US Neighborhoods Feel Less Welcoming for LGB Adults

By | December 21, 2017
Carrie Henning-Smith
Assistant Professor Carrie Henning-Smith

When many Americans move to a new home, ideally they will be welcomed with a neighbor delivering baked treats and a feeling that it’s a friendly community. However, for lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) adults, a new study by the School of Public Health shows that their experience is far from this ideal and many have a lesser sense of truly feeling at home in their communities.

“For LGB adults, deciding where to live and being comfortable in their communities can be more complicated due to concerns about safety, acceptance, and their happiness,” says the study’s lead author, Assistant Professor Carrie Henning-Smith.

The study was recently published in the Journal of Community Health.

Henning-Smith and Assistant Professor Gilbert Gonzales (PhD ‘15) from Vanderbilt University discovered the trend after analyzing aspects of trust and shared values among neighbors, termed “cohesion,” in the responses of nearly 30,000 adults who took the 2016 National Health Interview Survey.

“We found that LGB folks were significantly less likely to report overall feelings of cohesion in their neighborhoods — even after adjusting for things like how long someone has lived in a neighborhood, their race, or marital status,” says Henning-Smith.

The study looked at four specific measures of cohesion and determined that LGB adults are less likely than heterosexual adults to say that they live in a close-knit neighborhood (54.6 vs. 65.6%), they can count on their neighbors (74.7 vs. 83.1%), they trust their neighbors (75.5 vs. 83.7%), or people in their neighborhood help each other out (72.9 vs. 83.1%).

The results likely have dire implications for the health of LGB adults.

“Other well-regarded studies have shown that if people feel like their neighborhood is less cohesive, they’re more likely to have poor health outcomes across the board,” says Henning-Smith. “If people feel unsafe or uncomfortable then they’re likely to carry chronic stress, which is really bad for health.”

Henning-Smith said the next step to addressing the issue is to do qualitative research asking LGB adults about their neighborhood experiences and what would make their communities feel more welcoming. The researcher would also like to investigate how feelings of cohesion vary by city or state in order to determine if the nature of the problem differs by location.

According to Henning-Smith, the research could lead to interventions to raise neighborhood cohesion for LGB adults ranging from community events and support groups to police and first-responder training.

“While homophobia and prejudice are real and pervasive, my overall suspicion is that there are also a lot of well-intentioned, wonderful people out there who just haven’t connected with others in the neighborhood and we need to spark some interaction to increase feelings of neighborhood cohesion and well-being,” says Henning-Smith.

Such interactions could begin with simply welcoming new LGB neighbors with a smile, acceptance, and perhaps, a plate of lemon bars.

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