The Pervasive Influence of Intolerance: Stigma, Life Satisfaction, and Generativity in the Gay and Lesbian Community

The Pervasive Influence of Intolerance: Stigma, Life Satisfaction, and Generativity in the Gay and Lesbian Community

Expanding upon prior research relating stigma experienced by Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual (GLB) persons to greater adjustment and mental health outcomes, the current study sought to examine the relationship between personal and concealed stigma to gay life satisfaction and subsequent contribution to the GLB community, or generativity. A brief street-intercept, psychosocial survey was administered to an ethnically diverse sample of GLB individuals recruited from various GLB community events. A series of correlation and regression analyses revealed that individual experiences of gay-related stigma compel the GBL individual to conceal their sexual identity which, in turn, results in decreased life satisfaction as a GBL individual and subsequently, decreased GLB community directed generativity. The findings of the current study indicate that living in a heterosexist and homonegative culture and experiencing anti-gay prejudice and discrimination resonates beyond the individual and directly impacts GLB individuals’ contribution to their own community. Furthermore, the current investigation provides additional support against the stage-ordered, developmental trajectory of generative expression, as no significant relationship was determined to exist between age and generativity. Future research directions are also discussed.

As conceptualized by Erik Erikson, the 7th stage of adult psychosocial development Generativity vs. Stagnation approaches its apex at midlife and wanes thereafter. In Erikson’s preeminent developmental crisis, as the individual moves toward middle adulthood a desire to establish and promote the continuity of successive generations arises. Successful navigation of this crisis results in generativity, or a generative adult, the antithesis of which is stagnation, or an individual that is self-concerned and psychologically impoverished (Erikson, 1963). Ryff and Heincke (1983) depict the generative individual as one who “possess awareness of responsibilities to children or those younger in age; views self as the norm-bearer and decision maker; shows awareness of leadership role and has a sense of maximal influence capacity” (p.809). Although child rearing is the prototypic expression of generativity, procreation itself is neither sufficient nor necessary for achieving generativity (Erikson, 1963). McAdams, de St.Aubin & Logan (1993) have therefore expanded upon Erikson’s notions of generative behavior to include a host of productive activities, such as; teaching, mentoring, volunteer work, and political involvement/activism, all of which possess the overarching aim of improving the social system and ensuring its transmission to successive generations. The generative adult, therefore, brings someone or something into being that possesses lasting significance in society beyond their own individual existence (McAdams, Ruetzel & Foley, 1986). Consequently, “adult lives become meaningfully integrated into modern social institutions and societal endeavors” (McAdams et al., 1993, p. 221). Therefore, the pro-social aspects of generativity should be of particular concern to community sustaining organizations seeking to foster involvement in their proactive endeavors of promoting wellness in contemporary and future generations.

The epigenetic trajectory of adult development, as posited by developmental stage theorists, has garnered little empirical support for the developmental aspect of generative expression in midlife (Cohler, Hostetler & Boxer, 1998; Cornett & Hudson, 1987). McAdams, et al., (1993) examined age-cohort differences in a number of generative qualities, and found only mixed evidence for a developmental hypothesis. Stage ordered expositions of adult development are increasingly loosing favor as a result of their age specific suppositions as well as their heteronormative, culturally biased assumptions (Cornett & Hudson, 1987; Cohler et al., 1998). As a result, life-course and narrative perspectives, which aim to understand the developmental trajectory as situated within a unique socio-historical context, have become increasingly preferred (e.g., McAdams et al., 1993; McAdams, Ruetzel & Foley, 1986). Consequent to years of concentrated research on adult development, McAdams et al., (1993) have proposed a model of generativity which posits an interaction of socially constructed demands (e.g., expectations of parenting) and personal motivations (e.g., the need to be remembered) which become integrated into the individual’s subjective life-narrative, subsequently impacting generative concern. Generativity, therefore, is theorized to occur in distinctive forms and at unique junctures within the adult life course (Cohler et al., 1998). McAdams, de St.Aubin and Logan (1993) found generativity, regardless of age, to be correlated with life satisfaction. As it is likely that generativity is socially influenced and situated within individual lived experience, “generativity” may be a more useful concept when viewed as a complex personality trait, similar to attachment.

