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APA Books Blog interview

http://blog.apabooks.org/2017/02/22/sharon-rostosky-and-ellen-riggle-how-same-sex-couples-can-actively-manage-stress/

Sharon Rostosky and Ellen Riggle: How Same-Sex Couples Can Actively Manage Stress

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors. For this interview, Susan Herman, Developmental Editor and consultant for APA Books, spoke with Sharon S. Rostosky and Ellen D. B. Riggle, professors at University of Kentucky. APA Books published Rostosky & Riggle’s book Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community in early 2015.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

 Rostosky headshot

Sharon S. Rostosky, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  She joined the counseling psychology program at the University of Kentucky in 1999, where she is currently a professor and director of training.  Her research, published in more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and presented in numerous workshops for professional and general audiences, focuses on minority stress and well-being in individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer and in same-sex couples.

Riggle

Ellen D. B. Riggle, PhD, is a professor in the departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Kentucky.  She is the coeditor of Sexual Identity on the Job and Gays and Lesbians in the Democratic Process.  She has published more than 60 articles and chapters in peer-reviewed journals and books.

More information about the work of Dr. Riggle and Dr. Rostosky can be found on their website: www.prismresearch.org

SH: Happy Together was released a few months shy of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) that all 50 states in the USA must license and recognize same-sex marriages. What other aspects of the legal landscape have changed since early 2015 regarding same-sex couples?SR & ER: It’s true that same-sex marriages are legally recognized in all 50 states now. However, there has been an increase in the number of states introducing and passing so-called “religious freedom” laws.  The way that many of these laws are worded effectively gives businesses and institutions the right to discriminate against same-sex couples and LGBT individuals and eliminates any legal recourse by the targets of discrimination.

Some states have also introduced legislation that would allow government officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to or perform marriages for same-sex couples.

Probably the most important aspect of the legal landscape are the things that haven’t changed.  For example, it is still legal in the majority of states to discriminate against LGBT people in jobs, services, and housing.  Marriage equality itself does not protect same-sex couples or LGBT individuals from discrimination.

Marriage equality also has not automatically led to equal parental rights for same-sex couples in all states.  Parental rights are still being questioned in many jurisdictions upon the birth or adoption of a child by same-sex couples.

SH: It’s common to hear about things that put stress on couples, like economic uncertainty, the high cost of child care, or addiction to smartphones and social media. Same-sex and different-sex couples, presumably, deal with all these same issues. What are some distinct concerns touching same-sex couples? 

SR & ER: Our research and that of other scholars shows that public debates surrounding anti-LGBT laws increase minority stress.  The current political environment has many uncertainties for same-sex couples and there is a real fear that the progress of LGBT rights will be halted and that the protections enacted in the past few years may be repealed.  This anxiety puts increased stress on couples that they need to constructively manage.

We wrote Happy Together specifically to help couples develop their strengths to deal with this type of environmental stress.

Because same-sex relationships are still stigmatized, same-sex couples are more likely to experience rejection from members of their family of origin. Imagine not having social support from your family, plus having to make the extra effort to set up appropriate boundaries with one or more especially prejudiced family members.

Same-sex couples may also have to expend more time and energy finding community support than different-sex couples.  For instance, same-sex couples may have to work harder to find an LGBTQ-affirmative religious or spiritual community, or an affirmative health service provider.

Same-sex couples also have to negotiate how “out” each partner will be in their respective workplaces, especially if one or both couple members

lack basic workplace protections like inclusive nondiscrimination policies.Same-sex couples who are parents worry about how their children and family will be treated by neighbors and school personnel.  These couples tend to spend more time than other parents advocating at their children’s school.

When they’re also subjected to prejudice based on racial identities, immigration status, economic disadvantage, disability, etc., same-sex couples can face significant stress.  What we have learned in our research, however, is that despite these challenges, same-sex couples can and do create enduring and satisfying relationships.

SH: In your clinical work, do you see particular strengths emerging from same-sex couple relationships that you might not see as often with different-sex couples? 

SR & ER: Same-sex couples often attribute their relationship satisfaction and longevity to their ability to create meaning and purpose out of their negative experiences.  For instance, same-sex couples might draw on their experience to understand and empathize with other marginalized groups and engage in social activism. Same-sex couples often create “families of choice” and rely on these families for social support, as well as provide support for others.

