Study confirms religious freedom laws affect LGBT health
As if the LGBT community doesn’t have enough to worry about the many things affecting our health like discrimination, a study shows that states’ religious freedom laws may also have an effect.
The study was analysis conducted by scientists at the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and published online in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.
How religious freedom laws affect LGBT health
The study looked into how the increasing number of religious freedom laws in states is resulting in poorer self-reported health among the sexual minorities.
In particular, it noted that the sexual minorities were definitely affected after Indiana had passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in 2015.
These religious freedom laws have an effect because courts invokes these laws to support those who want to deny health and medical services to those groups they have conflict with due to their personal religious beliefs.
“Although we can’t say for certain what caused this significant increase in unhealthy days for sexual minority people in Indiana, the change coincided with intense public debate over enactment of the RFRA law,” said lead author John R. Blosnich, assistant professor in the Pitt School of Medicine’s Division of General and Internal Medicine.
How they came up with the results on the study
Blosnich led the team that looked into data from 21 states that participated in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey.
In those states, they then looked into the health of almost 5,000 participants who identified as sexual minorities, analyzing the number of their “unhealthy days.”
The CDC describes “unhealthy days” as the total number of days in 30 days (or a month) that people reported their physical and mental health were not good.
Among the residents of the said states, Indiana saw a “significant increase” in the percentage of sexual minority people surveyed who reported “unhealthy days” in 2015.
During the first quarter of that year, 24.5 percent reported their health was poor for 14 or more days of each month.
In the final quarter, 59.5 percent reported the same, especially after a public discussion and the passage of the RFRA.
Religious freedom laws: No effect on heterosexuals
However, the team also discovered that straight people of Indiana didn’t have any increase in “unhealthy days” within those periods.
“If some other general, statewide factor was at work, we would expect to see the same increase in unhealthy days for heterosexual people in Indiana, and we didn’t see that,” Blosnich said.
“If it was a regional or a seasonal factor, we would expect to see the same increase in unhealthy days for sexual minority people in Indiana’s neighboring states of Ohio and Illinois, and we didn’t see that either,” he added.
Meanwhile, study co-author Erin Cassese, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Political Science and International Relations warned that: “Some RFRAs are stronger than others, and Indiana’s RFRA law ‘has teeth’ in the sense that it can be used in private litigation, including cases where businesses wish to deny services to sexual minorities.”
A chilling effect of religious freedom laws
According to prior research, the LGBT community suffers from greater rates of poor mental health (including depression and anxiety) and this is attributed to discrimination and harassment.
They also face higher risks of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
Cassese said: “While debate over RFRA laws doesn’t typically engage with questions of public health, this project suggests negative health outcomes might be a consequence of this type of policy, and thus warrant some consideration by policymakers.”