Feature

A national two-year study of gay and lesbian experiences found that gays and lesbians have high levels of satisfaction with their available social support and identify themselves as spiritual but rarely attend religious services. Those preliminary results were released at the 2003 National Multicultural Conference and Summit in January.

The study, completed by a University of Maryland research team lead by Ruth E. Fassinger, PhD, used a Web-based survey to garner responses from 1,770 gays and lesbians, including 325 people of color, about life issues ranging from identity and coming out to relationships, work and religion. Respondents ranged from 16 to 73 years old and included whites, African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans, multiracial people and people of Middle Eastern and Arab descent.

"The study makes a significant contribution because of its breadth," says Fassinger. "It includes variables that have received scant attention in research on lesbians and gays, such as ethnic/cultural influences and religion. In addition, the sample is sizable and includes one of the largest groups of ethnic-minority lesbian and gay participants to date."

Respondents' degree of "outness"--the extent to which their sexual orientation is known to their family, friends, co-workers and others--was queried and compared with numerous factors, such as available social support and effect on relationships.

Findings showed a significant positive relationship between people's outness and their use of and satisfaction with social support available to them. White gays and lesbians reported a greater degree of outness than did ethnic-minority respondents, particularly to family. Furthermore, those people who were most out reported more commitment to their relationships with their significant others or partners. Differences in partners' levels of outness were linked to relationship communication for both men and women, and to relationship conflict for women.

Most respondents reported going to religious services never or rarely, and 69 percent reported changing their religious affiliations (toward more welcoming denominations or away from organized religion) as adults. People associated with more homonegative religions, even as children, demonstrated lower levels of current outness.

On the job, workplace heterosexism was shown to have a strong effect on job satisfaction, but only slightly greater than person-workplace fit, leading the authors to submit that a good fit between the individual and the occupational environment may be more critical to job satisfaction for lesbian and gay people than for the general population.

Other members of the research team were Bradley Brenner, Susanna Gallor, Ian Kellems, Misty Kolchakian, Heather Lyons and Andrew Mariotti. For more information, contact Fassinger at 3214 Benjamin Building, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742.

--R. FARBERMAN