“Stigma” is a characteristic, real or imaginary, that is attributed to a person and ‘marks’ them as different. Stigma conveys a negative or spoiled identity to the person who is stigmatized because their ‘mark’ or ‘characteristic’ is judged by society.

LGBTQ2 individuals around the world experience stigma, from greater to lesser degree, as their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression is still regarded as wrong, unnatural, immoral, deviated, pathological or unacceptable.

Stigma weaves its way into our daily social interactions in several ways, with diverse effects:

Self-stigma: People who are stigmatized often internalize those negative feelings about their identity.

Stigma by association: This means that people who know and spend time with a stigmatized person are also targeted by others’ negative actions, feelings, and thoughts for their connection with the stigmatized person.

Structural stigma: Negative thoughts, feelings, and actions toward stigmatized people influence laws and policies. For example, up until the the 1970’s, people considered homosexuality to be a mental illness, which was an idea endorsed by one of the biggest psychiatric institutions in the world, the American Psychiatric Association

How does stigma impact health?

Experiencing everyday stigma and discrimination increases the likelihood of mental or physical health problems, as it fosters stressful experiences. Sometimes the way that stigmatized people cope with this stress can also be detrimental to their health (e.g., excessive use of alcohol; Bos, Pryor, Reeder, & Stutterheim, 2013). LGBTQ2 individuals may also attempt to conceal their stigmatized identity, which can add more stress (e.g., the fear of being discovered). Someone trying to conceal their stigmatized identity may have fewer close friends and less social support Structural stigma also directly impacts social determinants of health, affecting opportunities for education, employment, and housing, and ultimately limits access health resources, and willingness to seek healthcare services. The impact that stigma has on health can be better explained by three theories:

  1. The Minority Stress Model

  2. The Biomarkers of Stress

  3. The Psychological Mediation Framework