The lived experience of Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual individuals is undeniably dissimilar to that of the predicted heteronormative trajectories of developmental theories. Cohler & Boxer (1984), suggest that GLB individuals are at the disadvantage of lacking a culturally predetermined, gay-specific timetable, and often experience a sense of being outside of, or off time from, expected life transitions. Furthermore, an individual’s sense of being on time for periodic life transitions was found to be positively correlated with life-satisfaction (Cohler et al., 1998) and Grossbaum and Bates (2002) found life satisfaction to be predictive of generative concern. As generativity is shown to be at least partially impacted by life-satisfaction, any investigation of this construct in the GLB population implicitly necessitates the contemplation of the impact of social intolerance and homonegativity upon the GLB individuals’ sense of well-being, gay life satisfaction, and subsequent generative concern.

A vast body of research has consistently demonstrated the influence of social stigma upon the psychosocial development and mental health outcomes of GLB individuals. Social stigma and resultant experiences of discrimination and prejudice have been related to increases in; mental health problems (Meyer, 1995), emotional distress (Ross, 1990), sexual risk taking (Frost & Parsons, in press), and suicidal ideations (Rotheram-Borus, Hunter, & Rosario, 1994).

Erving Goffman (1963) first introduced the notion of stigma to refer to the negative regard attached to an individual based upon the possession of a socially discredited attribute. Within a given society, all members of said society recognize the negativity attributed to a stigmatized role, which in turn influences social interaction between the stigmatized and non-stigmatized participants. Subsequent research on stigma has expanded upon Goffman’s original premise to address the social stigma attributed to GLB individuals, and an expanded terminology was devised to fully encompass the fine distinctions of the stigma of sexual minorities. Herek (2004) , in an attempt to account for the complex psychosocial dynamics fundamentally involved in discrimination and prejudice based upon sexuality, conceptualized the term sexual stigma and aptly linked societal structures with the psychodynamic processes of the individual. Sexual stigma operates and is rationalized through cultural hierarchies of sexual normality, or heterosexism (Herek, 2004). Sexual stigma essentially refers to the heterosexist disapproval of any same-sex act or expression, for which negative sanctions are prescribed. According to Lewis, Derlega, Clarke, & Kuang (2006), individuals occupying stigmatized roles possess a constant awareness of the discriminating social environment and the likelihood of negative sanctions. Furthermore, Lewis et al. determined that individuals high in stigma consciousness due to minority status were more likely to experience emotional distress and as a result, suffered from higher levels of depressive symptomology.

Research has suggested that the GLB individual is dually impacted by both stigma that is perceptible in the social environment and that which is concealed within (or concealable by), the individual. Accordingly, GLB individuals, as a result of their sexual minority status are at an increased risk of experiencing external stressors consisting of “negative life events” (e.g., loss of friends, family and/or employment as a result of disclosure of sexuality) and “chronic daily hassles” (e.g., constantly being cautious in social interactions) in addition to internal stressors consequent to emotional inhibition, or the concealment of one’s sexual identification (DiPlacido, 1998). Concealment, via behavioral modification, is a commonly utilized coping strategy for the stigmatized homosexual (Lewis et al., 2006). Through concealment, the homosexual individual attempts to limit the amount of information others receive regarding his or her sexual orientation (Herek, 2004). In this respect, the stigmatized individual will often alter his or her behavior in social situations of heightened stigma consciousness in an attempt to avoid, or alleviate, minority stress (Meyer, 2003). Although concealment of one’s sexual orientation may, in fact, alleviate a portion of stigma emanating from the social environment, or perceived stigma, research has indicated that the act of concealing one’s stigma, or stigma concealment, initiates a host of additional stressors for the stigmatized individual (Frable, Platt & Hoey, 1998). Smart and Wenger (2000) have indicated that the preoccupation with concealing one’s stigma imparts a tremendous cognitive burden upon the stigmatized individual and likened the experience to a “private hell” (p.229). Consequently, research has indicated that stigma concealment leads to increases in a number of adverse psychological and physiological symptoms (e.g. Waldo, 1999; Larson and Chastain, 1990; Pennebaker and O’Heeron, 1984). Additionally, Frost and Parsons (in press) found greater levels of self-reported stigma to be predictive of increased levels of depression in Gay men and indicate that the psychological impact of sexual stigma upon the GLB individual is at least partially mediated by the act of stigma concealment.

