Stigma sucks. It’s that simple.
Stigma occurs at various levels. It can be interpersonal, like when someone yells “faggot” at you from a truck passing my. It can be structural or institutional, such as policies or laws that stigmatize a community (ie. HIV criminalization). Or it can be internalized, which is when an individual begins to accept the messaging they hear about themselves as a member of a stigmatized group.
What is important to understand, though, is that stigma is not inherent to any particular characteristic or attribute. Instead, it is assigned, influenced by the broader social context we exist within which determines who is stigmatized and who is not.
As sexual and gender minorities, we can experience stigma and discrimination from outside of the community. For example, more than half of Edmonton respondents to the Sex Now Survey stated that they have been called out as a “homo,” “faggot,” or “queer” at some point in their lives. Additionally, 22% had been socially excluded, and nearly one in five had been physically assaulted due to their sexuality – which qualifies as a hate crime.
When we looked at institutional stigma, we found that, on average, less than 5% of guys had experienced discrimination in various institutional settings (health, justice, educational, etc.) However, when asked about whether or not they worried about encountering stigma in these places, the numbers climbed much higher. This is troubling because stigma does not have to be experienced to have a negative impact on someone. Felt stigma, being the anticipation that someone might be stigmatized in a particular situation, can lead to people refraining from accessing important services.
The effects of sexual minority stigma and discrimination are well-documented. Individuals who experience stigmatizing events throughout their life are at a significantly higher risk of various mental or psychosocial health problems. This, in turn, has been proven to make these individuals more vulnerable to HIV infection. Turning to structural stigma, research in the US has shown that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who live in areas with high structural stigma face lower life expectancies than LGB individuals who live in low structural stigma areas; possibly 12 years lower.3
The stigma and discrimination faced by sexual and gender minorities extends beyond that faced from people and institutions outside of the community, however. The truth is, many GBQT guys report experiencing stigma and discrimination within our community. It seems to be a particular problem online.
When Edmonton Sex Now respondents were asked whether or not they had experienced stigma online due to either their age or body shape, about half responded yes. Additionally, when the same question was asked about HIV Stigma, gender identity, or race, the percentage of respondents who indicated they had been discriminated against for any of these reasons matched almost exactly the number of respondents who identified within these minority groups (poz, trans, or non-white).
The truth is, you can be a minority but also belong to a dominant group within that minority. Therefore, just because you are stigmatized because you are gay doesn’t mean that you can’t also contribute to the stigmatizing of other subgroups within the broader LGBTQ community.4
The EMHC plans to work with community members, stakeholders, healthcare providers, and members of government to address the institutional stigma and discrimination faced by our community. In the meantime, we hope to address some of the stigma and discrimination that occurs within our community and initiate constructive dialogue regarding how we can all move forward together. We will start below by taking a closer look at HIV stigma, racism, and sexual and gender minority stigma within our community.