The Costs of Being “Different”: Sexual Identity and Subjective Wellbeing over the Life Course in Contemporary Australia
In the last few decades there have been vast social transformations concerning gender and sexuality. These have resulted in the emergence of more accepting views towards individuals from sexual minorities (such as homosexual and bisexual people). Importantly, discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity has been outlawed in Australia and other developed countries (such as the UK and the US), and scientists and practitioners no longer consider people with non-heterosexual identities as ‘sick’ or ‘deviant’. Despite this, there is evidence that individuals from sexual minorities are still stigmatized and discriminated against in more subtle ways, and are often victims of hate crimes and bullying because of their sexual orientation. These stressful situations are believed to have negative impacts on their lives.
In this paper, I test whether this is the case for contemporary Australian society, considering four indicators of subjective wellbeing: mental health, life satisfaction, psychological distress, and feelings of safety. Results suggest that gay, lesbian and bisexual people score substantially and significantly worse in all of these outcomes than do heterosexual people. Additionally, I examined whether the disparities disfavouring individuals from sexual minorities are more pronounced at different points of the life course. Findings indicate that such disparities are in fact larger at earlier ages and close as individuals grow old.
Altogether, the results from this study suggest that current Australian policies are insufficient in preventing the systematic exclusion of individuals from sexual minorities. New policies, particularly policies aimed at addressing the needs of teenagers and young adults, are urgently required. New policies might be more effective if they target contexts to which young people are most exposed, including educational environments such as schools and universities.
Equality of opportunity is one of the fundamental principles in Australian society, as well as in other developed countries, and we have gone a long way in closing gender, racial, and disability gaps. There is however little awareness of how the life experiences of individuals of sexual minorities differ from those of the heterosexual majority, and little has be done to prevent this from leading to systematic exclusion and cycles of disadvantage. The findings of this research help us gain a better understanding of the factors that hinder equality of opportunity by sexual orientation and can help devise strategies to address these.
November 6, 2014