by Bill Arbuckle
June is the annual Pride month for the LGBTQIA+ community, and it’s more than just a chance for brands and celebrities to sell rainbow merchandise. Pride month is a chance for us to celebrate, reflect on, and become more educated about essential topics related to the LGBTQIA+ community.
As global discourse around the LGBTQIA+ topic seems only to be becoming more regressive than progressive, this is an ample opportunity to discuss what Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are, how minority stress impacts people, and how both of these things affect the LGBTQIA+ communities.
What is “Minority Stress”?
Essentially, minority stress encapsulates the lived experience of those considered marginalized members of society and how the treatment of those minorities can negatively their mental and physical health over time.
Minority stress can often lead to traditional complications of chronic stress as many people understand it: strokes, migraines, suicidal ideation, heart disease, substance abuse, and so much more. This idea is currently being studied and evaluated by researchers, and there is some ongoing debate about the role of genetics, environment, and socioeconomic status on individuals as a cause for the impacts that have been observed.
Examples of reasons why an individual may experience minority stress include:
- Gender identity
- Immigration status
- Sexual orientation
Any minority group can experience minority stress. Having the news cycle run rampant with stories about attacks on marginalized communities and their lives being debated online, on television, and in the halls of Parliament. Treated like an “other” in society isn’t just a source of emotional pain or discomfort. These small and large ways that minorities are disregarded or disrespected in society can cause actual physical, psychological, and emotional damage over time.
The Adverse Childhood Experience Score
Another similar framework that analyzes the underlying cause of many negative impacts is the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, score. The ACEs study is a landmark framework that seeks to understand the correlation between negative childhood experiences and later impacts on adult functioning. The higher the ACEs score (which includes things like abuse, neglect, discrimination, mistreatment, malnutrition, and household dysfunction), the more likely an individual is to experience a whole host of negative impacts as they grow older. These impacts often include substance abuse, homelessness, obesity, heart disease, STDs, cancer, and more.
And the problem compounds when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, when studied, have overall higher ACEs scores than their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts.
Regardless of a high ACEs score, one of the most significant indicators of adult success is at least one supportive, trustworthy adult advocate in the child’s life. Since the ACEs study was released, there has been a big push in mental health and child advocacy settings to educate the community on building resilience and providing support for children early before the symptoms of a high ACEs score can cause life-long damage.
The Connection Between Minority Stress, ACEs, and the LGBTQIA+ Community
Part of being a good ally and advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community is understanding the problems experienced by that community. Many LGBTQIA+ people face daily discrimination and harassment, even in the most tolerant countries. The fundamental rights to healthcare, marriage equality, gender-affirming surgeries, or freedom of gender or sexual identity expression continue to be a hotly contested topic, as many view LGBTQIA+ rights as inconsistent with their personal religious and moral beliefs.
Even things like the news or seeing LGBTQIA+ rights taken away in other countries can cause the chronic stress we’ve been discussing. The LGBTQIA+ community has to consider their safety and bodily autonomy and how that can impact where they shop, how they navigate society safely, where they can travel, and so much more. There are countless stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people attempting to find and develop community and support, only to be ostracized once their sexuality or gender identity is revealed.
Tips for supporting the LGBTQIA+ people in your life and community:
- Volunteer at a local non-profit or community center for LGBTQIA+ people
- Learn as much as you can about the problems and adversities faced by this community, and share that knowledge wherever possible
- Advocate for the LGBTQIA+ population in your workplace, in your local government, or the community at large
- Stand up and speak out against injustice when you observe it
- Donate to LGBTQIA+ advocacy organizations if you can
- Let the LGBTQIA+ people in your life know that you’re a safe ally for them if they need to talk
There is still a lot we don’t know about how stressors and childhood adversity can impact adults, but we do know that both children and adults with the fewest supports in society fall through the cracks at the highest rates. This Pride month, take some time to reflect on those in your life or community who may be struggling the most and how you might be able to extend a supporting hand through various personal channels or organizations that are working to support the LGBTQIA+ population in your area.
About the Author
Bill Arbuckle has worked in the field of addiction treatment since 2009. Bill specializes in treating addiction and trauma using Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (A.E.D.P.) and Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.).
Bill also has personal experience with addiction and substance use. He found the way out, back to the light, and works to help others do the same. He is the founder of Hard Road Counselling, a practice that specializes in addiction counselling in Vancouver, British Columbia.