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Entries in Gay (16)

Friday
Jul082011

Gray and Gay: Coming Out in Middle Age

Trinette Reed/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- Growing up in the Iowa farm belt, Dr. Loren Olson always thought of himself as "heterosexual, with a little quirk."

He wondered why he had to work so hard at masculinity and attributed his feelings of being a "man-imposter" to the death of his father in a tractor accident when he was 3.

Olson went on to have a satisfying 18-year marriage and two daughters but, inside, he always knew something wasn't quite right. He describes "always editing my behavior and thoughts." But long after many men acknowledge their sexual orientation, he came out after the age of 40.

In his new book, Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, Olson, now 68 and semi-retired psychiatrist, examines the lives of closeted gay men, many of whom have sex with other men but deny they are homosexual.

A 2006 study that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine revealed that 10 percent of men who called themselves heterosexual have had sex with men, many of them married.

Olson's book weaves memoir with an online survey of 132 men who have sex with men. In seeking responses, he intentionally didn't use the word, "gay." He provides insight into their mindset and sexual habits: They avoid the intimacy of kissing and anal sex in their relationships.

"My sexual attraction, behavior and sex identity are all in alignment," Olson said. "Many men struggle to line these three things up in a way that gives them peace and comfort."

Olson also noted a real "disconnect" between the older and younger generation of gay men.

"There are a lot of really out and proud gay young men, but they don't know we exist or they don't really sense that we are authentically gay," Olson said. "They think we should have figured it out or are intentionally hiding and don't have the guts to come forward as they did."

The average age at which gay men come out has fallen steadily in four decades, according to a 2010 survey by the British LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] group Stonewall. In the 60-plus group of those who had already come out, the average age was 37. For men and women in their 30s, the average age was 21 but it was 17 for the 18 to 24 age group.

Gays, lesbians or bisexuals who reveal their sexual orientation typically boost their self-esteem and experience less anger and depression, according to a 2011 University of Rochester study.

But men who come out in middle age face other barriers: financial insecurity, social isolation and being childless or estranged from their families, according to Judy Evans, a spokeswoman for the group Service and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE).

"These older Americans came of age at a time when being gay was labeled a psychiatric disorder and there was overt discrimination," Evans said. "They are really not used to living lives so openly as the younger generation."

When Olson came out, "I felt over the hill as a gay man, clueless about what gay meant and suddenly alone," he writes.

Many men don't ever come out, in part because of the idea that "being gay is associated with being weak and powerless," he said. "Somehow we think we got away from that, but we still haven't. Part of it for my generation is giving up the privilege of being a man."

Olson said he decided to tell his story because it wasn't unique. "I felt I needed to share some of my own secrets to make my story authentic...I needed to say, 'I know where you are; I have been there.'"

Olson said there is no universal path to coming out, but his advice to those in the closet is: "The loss is far less than imagined and the gain is far more."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jun202011

Halfway Out: Why Many Stay Closeted in the Workplace

Medioimages/Photodisc(ROCHESTER, N.Y.) -- In a study released Monday from the University of Rochester researchers found that 69 percent of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals surveyed are still closeted in some sphere of their life, whether with families, colleagues, or their religious community.

Research repeatedly shows that, in general, coming out is a good thing from a mental health standpoint: people report higher self-esteem, lower rates of anxiety and depression and closer interpersonal relationships.

What Monday's study shows, however, is that this psychological boost varies greatly depending on the environment one comes out to -- when an individual came out in a judgmental environment, there was almost no improvement to emotional well-being, researchers found; in a supportive environment, huge improvements.

This may explain why so many individuals choose to remain closeted in environments most likely to be judgmental -- work, church, or among certain family members.

"What we're seeing is that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people are quite selective in where they come out. They're sensitive to some of the costs of coming out in an environment that may not be wholly supportive of their sexual orientation," says Richard Ryan, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester and co-author on the study.

"Coming out is a good thing, psychologically speaking, but what we're seeing is that the benefits are balanced out by stigma and non-acceptance in certain environments," says Ryan.

