Minority Stress & LGBTQIA2S+ Mental Health

Written by Eliott Hamilton, Student Informatician

Terms to Know

  • LGBTQIA2S+ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, + (representing all other Queer & Trans identities not represented in the acronym
  • Heterosexism – prejudice against any non-heterosexual form of behavior, relationship, or community, particularly the denigration of lesbians, gay men, and those who are bisexual or transgender.
  • GSRM – Gender, Sexual, & Romantic Minorities
  • Transgender – An adjective describing a person who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth
  • Cisgender – An adjective describing a person who does identify with the gender they were assigned at birth
  • Nonbinary – An adjective describing anyone who identifies as a gender outside of the man/woman binary. This term can be used as an individual identity or as an umbrella term for many gender identities that do not fall within the gender binary.
  • Marginalization – The process through which an individual or group with distinctive qualities becomes identified as one that is not accepted fully into the larger group.
  • Multiply Marginalized – An adjective describing a person who is a part of two or more marginalized groups.
  • BIPOC – Black, Indigenous, & people of color
  • AAPI – Asian American and Pacific Islanders

What is Minority Stress Theory?

Minority Stress Theory describes the additional stress that members of marginalized communities experience due to stigma.

Stigma and Minority Stress

Stigmatization is driven by imbalances in social, economic, and political power. It also furthers these imbalances by limiting opportunities for stigmatized groups while reducing barriers for socially dominant group.

The Process of Stigma: 1. Labeling: Human differences are identified and labeled. 2. Stereotyping: Labeled differences are linked to undesirable characteristics within the dominant culture. 3. “Othering:” Stigmatized groups and individuals are separated out from the rest of society, creating an “us vs. them” mentality. 4. Discrimination: “Othered” groups and individuals experience discrimination which leads to unequal access to resources.

How is minority stress different?

Minority stress is additional stress that adds to the regular stressors everyone faces. Regular stressors, such as applying for jobs or looking for housing, are also made worse by minority stress.

Minority Stress and Mental Health

People from the LGBTQIA2S+ community are more likely to experience harassment, bullying, discrimination, and even violent hate crimes, such as assault, than cisgender and heterosexual people. Experiencing and witnessing discrimination related to LGBTQIA2S+ identity can lead to feelings of isolation and fear.

LGBTQIA2S+ youth are exposed to harmful rhetoric about their identities through peers, media, and sometimes, family, leading to low self-esteem and internalized homophobia & transphobia.

These experiences lead to hyper-vigilance and increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidal idealization, harming the overall health of romantic, sexual, and gender diverse communities.

Legislation, Location, and Minority Stress

Minority stress is experienced to different degrees depending on geographic location and dominant cultures. Those living in states or countries where LGBTQIA2S+ identity is highly politicized or criminalized are more likely to be impacted by minority stress.

Support from family, peers, educators, and healthcare providers significantly lowers the risk of mental health impacts and suicidal ideation.


Multiply marginalized members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, such as people with disabilities, BIPOC, AAPI, Jewish, or Muslim sexual and gender diverse individuals, are more likely to experience minority stress and often experience minority stress for each of their marginalized identities.

Members of the trans & non-binary community are more impacted by minority stress compared to cisgender members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. Gender Stress Theory, based on Minority Stress Theory, describes the additional stress that gender diverse communities experience due to stigma.

Healthy Coping Strategies/Minimizing Harm

Minimizing the effects of minority stress is important for the mental and physical health of romantic, sexual, and gender diverse communities. Some healthy coping strategies include:

  • Connect with Others: Minority stress can lead to feelings of isolation and make social settings seem overwhelming. However, staying connected with other members of the community and people you trust is important for mental health. Try socializing with small groups in safe environments or joining a community support group to make new friends.
  • Unplug: Social media and news sources are often flooded with content related to anti-LGBTQIA2S+ legislation, leading to constant exposure to minority stress. Be sure to take intentional breaks from social media and news sources. Try putting your phone on silent and curling up with a good book or spending time in nature.
  • Prioritize your Physical Health: Minority stress can be draining, overwhelming, and takes a toll on physical health over time. Try investing in your health by staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, or moving your body in ways that feel good to you. Trying a new healthy recipe can also be a fun way to invest in your physical health.
  • Find a Creative Outlet: Sometimes words aren’t enough. Try finding a creative way to express yourself, whether that is dancing, painting, or playing an instrument. Creativity can help you process the emotions related to minority stress.
  • Talk to a Professional: Identity based discrimination is challenging to process. Be sure to check in with yourself often, and reach out to a mental health professional for support if you are struggling. Resources can be found through the UK Counseling Center or at libguides.uky.edu/LGBTQ/counseling.