Following from the available research, it is therefore likely, and consequently hypothesized that both perceived and concealed stigma dully impact the GLB individual (as conceptually one must experience stigma and then attempt to conceal that stigma), resulting in greater psychological stress, and consequently, decreased life-satisfaction as a GLB individual. As life-satisfaction has been indicated to be predictive of generativity, it is further hypothesized that decreased life-satisfaction as a GLB person directly impacts individual generativity and subsequent pro-social contributions to GLB community organizations.

Data collection was conducted for a total of six days in November 2003 at 3 large GLBTQ community events in New York City and Los Angeles. A total of 810 individuals self-selected to complete a self-administered, quantitative questionnaire, of which 90.2% self-identified as Gay/Lesbian. The ethnically diverse sample (33.5% people of color) was comprised of 410 men (96.1% gay identified) and 400 women (85.5% lesbian identified) ranging in age from 19-80 years (M= 35.89, SD= 9.95). The women of the sample however were more likely to be of color than men (χ 2 (1) =15.05, p<.001) and were significantly different by age (M=34.24and M=38.88, respectively; F (1,809) = 34.43, p<.001).

Participants were asked to complete a brief qualitative survey consisting of the following measures:
Demographics. Participants were instructed to indicate their sexual identity by way of selecting one of the following sexual orientation categories: Gay, Bisexual, or Heterosexual/Straight. Additionally, participants were asked to indicate their racial identity by selecting one of the following categories: African American, European/White, Middle Eastern/ Arab, Asian/ Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or mixed/other. The complete racial characteristics of the sample are reported in table 1.

Loyola Generativity Scale. A modified version of the Loyola Generativity Scale (LGS; McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992), a 20-item self-report scale designed to assess individual conscious concern for the welfare of successive generations, was utilized to assess generativity in the current study. In the interest of brevity items tapping into productivity and creativity were excluded and 15 of the 20 original items of the LGS were presented to the individual in their original form. Sample items included statements such as, “I feel as though I have made a difference to many people” and participants were instructed to rate how well each statement applied to themselves on 4-point Likert scales ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 4= strongly agree. Following modification, the adapted 15 item generativity scale utilized within this study demonstrated high internal consistency with a Cronbach’s alpha of .86.

Perceived Stigma and Stigma Concealment Scales. Berger and colleagues’ stigma scale (Berger, Ferrans, Estwing, & Lashley, 2001) was modified and utilized to measure both perceived and concealed stigma within the current study. Two of Berger’s subscales, personalized stigma and disclosure concerns which were originally designed to measure HIV-related stigma, were semantically modified to assess gay-specific stigma. The scales utilized were limited to items that, according to Berger’s reported results, loaded solely on perceived stigma and disclosure concerns. Following modification, two scales were developed for the current study. The Perceived Stigma Scale consisted of ten items (e.g., “I have been hurt by how people react to learning I am Gay/Lesbian”) and demonstrated high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = .90). Considering that the items on Berger’s disclosure subscale measure an individual’s intention to selectively conceal his/her sexual identity, this subscale was deemed to be an appropriate measure of stigma concealment. The Stigma Concealment Scale consisted of ten items (e.g.,” I am very careful who I tell I am Gay/Lesbian”) and demonstrated a Cronbach’s alpha of .85.

Gay Life Satisfaction Scale. The Gay Life satisfaction Scale was derived from an adapted version of the Life Satisfaction Index (Lawrence & Liang, 1988). This measure consisted of eight items, five of which were positively worded (e.g., “In most ways, my life as a Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual individual is fulfilling”) and three items that were negatively phrased (e.g., “My life as a GLB person won’t get any better than it is now). Participants were instructed to respond to the items on a 4-point Likert scale (1= strongly agree to 4= strongly disagree) and the negatively phrased items were reverse scored. Exploratory factor analyses revealed that each of the eight items loaded on a single factor, accounting for 41.37% of the total variance. This scale was deemed internally consistent, demonstrating a satisfactory Cronbach’s alpha of .79.

