassment or violence because of their sexual orientation. Nearly one third had experienced harassment at work in relation to their sexuality.
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