remains widespread in our society (APA, 1997; Perrin, 1996). Although many kinds of abuse of and discrimination against lesbians have been clearly documented, their impact on physical and mental health remains in need of study. Until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association classified homosexuality as an illness or pathological condition. Although no longer classified as an aberrant condition, negative attitudes about gays and lesbians continue to be held by many members of the public, including health and mental health care providers (Bradford et al., 1994b; Garnets et al., 1991; Rothblum, 1994; Wolfe, 1998).

Experience with discrimination or prejudice is common among lesbians. For example, in a multisite longitudinal study of cardiovascular risk factors in black and white adults ages 25 to 37 years, 33% of the black women and 56% of the white women who reported having had at least one same-sex sexual partner reported experience with discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Krieger and Sidney, 1997). Eighty-five percent of the black women further reported discrimination based on race. Most of the women (89%) also reported having experienced gender discrimination.

Gay men and lesbians are also at risk of being targets of violence based on their sexual orientation or behavior. Antigay hate crimes accounted for 11.6% of the hate crime statistics collected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1996, making this the third largest category following racial hate crimes and crimes based on religion (FBI, 1996).1 More than half of the respondents in the National Lesbian Health Care Survey (NLHCS) reported that they had been verbally attacked because they were lesbian, and 8% said that they had been physically attacked (Bradford and Ryan, 1988). Similarly, nearly half of the women surveyed in the Michigan Lesbian Health Survey (MLHS) reported having experienced a verbal attack because of their lesbian identity, and 5% reported having been physically attacked (Bybee and Roeder, 1990).

Numerous states have in place laws that negatively target gay men

1  

The FBI is mandated to collect data on hate crimes as part of the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which collects data on crimes from nearly 17,000 voluntary law enforcement agency participants across the country. Of the 8,759 hate crime incidents reported to the FBI in 1996, 5,396 were motivated by racial bias, 1,401 by religion bias, 1,016 by sexual orientation bias, and 940 by ethnicity or national origin bias.



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