In our many interviews with same-sex couples over the years, we have witnessed how they cope by using humor and expressing appreciation for their similarities and differences.

We’ve also found that same-sex couples are more likely than different-sex couples to equally share responsibility for maintaining their relationship, by actively talking through and negotiating differences. We think this is because, without strict gender roles, same-sex couples feel more free to write their own relationship scripts.

SH: In addition to seeking out LGBTQ-affirming community resources and helping professionals, what can same-sex couples do to lower their stress levels and build themselves up? happy together

SR & ER: For people who like to read, we of course recommend our books. We have translated 15 years of basic research into two accessible books. Our first one, A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-being, is a resource for recognizing and using LGBTQ identity strengths. The second book, Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community, focuses on helping same-sex couples deal with minority stress. Both books are full of conversation starters and exercises.

One exercise in A Positive View of LGBTQ presents a “starter list” of self-care activities for readers to consider and build upon.

One activity in Happy Together guides couples to reflect on times when they anticipate rejection at work and then discuss how that fear affects their couple relationship. We give examples about how to take anxious thoughts and construct more helpful messages that can help them cope.

When we talk to same-sex couples who have been together 25, 35, 45 years, they tell us that one ‘secret to their success’ as a couple was building on their shared values and engaging in experiences that kept them learning and growing together. Shared values may involve recreational activities, spiritual/religious/educational pursuits, and commitments to making the world a more compassionate and supportive place through artistic expression, volunteerism, or community organizing.

Making a commitment to social change and social action is another powerful way to counter stress. We’ve met couples who engage in social activism on behalf of other oppressed minorities, women, people with AIDS, homeless youth, animals, the environment, food security—and that type of engagement is part of what makes their relationship flourish.

A good piece of advice for same-sex couples (and for anyone) doing social justice activism is to balance it with self-care and couple-care.  Couples must keep their relationship healthy and strong because, as Dr. Glenda Russell reminds us, we must take the long view or a “movement perspective” when it comes to bringing about social change

 

New article on reactions to Windsor and Perry decisions

  • Great news from the PrismResearch.org collaboration with the CUPPLES study – our first article is in press:
    Clark, J.B., Riggle, E.D.B., Rostosky, S.S., Balsam, K.F., & Rothblum, E.D. (In press, 2015). Windsor and Perry: Reactions of siblings in same-sex and heterosexual couples. Journal of Homosexuality, 62(8). The U.S. Supreme Court decisions in U.S. v Windsor (570 U.S. 307) and Hollingsworth v Perry (570 U.S. 399) created a focal point for public discussion of marriage equality for same-sex couples. This article reports the results of an exploratory study of the reactions of individuals currently or previously in same-sex couple relationships and a heterosexual sibling who is currently or previously married (N = 371) to the Supreme Court decisions. Thematic content analysis was used to explore participants’ responses to an open-ended question on a survey. Reactions of individuals from same-sex couples revealed the following themes: (1) longitudinal perspectives on the advancement of rights for same-sex couples; (2) emotional responses celebrating the decisions or expressing relief; (3) affirmation of their relationship or rights; (4) practical consequences of the extension of rights; and, (5) minority stress related to anticipation of future prejudice or discrimination. Themes in the heterosexual siblings’ responses were: (1) ally support; (2) flat support without emotion or elaboration; (3) indifference to or ignorance about the decisions; and, (4) disapproval of the decisions. These themes are compared and discussed in light of prior research on reactions to marriage restriction debates and marriage (in)equality and family relationships.

Two New Measures: LGB-PIM and T-PIM

The PrismResearch.org team and our collaborators have developed two new measures of positive identity.  One is for use with LGB identified individuals and a second separate measure is for use with transgender identified individuals.  These measures are available for download from the LGBPIM/TPIM link.  The citations are:

Riggle, E.D.B., Mohr, J.J., Rostosky, S.S., Fingerhut, A.W., & Balsam, K.F. (2014). A multi-factor Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Positive Identity Measure (LGB-PIM). Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 1(4).

Riggle, E.D.B., & Mohr, J.J. (In press, 2015). A proposed multifactor measure of positive identity for transgender identified individuals. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(1).

