A recent article, published in Social Science & Medicine, investigated the psychological benefits of collective action among LGBT individuals in Hong Kong. The researchers found that collective action can increase resilience and moderate depressive symptoms that arise from stigma and discrimination.
The authors, led by Randolph C.H. Chan from the Education University of Hong Kong, write:
“The present study is one of the first to examine the relationships among collective action, perceived discrimination, and depressive symptoms in a sample of LGBT individuals. While collective action has been recognized as means to resist social oppression and bring about structural changes, less attention has been paid to understanding the psychological benefits of collective actions.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are often facing greater discrimination and a higher rate of mental health issues such as depression and suicide. As a way to fight for equal rights and social justice, LGBT individuals may engage in collective action. Collective action has been found effective in leading to personal empowerment, raising public awareness, and promoting social change. In recent years, collective action has been used to promote LGBT rights such as same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination laws. Research also has found involvement in LGBT collective action was positively correlated with psychological well-being.
The authors explain:
“Engaging in collective action to confront oppression may transform the oppressive experience and enable people to develop resistance to social vulnerabilities and adversity. As a means to challenge the position of privileged groups and confront illegitimate intergroup status, collective action may salvage personal and group-based self-esteem for members of disadvantaged groups.”
However, the authors note, “the right to take collective action is not always guaranteed, especially in less democratic societies where civil rights are curtailed and where collective action is seen as a threat to the existing political order.”
The authors identified the limitations within existing measurements for collective action since those measurements may not capture or reflect collective action for LGBT rights in less democratic societies. Hence, the study also aimed to develop a more culturally appropriate scale and to understand the underlying dimensions of collective action for LGBT rights.
With multiple rigorous statistical methods, they developed an LGBT Collective Action Scale, a 12-item scale that reflects different forms of collective action for LGBT rights in less democratic societies. They identified two dimensions of collective action: public collective action and private collective action. The result also showed that perceived discrimination had a significantly stronger association with public collective action than private collective action.
“Private collective action refers to collective action behavior intended to promote awareness and positive changes concerning LGBT rights at an interpersonal level, where public collective action refers to collective action behavior intended to advocate for positive changes concerning LGBT rights at a community or societal level,” the authors note. “Despite public collective action being more powerful in triggering structural changes than private collective action, it is not necessary that people in all societies have access to public collective action due to absence of opportunity structures.”
The authors highlighted that private collective action might not change social structures as public collective action does, but it has lower personal costs and legal risks. Not only can it foster emotional resilience in sex and gender minorities, but it also raises awareness of LGBT rights at an interpersonal level and generates a ripple effect in one’s family and social networks.
The study also tried to examine the moderating roles of collective action on the relationship between perceived discrimination and depression symptoms. In addition, they were able to review the gender differences in the moderating roles of collective action.
“As hypothesized, the association between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms was weaker among those with higher levels of collective action participation. With higher levels of collective action, discrimination exerts a smaller negative effect on mental health.”
The researchers found that “while private collective action significantly moderated the association between perceived discrimination and depressive symptoms among both sexual minority men and women, the protective effect of public collective action was only observed in sexual minority women.”
At the end of the study, the authors suggested a few practical implications: that (1) practitioners should shift their work from an individual-focused, deficit-based paradigm to paradigms that address mental health disparities and social injustice, (2) practitioners should create an affirming therapeutic context for discussion of how to engage both private and public collective action, and (3) the integration of critical consciousness in educational settings could be a way to allow students to reflect on how systems of power and oppression shape their life experience and empower them to take proactive roles in collective action.
The authors conclude:
“Collective action enables LGBT individuals to counteract heterosexism in various forms: either privately, by confronting the biased language and attitude of others, or publicly, by taking part in protests for LGBT rights. Participating in private and public collective action can buffer the negative effect of discrimination on mental health in LGBT individuals . . . Although mobilizing collective action can protect LGBT individuals against minority stress, it is equally important that the awareness and demands on LGBT rights are reflected in social policies, structures, and norms. Only by simultaneously cultivating intrapersonal resilience and creating structural changes will the mental health of LGBT individuals be improved.”
Chan, R. C., & Mak, W. W. (2021). Resistance as a form of resilience in sexual and gender minorities: Differential moderating roles of collective action on the discrimination–depression relationship among sexual minority men and women. Social Science & Medicine, 280, 114056. (Link)