It all boils down to that personal decision of where it's worth it, he says.

Work may prove to be an especially large hurdle for LGBT individuals in the process of coming out. In the Rochester study, half of those surveyed were out among friends or family but not among colleagues or fellow students. In most cases, this was because the workplace was seen as a controlling, non-accepting environment.

"I know friends who wouldn't come out because they feared facing discrimination and a glass ceiling in terms of promotions. I know others who came out in their work place when it was not in the best interest of their career, but it was in the interest of their happiness. It's a choice everyone has to make for themselves," says Gregory Angelo, executive director of Liberty Education Forum, a gay rights think-tank.

But does staying in the closet at work do oneself a disservice? Does it do the gay community a disservice? This is a point of tension between the more radical gay activists and others in the LGBT community.

"There's two sides to coming out -- those who view it as a political statement and those who view it as a personal statement," says Angelo.  "I tend to lean towards it being a personal statement."

Most psychologists would agree with Angelo -- coming out strategically may be the healthiest thing for the individual, depending on their situation.

Rich Savin-Williams, director of the Sex & Gender Lab at Cornell University,  says that he advises his college-aged patients to consider being selective in the way they come out.

"There is a political agenda that some gay people would advocate that everyone must come out everywhere, but from a psychological perspective, treating real people who have to live real lives, I wouldn't say that's a bright thing to do. For college-aged kids, coming out to a conservative family may cut them off financially or the family might withdraw from them school. I've seen both of these things happen and clearly that wasn't the ideal way to come out," he says.

"I think it's smart to at least initially be careful in how we come out and then as we develop the support systems we need, we branch out and take more risks," Savin-Williams says.

The take-home message researchers at the University of Rochester offer? If the psychological benefits of coming out are directly proportional to how accepting the environment is, then we must work to make all environments supportive of sexual identity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Apr182011

Study: Social Environment Plays Role in Gay Teens' Suicide Attempts

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The social environment surrounding gay teenagers could play a major role in whether or not they are more likely to attempt suicide, according to a new study published Monday in Pediatrics.

A researcher at Columbia University looked at nearly 32,000 high school students from Oregon and found that gay teens living in a social environment that was more supportive of their sexuality were 25 percent less likely to try to take their own lives than those living in a less supportive environment.

Heterosexual teens were also found to benefit from their surroundings, with those living in a supportive environment having a nine percent lower rate of attempted suicide.

"The results of this study are pretty compelling," said Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, the researcher behind the study.  "When communities support their gay young people, and schools adopt anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies that specifically protect lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempted suicide by all young people drops, especially for LGB youth."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr082011

Report: Gay Americans Make Up Four Percent of Population

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- An estimated nine million Americans -- or nearly four percent of the total population -- say they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a new report released this week from the Williams Institute, a think tank devoted to LGBT research at UCLA.

Bisexuals make up slightly more than half that group -- 1.8 percent of the total U.S. population -- and they are substantially more likely to be women than men.

The report is the most up-to-date assessment of that population and produced a lower population percentage than the 10 percent number that advocacy groups have used in the past, which was based on Alfred Kinsey studies from 1948.

The new data comes on the heels of another recent report published by the Institute of Medicine for the National Institutes of Health emphasizing the need for more federally funded research on LGBT health problems.

"Sexual orientation is complex, but measurable," said Gary J. Gates, chief researcher and a Williams Distinguished Scholar.  "Hopefully, this will begin to prompt some dialogue on what it means when we say LGBT."

Other key findings were that an estimated 19 million Americans, or 8.2 percent of the population, said they have engaged in same-sex behavior, and 25.6 million, or 11 percent, acknowledged some same-sex attraction.

Gay advocacy groups are hailing the report as a critical first step to inform public policy, research and federal funding.  They say the information is crucial in identifying health and economic disparities, discrimination, domestic partnership benefits and the impact of same-sex marriage.

