Religious anti-gay prejudice as a predictor of mental health, abuse, and substance use

Babucarr J. Sowe*, Alan J. Taylor, Jac Brown

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Anti-gay, or homonegative, prejudice is generally considered harmful to the wellbeing of sexual minority individuals. However, the origins or nature of such prejudice may vary. Despite a sizable body of literature suggesting homonegative prejudice is frequently religious-based, the psychological impact of exposure to religious anti-gay prejudice remains largely undetermined. Addressing this research gap, the authors examined whether opposition to same-sex sexuality on religious grounds predicted detrimental outcomes among same- and both-sex attracted individuals, as well as their heterosexual counterparts. A nationwide U.S. sample of 1600 individuals-recruited using contemporary online crowd-sourcing techniques designed to limit selection bias-completed a novel inventory assessing interpersonal exposure to religious (as well as nonreligious) homonegative disapproval. Outcome variables assessed included a number of clinically relevant measures spanning general mental health, social support, suicidality, abuse, and substance use. Analyses revealed that greater exposure to religious anti-gay prejudice predicted higher levels of anxiety, stress, and shame; more instances of physical and verbal abuse; and more problematic alcohol use. Furthermore, while sexual minority individuals tended to fare more poorly than their heterosexual counterparts on almost every outcome measure assessed, homonegative prejudice predicted poorer outcomes among all respondents regardless of their sexual orientation or religious identification. Hence, results are among the first to demonstrate that anti-gay religious exposure is associated with substantial threats to wellbeing, and that such effects may be observed beyond religious sexual minorities. Overall, findings imply that homonegative religious social conditions may be of broader health and mental health concern than is conventionally recognized.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)690-703
    Number of pages14
    JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • anti-gay prejudice
    • mental health
    • religion
    • sexual minority
    • substance use


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