LGBT Youth Consult

Consider the stresses experienced by LGBTQ people of color


Given that Pride month is coinciding with so much upheaval in our community around racism and oppression, it is important to discuss the overlap in the experiences of both LGBTQ and people of color (POC).

Dr. Shauna M. Lawlis, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, and an adolescent medicine specialist at OU Children's

Dr. Shauna M. Lawlis

The year 2020 will go down in history books. We will always remember the issues faced during this critical year. At least I hope so, because as we have seen, history repeats itself. How do these issues that we are currently facing relate to LGBTQ youth? The histories are linked. One cannot look at the history of LGBTQ rights without looking at other civil rights movements, particularly those for black people. The timing of these social movements often intertwined, both being inspired by and inspiring each other. For example, Bayard Rustin worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in addition to being a public advocate for gay rights later on in his life. Similarly, the Stonewall Uprising that is known by many to be one of the first acts of the gay liberation movement, prominently featured Marsha P. Johnson (a black, transgender, self-identified drag queen) and Sylvia Rivera (a Latina American transgender rights activist). As we reflect on these histories, it is important to think about the effect of minority stress and intersectionality and how this impacts LGBTQ-POC and their health disparities.

Minority stress shows that stigmatized minority groups face chronic stressors that ultimately lead to physical and emotional responses, thus affecting long-term health outcomes. One example of such stressors is microaggressions – brief interactions that one might not realize are discriminatory or hurtful, but to the person on the receiving end of such comments, they are harmful and they add up. A suspicious look from a store owner as one browses the aisles of a local convenience store, a comment about how one “doesn’t’ seem gay” or “doesn’t sound black” all are examples of microaggressions.

Overt discrimination, expectation of rejection, and hate crimes also contribute to minority stress. LGBTQ individuals often also have to hide their identity whereas POC might not be able to hide their identity. Experiencing constant bombardment of discrimination from the outside world can lead one to internalize these thoughts of homophobia, transphobia, or racism.

Minority stress becomes even more complicated when you apply the theoretical framework of intersectionality – overlapping identities that compound one’s minority stress. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people of color (LGBTQ-POC) are a classic example of intersecting identities. They may experience racism from the LGBT community or homophobia/transphobia from their own racial or ethnic community in addition to the discrimination they already face from the majority population for both identities. Some LGBTQ people of color may feel the need to choose between these two identities, forcing them to compartmentalize one aspect of their identity from the other. Imagine how stressful that must be! In addition, LGBTQ-POC are less likely to come out to family members.

Most of us are aware that health disparities exist, both for the LGBTQ community as well as for racial and ethnic minorities; couple these together and the effect can be additive, placing LGBTQ-POC at higher risk for adverse health outcomes. In the late 1990s, racial and ethnic minority men having sex with men made up 48% of all HIV infection cases, a number that is clearly disproportionate to their representation in our overall society. Given both LGBTQ and POC have issues accessing care, one can only imagine that this would make it hard to get diagnosed or treated regularly for these issues.

Transgender POC also are particularly vulnerable to health disparities. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey looked at the experiences of over 28,000 transgender people in the United States, but the survey also broke down the experiences for transgender people of color. Black transgender individuals were more likely than their black cisgender counterparts to experience unemployment (20% vs. 10%) and poverty (38% vs. 24%). They were more likely to experience homelessness compared with the overall transgender sample (42% vs. 30%) and more likely to have been sexually assaulted in their lives (53% vs. 47%). Understandably, 67% of black transgender respondents said they would feel somewhat or very uncomfortable asking the police for help.

The findings were similar for Latinx transgender respondents: 21% were unemployed compared with the overall rate of unemployment for Latinx in the United States at 7%, and 43% were living in poverty compared with 18% of their cisgender peers.

Perhaps the most striking result among American Indian and Alaska Native respondents was that 57% had experienced homelessness – nearly twice the rate of the survey sample overall (30%). For the transgender Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander respondents, 32% were living in poverty and 39% had experienced serious psychological distress in the month before completing the survey.

So please, check in on your patients, friends, and family that identify as both LGBTQ and POC. Imagine how scary this must be for LGBTQ youth of color. They can be targeted for both their race and their sexuality and/or gender identity.

Dr. Lawlis is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, and an adolescent medicine specialist at OU Children’s. She has no relevant financial disclosures. Email her at

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