The report was based on a collection of previous surveys in the United States and around the world.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar312011

More Federal Funding for LGBT Research

Medioimages/Photodisc(WASHINGTON) -- In a landmark moment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the Institute of Medicine on Thursday published a report for the National Institutes of Health emphasizing the need for more federally funded research on LGBT health problems.

Those in the LGBT community face rampant discrimination and misinformation when it comes to getting adequate health care. Gaps in practitioner education and overall gaps in available data on the needs, risks and concerns of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are identified in the IOM report.

The purpose of the report was to inform the National Institutes of Health on research needs, but many hope it will motivate a range of health care professionals to start collecting data and looking at the specific health problems facing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and lesbians, says Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel of the Human Rights Campaign.

The report identifies dozens of health findings regarding LGBT health disparities, synthesizing more than 100 studies from the past decades on this topic.

Poor access to health insurance because of discrimination among employee-provided health care to spouses and domestic partners, high rates of mental health problems, including substance abuse, depression and thoughts of suicide, and increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases are just a few of the more pressing concerns identified in the report, says report committee member Judith Bradford, director of the Center or Population Research in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health at the Fenway Institute.

Less publicized health problems include a lack of LGBT training in medical schools, the special health risks experienced by elder LGBTs and a dearth of research into almost all areas of the transgender experience.

Many who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender recognize the IOM report as an enormous step in the direction of health care parity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar302011

Mormon 'Gay Cure' Study Used Electric Shocks Against Homosexual Feelings

Pixland/Thinkstock(PROVO, Utah) -- John Cameron said he was a naive and devout Mormon who felt "out of sync" with the world when he volunteered to be part of a study of "electric aversion therapy" in 1976 at Utah's Brigham Young University.

Twice a week for six months, he jolted himself with painful shocks to the penis to rid himself of his attraction to men.

"I kept trying to fight it, praying and fasting and abstaining and being the best person I could," said Cameron, now a 59-year-old playwright and head of the acting program at the University of Iowa.

But his undercurrent of feelings put him in direct conflict with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS) and its principles.

"As teens we were taught that homosexuality was second only to murder in the eyes of God," he said. "I was very, very religious and the Mormon church was the center of my life," said Cameron, who had done missionary work in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The 1976 study at Brigham Young, "Effect of Visual Stimuli in Electric Aversion Therapy," was written by Max Ford McBride, then a graduate student in the psychology department.

"I thought he was my savior," said Cameron, who enrolled with 13 other willing subjects, all Mormons who thought they might be gay, for a three-to-six-month course of therapy.

A mercury-filled tube was placed around the base of the penis and the students were shown alternating slides of men and women in various stages of undress. When participants responded to images of men with an erection, the closed electric circuit was broken and they received three-second electrical shocks at 10-second intervals. Each session lasted an hour. Participants set their own pain levels. Cameron said his shame was so deep that he selected the highest level.

And those weren't the only attempted cures that were used in that era. Others allege they were given chemical compounds, which were administered through an IV and caused subjects to vomit when they were stimulated.

Psychologists confirm those harsh experiments were used in a variety of medical settings by scientists of all faiths.

Church officials say they no longer support aversion therapy, but a generation who grew up in the 1970s say they have been scarred for life because of well-intentioned attempts to change their sexual orientation.

Today, the church still steadfastly opposes homosexuality, as witnessed by the millions of dollars in support it gave to pass California's Proposition 8, which would amend the state's constitution to outlaw gay marriage.

Carri P. Jenkins, assistant to the president of BYU, confirmed that McBride did study the effects of aversion therapy in the 1970s. She said the experiment was an "outgrowth of the behaviorist movement," which believed that any behavior could be modified.

Jenkins said other universities at the time used similar techniques, and none of this type has taken place at BYU since then.

Today, therapies are all "mainline therapeutic approaches," according to Jenkins, and all faculty are expected to be licensed and programs accredited.

The university, which is owned by the Mormon Church, said its policy on homosexuality is in line with Mormon doctrine -- today's students are not disciplined unless they engage in sexual activity, and that includes heterosexual sex before marriage.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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