Social Support and LGBTQ+ Individuals and Communities

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Date
2021
Authors
Humble, Áine
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Abstract
Social support is an important resource that can help reduce stressful situations or buffer the impact of stressful situations for LGBTQ+ individuals. Many different definitions of social support exist, but researchers often focus on emotional, informational, or practical support provided to a person. Social support is communicated by people close to a person as well through institutional practices and policies and in communities. General trends around the world show increasing support for sexual-minority individuals—and to a lesser extent gender-minority individuals—but there are many countries still hostile to LGBTQ+ individuals. A number of individual-level and country-level variables are related to positive attitudes toward LGBTQ+ individuals. Social support is operationalized in many ways in quantitative research on LGBTQ+ individuals, usually used as a predictor of health outcomes. Some quantitative measures look at general social support, whereas others study social support within particular settings, or very specific ways in which support is communicated. Measures of social support specific to LGBTQ+ populations have been developed, such as The Gay and Lesbian Acceptance and Support Index. Research also looks at support at the community level—the broader community (often referred to as community climate) as well as LGBTQ+ community. Qualitative research is valuable for exploring what social support means to various groups and for understanding how different social identities interact with each other. Many factors influence expectations and experiences of social support; thus, research should be contextualized. Rather than studying LGBTQ+ as a group, subgroups can be studied, along with intersectional research. When this is carried out, unique findings can appear. For example, lesbians in adulthood can include ex-partners and ex-lovers in their social support networks, and Black lesbian parents describe complex ways in which they interact with their families and religious communities. Different life course changes such as same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ parenting provide opportunities to explore if and how social support is communicated to LGBTQ+ individuals. Who support is received from is also a key area of interest—families of origin, chosen families, friends, work colleagues, LGBTQ+ communities and broader communities, and so on. Later-life circumstances of LGBTQ+ individuals also need focus, as these individuals often have smaller social support networks due to lifetime discrimination and cumulative life course experiences. Political situations involving elevated anti-gay rhetoric are also relevant contexts in which to study how social support can ameliorate minority stress. Research is starting to look at social support in formal organizations, many of which have developed guidelines for developing inclusive environments for sexual- and gender-minority groups.
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Keywords
Community climate , Family acceptance , Formal support , Informal support , Intersectionality , LGBTQ+ , LGBTQ+ communities , Life course , Minority stress , Social support
Citation
Humble, A. M. (2021). Social support and LGBTQ+ individuals and communities. In I. N. West (Ed.), Encyclopedia of queer studies and communication. Oxford University Press.
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