Author Archives: Ellen Riggle

NEW STUDY: Requesting Participation in a Research Study about LGBTQ Experiences 

Requesting Participation in a Research Study about LGBTQ Experiences  

We are conducting an online research study to understand experiences of hypervigilance in the lives of LGBTQ people. By “hypervigilance” we mean the experience of paying extra close attention to your surroundings. If you are at least 18 years old and identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ), please share your feelings and thoughts with us by participating in a survey. It should take about 15 minutes to complete and we do not ask for information that would identify you.

Here is the link to the survey:

If you are not eligible for this study but know someone who is, please help us by passing this information along!

Ellen D.B. Riggle, PhD, Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies, and Sharon Rostosky, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling Psychology, at the University of Kentucky are conducting this study. You can contact them at or (859) 257-7036 if you have questions about the study. For more information on the researchers and their research program, please visit




APA Books Blog interview

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.


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:

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 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 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 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 interviewed us about Positive LGBTQ Identities.  The show aired on March 3, 2014, and is available as a podcast download at


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