PrismResearch Team at APA

Papers and posters presented by PrismResearch.org team members at APA:

Riggle, E.D.B., & Rostosky, S.S. (2014, August). “Marriage magic and LGBT/same-sex couple well-being.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, District of Columbia.

Gonzalez, K. A., Black, W. W., Riggle, E. D. B., & Rostosky, S. S. (2014, August). Cultivating positive LGBTQA identities: An intervention study with college students. Poster accepted for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, District of Columbia.

Clark, J. B., Riggle, E. D. B., Rostosky, S. S., Tomita, K. K., Balsam, K. F. (2014, August). Windsor and Perry: Reactions of same-sex and heterosexual couple members. Symposium to be conducted at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C.

Rosenkrantz, D., Cook, J., Rostosky, S., & Riggle, E. (2014, August). The positive aspects of being religious/spiritual and LGBTQ. Poster session presented at the American Psychological Association Conference, Washington, D.C.

Positive Identity Measure Developed

 

We have finished development of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Positive Identity Measure (LGB-PIM), a 25-item, 5-factor scale. The article reporting the scale development has been accepted for publication:  Riggle, E.D.B., Mohr, J.J., Rostosky, S.S., Fingerhut, A.W., & Balsam, K.F. (Forthcoming). A multi-factor Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Positive Identity Measure (LGB-PIM). Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

This measure is available for use by researchers upon request prior to publication.

Radio Interview on KGNU

Janis Bohan with OUTSOURCES on KGNU radio https://www.kgnu.org/ interviewed us about Positive LGBTQ Identities.  The show aired on March 3, 2014, and is available as a podcast download at http://www.kgnu.org/outsources

 

