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On The Importance Of Intersectionality: Multiple Forms Of Discrimination And Health

Black Gays for Justice and Respect

Over thirty years ago, Black feminist scholars and activists began emphasizing the importance of recognizing every identity and status of which each individual is comprised.  We are not merely a particular gender, nor race, nor class.  In fact, the crux of the perspective known as intersectionality is that we must account for the intersecting nature of our identities and statuses.  For example, a full understanding of the lives of Black women cannot come from considering their lives as Black people only, as women only, nor as the sum of these two sets of experiences.

Fortunately, sociologists like myself are beginning to recognize that it is crucial to examine intersectionality in our research.  But, it seems one key component of the theoretical framework of intersectionality is often overlooked.  Black feminist scholars, like Patricia Hill Collins and Kimberlé Crenshaw, called not only to examine the intersections among race, gender, class, and sexual identity, but, more importantly, to focus on the intersecting and mutually reinforcing relationships among systems of oppression: racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity.

In my own research on the health consequences of discrimination, I have noticed that almost every one of the hundreds of studies on discrimination and health focus exclusively on one form of discrimination – especially racial discrimination.  There is solid evidence demonstrating that one’s experiences with discrimination are consequential for one’s mental and physical health; however, these studies have not examined whether the relationship between discrimination and health depends upon the number of forms of discrimination individuals experience.  Could it be the case that individuals who face sexist and racist discrimination fare worse in terms of health than those who experience sexist discrimination or racist discrimination only?

In a study I published in the June 2012 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, I find that the answer is yes, at least among youth.   Using a sample of 1,052 Black, Latina/o, and white youth aged 15-25 from the Black Youth Culture Survey of the Black Youth Project, I found five important patterns.

  1. First, disadvantaged youth report more frequent exposure to their status-specific form of discrimination.  Black and Latina/o youth report more frequent race discrimination than white youth.  Girls and young women report more frequent gender discrimination than boys and young men.  Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth report more frequent sexual orientation discrimination than heterosexual youth.  And, youth whose families have been on welfare or state assistance report more class discrimination than youth from wealthier families.

    Reports of Each Form of Discrimination

  2. Generally, more frequent exposure to each form of discrimination is associated with worse self-rated physical health and more depressive symptoms in the past month.
  3. Multiply disadvantaged youth (e.g., Black working-class boys, Latina lesbian and bisexual girls) report facing more forms of discrimination and more frequent discrimination overall (i.e., the sum of the frequency of exposure to the four forms of discrimination).

    Number of Forms of Discrimination Reported by Number of Disadvantaged Statuses

    Overall Frequency of Discrimination by Number of Disadvantaged Statuses

  4. Youth who face multiple forms of discrimination and more frequent discrimination report worse self-rated physical health and more depressive symptoms than youth who face fewer forms and less frequent discrimination.

    Self-Rated Health by Number of Disadvantaged Statuses

    Depressive Symptoms by Number of Disadvantaged Statuses

  5. Multiply disadvantaged youth experience worse self-rated physical health and more depressive symptoms compared to their more privileged counterparts.  This is due, in part, to their disproportionate exposure to multiple forms of and chronic discrimination.  That is, exposure to multiple forms of discrimination contributes to these documented health disparities.

These findings reiterate the importance of examining the intersections among systems of oppression.  In the case of this article, only examining racial discrimination or gender discrimination, for example, would miss that youth who are disadvantaged in more than one way face the greatest amount of discrimination.  Unfortunately, scholarship and popular discussions of racism, or sexism, or homophobia in isolation from other forms of oppression continue to gloss over the experiences of individuals whose lives are constrained by multiple systems of oppression.

Same-Sex Couples Make Good (Or Even Better) Parents

Source: Donklephant

Note: this blog post was originally published on Kinsey Confidential.

Recent research on the impact of parents’ sexual orientation on their children has indicated that the children of same-sex couples are just as healthy and happy as the children of different-sex (heterosexual) couples.  In fact, they might even have an advantage over the children of heterosexual couples.

Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Parents

Researchers at the Williams Institute at UCLA have found that a substantial number of same-sex couples report having one or more children, a number that’s not far from the number of heterosexual couples that report having children.

A host of researchers in the social sciences have attempted to compare the parenting styles and effectiveness of same-sex and different-sex couples in an effort to replace myths about the impact of parents’ sexual orientation on children with documented findings.

Sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy J. Biblarz conclude, in their review of these studies, that parents’ sexual orientation has little, if any, impact on children; in fact, parents’ gender actually has an impact that trumps the impact of sexual orientation.

That being said, then, it may come as no surprise that the latest study in this line of research has found some evidence that lesbians make better parents than heterosexuals: their children are less likely to trapped in rigid, traditional gender roles and are more likely to pursue prestigious male-dominated careers regardless of their gender.

Same-Sex Couples As Role Models For New Parents

Adding to this research is the awareness that same-sex couples, in general, tend to be more intentional and thoughtful in their journey to parenthood.

That is, unlike the ease at which heterosexuals may become pregnant, same-sex couples tend to pursue means that are not likely to occur by accident: adoption, egg/sperm donation, surrogate parents.

So, when same-sex couples do become parents, they have likely spent a great deal of time planning and strategizing, and have decided that they’re ready and willing to be parents. In addition to producing kids that are more likely to reject rigid gender roles and traditional gendered careers (e.g., women as nurses, men as doctors), same-sex couple parents can serve as a role model for others to be very careful and intentional in their sexual behaviors and family decision-making.

Open communication between partners and the use of safe sex practices (e.g., the pill, condoms, regular sexual health check-ups and sexually transmitted infection testing) can reduce the number of unexpected (and, in some cases, unintended) pregnancies, like that in the recent hit movie, Knocked Up.