By Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (
June 28 is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which launched lesbian and gay rights as a mass movement and is commemorated in the LGBT Pride celebrations. We take this occasion to reaffirm the American Psychological Association’s commitment to removing the social stigma that sexual and gender minorities still experience both here in the U.S. and around the world. We’ve come a long way since the days when mainstream psychology contributed to the oppression of sexual and gender minorities as mentally ill. However, prejudice and discrimination still exist today even within psychology. There are individuals and organizations in the U.S. and many other places promoting the unscientific idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices that can or should be changed.
This month’s shootings in Orlando were horrific, but sadly they weren’t a radical aberration. Violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remains widespread and frequent. A recent New York Times analysis of FBI hate crimes data indicated that such crimes against sexual minorities were the highest per capita of any group tracked. Internationally, violence against sexual and gender minorities, can be even more brutal. In South Africa where human rights of LGBT people are enshrined in the constitution, “corrective rape” of lesbians still occurs. In the Middle East, ISIS has thrown gay men from rooftops. The U.N. has called for its members to act urgently to end such violence and discrimination.
Violence and discrimination are not based solely on one set of prejudices; members of the LGBT community face prejudice for multiple reasons. As we have learned more information about the victims of the shootings in Orlando, it has become clear that most were people of color and predominantly Latino. We also know that transgender women of color are the majority of LGBT hate crime homicides. People of color and the LGBT community continue to experience discrimination, and their risk of victimization is compounded when their identities intersect across multiple stigmatized groups.
When governments, including the U.S., codify discrimination, they help to promote and maintain stigma and prejudice. Hundreds of laws targeted at LGBT people have been introduced in our state legislatures in the past three years and some have passed. Draconian new laws targeting LGBT people and their allies were adopted in Uganda and Nigeria in recent years. In much of the Middle East and South Asia, legal penalties for homosexuality range from 14 years’ imprisonment to death. Russia has even criminalized speech that supports the rights of sexual or gender minorities.
Action is needed to end all discrimination and violence, public and private. Legal protections matter. Research has found that LGBT people living in places with protective and supportive laws are healthier than those in places with fewer legal protections. APA is proud to join with civil and human rights groups to promote U.S. policies that prohibit unfair discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT movement has had remarkable successes – such as marriage equality – due to its commitment and creativity. It is important for us all to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths that the LGBT community and its allies have built as we move forward.
The shootings in Orlando, as the work of a lone gunman, will not ultimately harm the movement for LGBT rights, but they do make painfully clear how firearm violence is a human rights issue. Firearm violence affects us all – and especially those targeted by hate. Out of this tragic event an opportunity can be seen for all groups to come together—including LGBT people, people of color, and their allies, along with violence prevention advocates—to achieve legislative and cultural change to prevent any further needless deaths and injuries due to gun violence.