Moving the Middle Towards Marriage Equality

July 16, 2012
Moving the Middle Towards Marriage Equality
Ellen D.B. Riggle, PhD
          In just a few months voters in several states will go to the polls and cast their vote on marriage restrictions and marriage equality.  While the vast majority of voters in these states (including Minnesota, Washington and Maine) personally know same-sex couples and gay men and lesbians, the votes are expected to be close.  We often think that knowing someone who is gay or lesbian will translate into support for LGBT civil rights, but it’s not that simple.  Coming out or being out is not enough to move the middle on this issue.  For LGBT identified individuals and same-sex couples, we have to be out, be visible, and be ‘in their face’ in order to move the middle towards equality.
          I have been involved in research on the impact of marriage restriction amendments on LGBT individuals and same-sex couples since 2004 following the passage of a marriage restriction amendment in Kentucky.  After the election, members of same-sex couples shared their stories of being angry, saddened, and frustrated because people who knew them and seemed supportive of their relationship – family, friends, co-workers — had voted for the marriage restriction amendment.
          Jump ahead 2 years to 2006, I was involved in an online survey of more than 2500 LGB and same-sex partnered individuals; once again we found that LGB individuals felt deep hurt because people who knew them and seemingly accepted them had supported and voted for marriage restriction amendments.
          Now jump ahead another 2 years to 2008.  A lot of people were surprised by the passage of Prop 8 in California.  California has generally been seen as a “gay-friendly” state, there are a whole lot of “out” LGB folks there, and California already had marriage rights for same-sex couples.  So, how could this amendment pass?
          The surprise seemed to stem at least in part from the traditional reliance on a derivative of the “contact theory” when thinking about public support for LGBT rights; that is, the thinking has been that if more LGBT people come out, then people around them will get to know them and be supportive, and policy outcomes will be positive — simple as that.  Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.
          In preparing to give a talk just after the 2008 election, my colleagues and I reflected on what could be done to “turn the tide” in the future to defeat marriage restriction amendments and increase support for marriage equality.  In thinking about what could be done, I went back to an insightful reframe of the same-sex marriage debate by Janis Bohan (in an interview with the APA Monitor): “The real issue is not similarity or difference; the real issue is power and its distribution…”
          Taking this reframe as a starting point I applied some of the research on intergroup relations and privilege.  I made an argument that the focus of the marriage equality debate needs to change from “same-sex couples are just like heterosexual couples” to “heterosexual privilege is unfair and the way same-sex couples are treated is unfair.” In order to effect changes in policy attitudes, and thus citizen votes, the arguments need to point out the very important differences between the ways same-sex couples are treated and heteronormative couples are unfairly advantaged.
          What this argument suggests may be somewhat confrontational and conflictual.  That makes some people uncomfortable.  But hear me out about the importance of speaking the truth about privilege.
          First, I want to briefly illustrate something about support for marriage equality and “knowing someone gay.”  Depending on which recent polls we look at and how the question is worded, 70-80% of the American public say that they “know someone who is gay or lesbian.”  Yet, on average, approximately 2/3 of the voters in states with marriage restriction amendments on the ballot have voted in support of those amendments — against equality for gay men and lesbians.  So we can fairly assume there is a significant overlap between those who “know” gay men and lesbians and those who vote against equality.
          Public opinion polls have illustrated this overlap specifically.  For example, a May 2009 Gallup poll found that 58% of respondents said they personally knew a friend, co-worker or relative who is gay; 88% of this group reported being “comfortable” around gay men and lesbians.  Yet, of those who knew someone gay, 47% opposed extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples.  These numbers are changing, but are they changing fast enough to prevent more losses in November?
          Clearly, coming out and “knowing someone gay” is not necessarily enough to get voters to support equality; there has to be something else in the mix to change votes.  I argue that research on intergroup relations and privilege suggests that an over-reliance on pointing out the similarities between same-sex couples and heteronormative straight couples is unlikely to change votes on marriage restriction amendments in a timely fashion – if at all. Research by Tamar Saguy and her colleagues on intergroup interactions between advantaged and disadvantaged groups finds evidence that the disadvantaged group members expected that the privileged group members would treat them fairly as a result of placing emphasis on how much alike they all were.  However, while the privileged group members enjoyed the benefits of lowered group tensions, they did not follow through with behavioral changes that required sharing resources.  Thus, changing the status quo of stratified privilege was met with resistance from the privileged group members who feared losing their “special” status.
          To effect support for social change, several researchers have suggested that there must be actual discussion of inequalities and that advantaged group members must learn to address their privilege in a critical way. In other words, it is not merely knowing someone from another group but actual discussion of group inequalities that increases support for change in the status quo among privileged group members.  Thus, it is important to have substantive discussions in order to reduce prejudice based on sexual or gender identity, and by implication increase support for marriage equality.
          Research also indicates that interpersonal confrontations are effective at lessening stereotype-based responses and prejudicial attitudes.  If we apply research on prejudice to support for marriage equality, then even low-prejudiced heterosexual-identified individuals may not recognize or reflect upon their privileged status unless prompted to do so; these unexamined beliefs may lead to resistance to policy changes that support marriage equality.
          And, further extending the research, I would argue that commonality focused interventions that “put a familiar face” on LGB identities may inadvertently support the status quo and leave inequalities and privileges unexamined, thereby lessening support and activism for social change.  This is not to argue that events like “National Coming Out Day” are not useful and important; they are, as a first step.  But it may not be enough in itself to change votes.
          Having substantive and possibly confrontational discussions is stressful.  For that reason, a lot of LGBT individuals and their allies focus on commonalities, or just fitting in and being “non-threatening.”  So, the challenge is for individuals and groups to engage in dialogues that confront privilege and emphasize the inequalities along with the commonalities.
           Marriage inequality needs to be reframed as a problem originating in the social context rather than in same-sex couples.  For example, in working with community groups, invoking the concept of the “similarly-situated” may help to reframe the marriage debate and reduce fear and prejudice while bringing attention to heterosexual privilege.  Asking “how would you want to be treated in this situation” helps to increase empathy and compassion.  Simulation activities that capitalize on the “similarly-situated” concept are effective in promoting perspective taking and more positive attitudes while reducing personal defensiveness.
          LGBT individuals and our families need to give voice to our experiences.  We also need heterosexual allies to play an important role in this dialogue and engagement.  Heterosexual allies, having heterosexual privilege, can support changing the status quo in part by resisting the “you are just like us” mantra and instead acknowledging their privileged status and engaging in critical and constructive dialogues about the illegitimacy of their privileged status. In their review of the literature on prejudice reduction, Paluck & Green (2009) concluded that mobilizing the positive influence of peers (through modeling and discussion) is one of the relatively few interventions that has consistently demonstrated efficacy in reducing prejudice.  President Obama’s personal statement in support of same-sex marriage is a good case study in the impact of using privilege to reduce prejudice.
          So, share your story.  Put it in their face.  Be out and speak out.  It just might change a vote and move the middle towards equality.
For more information on the research cited in this article, go to PrismResearch.org