A cross-sectional brief street-intercept survey (Miller, Wilder, Stillman, & Becker, 1997) was utilized, examining issues of sex and love in the GLB community as well as additional relevant issues such as STI transmission, substance use, and relationship status. Attendees of 3 large GLBTQ events were approached by trained outreach workers and asked to participate in the survey. A total of 82.9% of the individuals approached for participation complied. Completion of the survey took approximately 20 minutes, at which point the participant was presented with a complimentary movie voucher as compensation. SPSS statistical software was utilized to analyze the collected data subsequent to data cleansing.

Contrary to the suppositions of developmental stage theories which posit a peak in generativity occurring in middle-adulthood, age was not found to be correlated with generativity within the current study. Furthermore, age did not successfully predict generativity in linear regression and no significant differences in generative concern by age cohort (30 and under, 31-39, 40-49, 50 and over) were observed. Additionally, further comparisons indicated no significant differences between participants’ self-reported perceived stigma, stigma concealment, life-satisfaction or generativity with respect to gender or racial identification. Descriptive results by gender for each of the measures utilized within the study are reported in table 2.

With respect to the primary hypothesis of the current study, namely that perceptions of gay-related stigma originating in the social environment compel the GLB individual to conceal their sexual identity, GLB perceived stigma was found to be predictive of GLB stigma concealment, F (1, 803) = 411.07, p < .001, R2 = .34.

The second hypothesis, that GLB stigma concealment leads to decreased life-satisfaction as a GLB individual was also supported within the sample, as GLB stigma concealment successfully predicted GLB life satisfaction, F (1, 803) = 140.81, p < .001, R2 = .15. Furthermore, the obtained negative beta value for GLB stigma concealment, β = -.26, p = .001, indicates an inverse relationship between GLB stigma concealment and GLB life satisfaction, further supporting the hypothesized relationship between the two variables.

Lastly, the obtained data supports the third hypothesis of the current study that decreased life-satisfaction as a GLB person directly impacts individual generativity, as GLB life- satisfaction successfully predicted generativity, F (1, 804) = 173.11, p < .000, R2 = .18.

In concordance the findings of McAdams et al (1993), the current investigation failed to yield any significant support for the developmental expression of generativity as increasing in salience in middle adulthood and progressively waning thereafter. The results obtained utilizing regression and univariate analyses indicated that age was not related to generativity within this sample and therefore, the developmental aspect of generativity was not supported. Furthermore, the current study provides additional support to previous findings (e.g. McAdams et al, 1993; Grossbaum & Bates, 2002) which have found generativity to be predicted by life satisfaction. Informed by the obtained results of this investigation, a theoretical linear model of GLB generativity was developed (see fig.1). As originally hypothesized, the developed model illustrates the empirically obtained relationships between the variables of interest in this investigation, indicating that perceived GLB stigma leads to stigma concealment which directly impacts GLB life-satisfaction and subsequently, individual generative expression.

The implications of the results of this investigation speak very clearly to the profound and impacting influence of social intolerance, discrimination, and prejudice upon the GLB community. Consequent to decreased interpersonal well-being that is resultant of experiences of GLB stigma within the social environment, it appears that the GLB individual retracts from, or becomes less generative towards, the GLB community. In this regard, decreased individual generativity may, in fact, represent an avoidance mechanism by which the GLB individual evades further discrimination and experiences of stigma by limiting their involvement within the GLB community, and may provide insight into the challenges faced by many GLB organizations and their efforts to foster involvement in their pro-social endeavors.

