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[ Recorded presentation ] Recorded presentation

Applying queer theory to assess the effects of heterosexism on depression among lesbians

Tasseli E. McKay, MPH1, Erin Kobetz, PhD2, Chandra Ford, MPH, MLIS2, Amy Joy Lanou, PhD3, and A.M. Neevel4. (1) Health Behavior and Health Education, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health, Campus Box 7440, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, (919) 542-6323, tmckay@email.unc.edu, (2) Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, CB #7440, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, (3) Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 5100 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, Suite 400, Washington, DC 20016, (4) Blueband Consulting, 305B W. Markham Ave., Durham, NC 27701

This presentation proposes the use of queer theory to guide public health research on depression among lesbians. Preliminary evidence suggests substantially higher rates of depression, suicide ideation and suicide attempt among lesbians compared to heterosexual women. Research on depression in LGBT communities is beginning to establish individual-level risk factors for depression specific to this population.

Considerable strides have been made in measuring the influence of minority sexual orientation on mental health; however, the current literature fails to account for the role of non-traditional gender identity in shaping experiences of heterosexism in LGBT communities. Further, inquiry into depression among lesbians overwhelmingly focuses on identifying individual level risk factors, neglecting the possible higher-order influence of heterosexism. Understanding the intrapersonal-level associations among sexual orientation, “minority stress” exposure, and mental health outcomes may inform better clinical practice, but is not sufficient to guide public health intervention at the population level.

These gaps may be addressed by appropriating a multi-dimensional definition of heterosexism from queer theory. Queer theory characterizes heterosexism as a broad social determinant that shapes normative expectations regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. For purposes of public health research on depression among lesbians, it is crucial to operationalize heterosexism at the policy, community, organizational, interpersonal and intrapersonal levels. The constructivist orientation underpinning this theoretical approach demands innovative research strategies to capture the complex impact of heterosexism on depression among lesbians.

Learning Objectives: At the close of this session, participants will be able to

Keywords: Mental Health, Lesbian

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

[ Recorded presentation ] Recorded presentation

Lesbian and Bisexual Women's Health

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA