Sexual minorities who participate in LGBQ activism tend to have enhanced psychological well-being, according to new research. The study indicates that meaning in life, problem-solving coping strategies, and community connection play a key role in this relationship. The findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.
The researchers in this study were interested in examining the relationship between participation in LGBQ activism and the psychological well-being of sexual minority individuals. They specifically focused on posttraumatic growth and positive affect as outcomes of interest.
The researchers noted that sexual minority individuals often experience various forms of prejudice, discrimination, and violence, which can be traumatic and have negative psychological effects. However, there is limited research on the predictors of positive psychological functioning among LGBQ individuals.
“Much of the research in LGBQ psychology has been focused on experiences of sexual orientation-based prejudice, discrimination, and oppression and their relations to negative mental health outcomes,” explained study author Dawn M. Szymanski, a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
“For this study, we were interested in examining participation in LGBQ activism as one way that sexual minority persons can transform these disempowering experiences and resist heterosexist oppression. Thus, we were interested in knowing if the power of activism can be important to liberation and healing and have positive benefits on psychological health and well-being.”
To conduct their study, the researchers recruited participants through paid Facebook advertisements and by sending email announcements to LGBQ community and college organizations. The study was conducted between August 18, 2020, and December 18, 2020, during the Trump presidential administration, which was considered to have a worsened political climate for LGBTQ rights compared to the previous Obama administration.
The initial sample consisted of 935 individuals who started the online survey. The researchers removed participants who were under 18 years old, self-identified as heterosexual, did not complete the survey, had unacceptable amounts of missing data, or failed validity checks. The final sample included 516 participants.
The participants in the final sample were asked to complete measures related to their participation in LGBQ activism, meaning in life, community connection, and problem-solving coping.
In addition, the researchers used a scale called the Stress-Related Growth Scale—Revised to measure posttraumatic growth. The scale asked about changes the participants may have experienced as a result of facing rejection, prejudice, harassment, and discrimination based on their sexual orientation. (e.g. “I experienced a change in the extent to which I feel free to make my own decisions.”)
The results of the study supported previous research, indicating that being involved in activism is associated with better psychological well-being. Specifically, participating in LGBQ activism was linked to higher levels of posttraumatic growth and positive affect.
“Our findings show that participation in LGBQ activism may enhance one’s sense of meaning in life, encourage community connection, and facilitate problem-solving coping strategies, all important factors that may in turn contribute to positive psychological outcomes among sexual minority persons,” Szymanski told PsyPost.
The researchers also examined the mediating factors that could explain the relationship between activism and positive outcomes. They found that the presence of meaning in life and problem-solving coping strategies played important roles in mediating the positive effects of activism on both posttraumatic growth and positive affect. In other words, being involved in activism was linked to increased purpose in life and more effective problem-solving skills, which in turn was related to enhanced psychological well-being.
Interestingly, community connection, which refers to feeling connected and supported within the LGBQ community, was found to mediate the association with posttraumatic growth but not positive affect. This suggests that community connection may be more closely related to personal growth rather than positive feelings.
However, Szymanski noted that “because of the cross-sectional nature of our study, causal links cannot be determined.”
“For example, it is possible that LGBQ persons who experience greater meaning in life, community connection, and problem-solving coping go on to engage in activism or that reciprocal relations exist,” the researcher explained. “In an effort to understand potential cause and effect relations between variables in our study, future research using longitudinal and experimental designs is needed.”
The study, “LGBQ Activism and Positive Psychological Functioning: The Roles of Meaning, Community Connection, and Coping“, was authored by Dawn M. Szymanski, James D. Goates, and Charlotte Strauss Swanson.