The pattern of results obtained within the current study indicate that individual experiences of anti-gay prejudice and discrimination do not solely impact the interpersonal well-being and personal assessments of life satisfaction of the GLB individual, but resonates beyond the individual by influencing the generative contributions that these individuals make to the GLB community. As a result, GLB community organizations that are overwhelmingly influential in improving the lives of GLB individuals are continuously lacking the necessary involvement and financial support to continue and expand their endeavors of promoting wellness and providing much needed services to the GLB community. As, undoubtedly such services improve the quality of life for many GLB individuals, interpersonal functioning of the GLB individual is again impacted when such organizations become thwarted from advancing their endeavors and providing necessary services to the members of the GLB community. Therefore, efforts aimed at confronting and combating the ramifications of anti-gay discrimination toward Gay men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals may effectively increase individual generative expression and ultimately benefit the GLB community itself. Clearly the GLB community must apply concentrated effort upon counteracting the psychosocial influences of intolerance, as well as creating its own cultural demands for generative behavior if its community organizations are to prosper.

As is often the case with a brief street-intercept survey methodology, the current investigation is limited by the fact that participants self-reported data in public areas and therefore, the likelihood of obtaining socially desirable responses is increased. Furthermore, as data collection occurred at GLB community events in metropolitan areas, it is likely that participants attending these events represent a group of individuals with a greater base level of GLB community attachment. However, considering the obtained findings of the current study within this sample of individuals, it seems highly probable that future investigations of these constructs within samples of individuals further detached from the GLB community by choice or circumstance would produce even more robust results. It should be additionally noted that the significant relationships between the constructs examined herein were obtained in urban locals, which have consistently been reported to be the safest and most accepting places for GLB individuals to reside. Consequently one would expect even stronger statistical support for the investigated constructs in areas of increased hostility and non-acceptance of GLB lifestyles, however, future investigations should aim to verify this inference.

With regards to the construct of generativity, the current study sought only to assess generative intent and not actual generative behavior. Future investigations may wish to assess actual gay-focused generative pursuits to obtain a more thorough understanding of the relationship between stigma, generative intent, and actual generative behavior. Furthermore, the actual measurement of generativity may, in itself, promote socially desirable responses.

In addressing the limitations of the current study, it should lastly be noted that the scales designed and adapted for this study, although demonstrating respectable Cronbach’s alphas, were not pilot tested and warrant further development and testing.

In summary, the findings of this investigation provide an initial understanding of the under- researched relationship between interpersonal perceptions of gay-related stigma and the resultant impact upon GLB community functioning, as illustrated by the proposed model of GLB generativity presented herein. The proposed model, which represents a primary foundation that illustrates relationships obtained utilizing correlation and regression analyses, warrants further development. Therefore, future directives should be aimed at performing a full model test of the proposed model in an attempt to identify additional casual pathways and mediating factors that may be involved in GLB generative expression. Additionally, researchers interested in the social impact of individual experiences of prejudice and discrimination may wish to test the proposed model in other stigmatized populations with both visible and concealable stigmas (e.g. racial/ethnic minorities or transgendered individuals). Such testing could ultimately lead to a greater determination of whether the proposed model represents a gay-specific understanding of the societal impact of discrimination and prejudice, or is applicable to the greater majority of stigmatized groups.

Lastly, future research should strive to incorporate qualitative interviews of GLB individuals into future methodology as a means by which to more clearly understand and combat the impact of stigma upon the daily functioning of Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual persons. Furthermore, qualitative interviews with GLB individuals could potentially provide further evidence to inform the development of comprehensive expositions of gay-specific life-course trajectories. Armed with this information, the GLB community would be better equipped to develop effective interventions and wellness programs directed towards fighting and counteracting the insidious and pervasive influence of intolerance.

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Table 1
Racial Characteristics and Sexual Orientation of Participants

Variable n %
African American 57 8.6
European/White 426 64.5
Asian/Pacific Islander 56 8.5
Hispanic/Latino 79 12.0
Mixed/Other 42 6.4
Middle Eastern/Arab -- --
Native American -- --
* Women were more likely to be of color than men, 47.7% vs. 34.1%, = 15.05, p < .001

Sexual Orientation**
Gay/Lesbian 731 90.2
Bisexual 79 9.8
Straight -- --
** Women were more likely to be bisexual than men, 85.5% vs. 96.1% (Gay/Lesbian identified)