Cultivating a Positive Environment for LGBTQ Individuals in Appalachia

Cultivating a Positive Environment for LGBTQ Individuals in Appalachia
Ellen D.B. Riggle
Sharon S. Rostosky

Comments from a Panel Presentation sponsored by the Appalachian Center, University of Kentucky, Friday April 20, 2012

 A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-Being is based on a national sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identified individuals.  But the book has its origins in local events and local interviews that we have done (and includes some of those).

Much of our research focuses on what is called minority stress – or the extra stressors that people face because they are stigmatized because of their sexual or gender identity, or their race or ethnicity, or another stigmatized status.

In our research, in addition to national and international online surveys that we conduct, we have interviewed over 100 same-sex couples locally and numerous individuals.  The majority of these couples and individuals either come from Appalachia, have family in Appalachia, or they currently live in Appalachia.  So, the people sharing their stories with us bring Appalachian culture with them (although this is not to say that Appalachian culture is monolithic).

Our book actually got its start right after the 2004 general election when voters in Kentucky passed the marriage restriction amendment to the state constitution.  At the time we were interviewing same-sex couples about the role of spirituality and religiosity in their relationship and lives.  One of the first couple members we talked to after the election talked about the toll that the public debate had taken on his relationship with his family from Eastern Kentucky.  He talked about the conflict it created between him and his family because he wanted their support – after all they invited both he and his partner home for the holidays so he thought they were accepting – but they were supporting the marriage restrictions and saying that same-sex marriages were not “real marriages.” He blamed this in part on his family living in Eastern Kentucky and going to the “hometown church” where the preacher was prejudiced against gay people.  The conflict made him feel alienated from his family of origin and put stress on his relationship with his partner.

So, how do we get from studying that type of minority stress to what I call our “happy book” focused on positive well-being?  There are 2 parts to the road.  One part is that when we talk to these couples, we always come away smiling, because along with the stories of their stresses and challenges, they share with us their insights, their love and commitment to each other, and they often do so with a sense of humor. There is not just resilience, but they have a sense of optimism. Second, we also talk to a lot of young people from this area, including from Eastern Kentucky.  We get two strong messages from these young people:  they want and need visible LGBTQ role models, and they want and need visible allies.

So, we saw the need for research on the positive aspects of LGBTQ lives that re-frames and re-focuses the conversations that we have about LGBTQ identities.  These new conversations are not just about eliminating minority stress or dealing with bad things; we want to focus more broadly on how to actively cultivate well-being and create environments where LGBTQ people and everyone can flourish.

For all youth and adults it is important to have a sense of belonging, closeness with others, and community – these are some of the themes that we talk about in the book.  For LGBTQ and questioning youth in Appalachia, as Mary Gray also talks about in her book (Out in the Country), it is important to have the visible role models and a visible ally community.  I think it is important to us as researchers that we recognize the importance of family and community in rural and Appalachian experience.  These are strong values that can facilitate well-being and we find that LGBTQ people integrate these values with their own identity experiences to create positive growth.

For example, one gay man from Eastern Kentucky told us, “I grew up being taught to treat everyone like I want to be treated (the Golden Rule), to help my neighbors.  Being gay has helped me realize that that really does apply to how I treat everyone.  I am more compassionate towards everyone now.”

In order to create a positive supportive environment for everyone, we need visible allies for LGBTQ people in Appalachian communities.  I think one of the big myths that we have to confront is that Appalachian communities are totally hostile towards LGBTQ people.  That is not true, there are a lot of supporters and we need for them to be visible.  Not only do we want LGBTQ people to not feel alone, we don’t want their allies to feel alone.

I want to read you a quick story from a young person from Eastern Kentucky that illustrates the importance of allies in creating well-being for LGBT youth in Appalachia and creating community:

“My best friend in high school, who was a white heterosexual man, was my go-to for just about anything.  We had a strong connection over several things. … In high school, I was in the beginning stages of confronting my sexuality directly. … It wasn’t until [I was writing a story last year] that I realized he was my first ally.  He told me a few years ago about realizing I was gay (we didn’t really talk about it until college).  He told me he thought to himself one day ‘Is she gay? Yep.  Am I okay with that? Yep.  Alright, moving on.’  That short conversation he had with himself let me know that our friendship was strong and that he was there for me no matter what.”

Let me just end with the basic message of our book – and what everyone here knows – our personal stories have power.  They have power over how we define our own lives and they have power when we share them with others.  Talking with others about the positive aspects of LGBT identities, recognizing the benefits of these identities in our own lives and the life of our communities, is an important part of creating a celebratory culture for everyone in Appalachia.  A strong, visible support ally culture is a part of this celebration of all of our lives.

Creating a Positive View

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Creating a Positive View

This is an expanded version of a story written and published on the Rowman & Littlefield author blog on March 26, 2012: http://rowmanblog.typepad.com/

By Ellen D.B. Riggle, PhD

As an academic researcher, I have typically taught and wrote about things that would depress and scare ordinary people (actually, these things depress and scare me too): depression and anxiety, psychological abuse, suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol abuse, violent attacks, discrimination and everyday prejudice. I discuss these topics in the context of the stresses that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) face and have to cope with (sometimes in healthy, adaptive ways, but other times in unhealthy or risky ways). It seems that in my academic training, I was taught to focus on negative issues. Implicitly I was taught that if nothing is “wrong” then everything must be okay, and we don’t need to talk about that.

Focusing on “what’s wrong” is important. For example, the current focus on the violence and psychological abuse associated with bullying is essential to providing all children and adults with a safe environment for living their lives. We are all responsible for solving this problem so we all need to be talking about it. But in focusing on what’s wrong, sometimes we forget to also focus on “what’s right.”

“What’s right” are stories that often get ignored or that just aren’t seen as interesting enough to make the news. A case in point: my friends, two women who have been partners for decades and are devoted parents and now grandparents, spend their time and energy acting as mentors and positive role models for young LGBT people and their allies in the pursuit of social justice — they don’t make the news. The Rhode Island Catholic Bishop who opposes marriage equality by stating that “homosexual activity is immoral, an offense to God, a serious sin” – he makes the news. This creates an imbalance in the messages that we are exposed to that impacts the stories that come to mind when we think about LGBT lives.

In a study of the messages that LGBT people (and their family members) hear in the media and their immediate environments, we found that people hear on average at least one negative message every week about LGBT people. These negative messages mostly come from stories in the mass media but they also come from overhearing others talk. Both of these situations are hard to avoid. People also hear positive messages; these messages tend to come from sources that people actively seek out, like friends or LGBT friendly media. It’s bad enough that the environment that we are exposed to in daily life delivers so many negative messages about LGBT people and their lives, but it’s especially bad when we think about young adults and children hearing these negative messages on a regular basis.

If we are to successfully address issues such as stigmatization, bullying and other public health risks for LGBT people, we must create a culture that, on a regular basis, celebrates instead of denigrates LGBT lives. How do we change this imbalance of messages and create a celebratory culture? One way to address this challenge is to share the positive stories of LGBT lives. In our research with over a thousand LGBT people, we have heard stories of personal growth and life lessons that can benefit us all. For example, we have heard stories about the benefits of living an authentic life and how that brings people closer to their family and friends. We have heard stories from many people about the importance of being flexible and creative in relationships with their partners so that both partners flourish. We have heard about how people develop compassion for others and engage in work or volunteer activities to support and benefit people in need. All of these actions come from positive qualities that people associate with their LGBT identities. These are the stories we need to be exposed to on a regular basis.

Our personal stories have power. They have power over how we define our own lives. They also have power when we share them with others. Talking with others about the positive aspects of LGBT identities, recognizing the benefits of these identities in individual lives and the life of our communities, is an important part of creating a celebratory culture. Sharing stories of LGBT lives with one person, or dozens, or thousands (even millions) will help to re-balance and re-focus the conversations that people have. In the future, when I talk about my research, hopefully I will leave people smiling more.

Ellen D.B. Riggle is Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Kentucky. She is co-author of A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-Being. For more information about her research, go to www.PrismResearch.org.