June/July 2016: Our prejudice kills

We kill each other, according to the FBI, by shooting, stabbing, punching, kicking, clubbing, strangling, burning, drowning, drugging and poisoning each other. Perhaps it’s time we confessed to one other method: prejudice. Prejudice–pre-judging, judging before we know, from the Latin prae “in advance” and judicium “judgment”–is a vice we all share to some degree, but it’s not just a matter of good manners, or of morality, or of social justice. Yes, it is about those things, but it’s also about life and death.

Our prejudice kills. Sometimes our prejudice kills directly, as in the cases of our prejudging people as “the other,” as less than human, as dangerous, and beating them, lynching them, shooting them. But, if we are honest, we must admit that our prejudice often kills indirectly.

In the U.S., we have been struggling for centuries to make progress away from prejudice, but there remain Americans who are, more than others, gossiped about, stigmatized, marginalized, negatively judged, disapproved of, discriminated against, legislated against, hated, bullied, beaten, and otherwise tormented – sometimes this prejudice is built into our institutions, our policies, our religions, and our laws. This “softer” bigotry may seem less lethal, but it’s not.

The best understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Numerous studies have shown that minorities experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health.
While we were sickened and outraged at the slaughter of in Orlando, we were, and still are, unaware or unmoved by the daily carnage our prejudice causes among our LGBTQ family, friends and neighbors.

Our prejudice kills. Research shows that LGBTQ people who are harassed, bullied, victimized, discriminated against or rejected by family and friends are more likely to attempt suicide. According to surveys, 4.6% of the U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, but among lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents it’s as high as 20%, and among transgender people 41%.

We know how our prejudice kills. For example, the reasons transgender people are at higher risk for suicide are pretty consistent across multiple peer reviewed studies. They include: rejection by friends and family, discrimination, physical abuse, being viewed by others as non-conforming, and internalization of negative messages from our culture. Do you see the thread that runs through those factors? The thread that ties those factors together is our prejudice.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has addressed the issue of suicide in LGBTQ populations, and reached the same conclusions on the actual causes of suicide in the transgender community:

Suicidal behaviors in LGBT populations appear to be related to “minority stress,” which stems from the cultural and social prejudice attached to minority sexual orientation and gender identity. This stress includes individual experiences of prejudice or discrimination, such as family rejection, harassment, bullying, violence, and victimization. Increasingly recognized as an aspect of minority stress is “institutional discrimination” resulting from laws and public policies that create inequities or omit LGBT people from benefits and protections afforded others. Individual and institutional discrimination have been found to be associated with social isolation, low self-esteem, negative sexual/gender identity, and depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.

FSM offers services with a special sensitivity to the families and families of choice of the LGBTQ community, but our services typically get used after damage has been done.

It’s a hard thing, admitting our prejudices, facing the consequences of our prejudices, and working to overcome our prejudices, but these tasks are no less obligatory for being arduous. Let’s add prejudice to the list of ways we’re killing each other, and then get serious about removing it.