Institute of Medicine Says Link Between Coming Out and Good Mental Health is 'Unwarranted'

Last year, the Institute of Medicine published a landmark study titled "The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People: Building a Foundation for Better Understanding." Many gay health experts hailed the report, but little notice was given to a finding in the "Early/Middle Adulthood" section.

In it, the expert panel, which took over a year to examine numerous LGBT health studies, concluded that "the assumption of a universal positive link between coming out and mental health appears unwarranted."

Whoa! That's something the gay rights movement would not want a whole bunch of people to hear.

The panel, led by top health care advocate Dr. Robert Graham, further explains that "multiple social, cultural, and psychological influences affect the extent to which members of homosexually active populations experience favorable consequences from self-identity as lesbian or gay."

So what does that mean for the widely held, often mentioned, notion that coming out is the best thing that can ever happen to a gay individual?

Coming out also has been the primary political tool of the gay rights movement for decades. If gay folks stay invisible, the logic goes, we can't effectively defend and win our equality.

Makes sense to us, but the health of an individual going through the coming out process also needs to be considered and respected. Sometimes we wonder if a 15-year-old kid in Texas is thinking of such a thing when the LGBT community is always saying how life will be grand once he steps out of the closet.

We're reminded of a recent essay L.A. Weekly freelancer Reilly T. Bates wrote about the topic for another blog called The Pathfinder.

"Hiding one's sexuality is often the result of a survival need," Bates writes. "If a teenager tells his parents he's gay, what if he gets booted from his house? Where would he go with no money? How would he go on to college or find a decent job?"

He continues, "Those are harsh realities that many LGBT youth are burdened with. While it is very trendy to recite "It Gets Better" with a pat on the back, visions of a better life most certainly seem cloudy for teenagers grappling with how to come out to their families."

Indeed.

What do you think?

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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