What Are the Identifiable Causes of Low Self-Esteem Among
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender Individuals?

A Thesis Presented to
The Faculty of the Psychology Department
Chapman University College

In (Partial) Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Bachelor of Arts

This study was conducted to determine the identifiable causes of low self-esteem in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individual. Of the 83 participants who participated in the study, 12 were removed as outliers, and 71 participants were able to be included in the results of the study. Each participant complete a thorough series of questions in regards to their demographics, sexual orientation, abuse, support, and four self-esteem tests. These tests consisted of Rosenberg’s ten question self-esteem test, a 28 question quiz from selfesteem2go.com, a self-evaluation of four distinct areas in the participant’s life, and a ten question lie scale from Coopersmith’s self-esteem inventory. Results of the study indicated that religion was not the identifiable cause of low self-esteem in the LGBT individual. The identifiable causes, however, were found to focus around media’s definition of beauty.
In working with individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, a tremendous problem has seemed to affect many of these individuals in a major way. The fact is that a majority of the LGBT community has had to battle some kind of discrimination in regards to their identity, and due to this, many of them have suffered from a low self-esteem. Jonathan is one such individual who has suffered from low self-esteem.
Jonathan grew up in a very religious home, with a grandmother and grandfather who were ministers in the church and attended high school in an extremely conservative, religious town. Because of these two factors, he was terrified to come out as a gay adolescent. After graduating from high school, Jonathan tried to cover up who he was through various means of escape, and being respectful to his family and his upbringing in church, he attended church with the intent that they could possibly change him through religiously-motivated sexual orientation change (Schaeffer, et al., 1999).
Because he felt berated by his religion, Jonathan viewed himself as unworthy to receive any good or love from anyone. For several years he hid “in the closet” and continued to have promiscuous one night stands so to never get involved with anyone due to the fact he was afraid to be caught by friends. Even after Jonathan admitted who he was, he battled with the fear of rejection because of the stigma of looks that is prominent in the LGBT community (Silberstein, et al., 1989). This caused another blow to his self-esteem and prompted an even lower self-esteem than before.
In the LGBT community, there have been so many demands on a person that there can be various causes of low self-esteem. Many of these have included; the clothes that a person wears (style), a persons weight, their hair cut, where they live, how much money they make, the fact that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, if they are monogamous or promiscuous, by what they eat and drink, religion, and many other factors. So this posed the question; what are the identifiable causes of low self-esteem in LGBT individuals?
This study is vital to the LGBT community since many LGBT individuals have suffered such a tremendous battle with low self-esteem. Findings have suggested in the past that homosexual individuals have a lower self-esteem than the heterosexual individuals (Jacobs & Tedford, 1980; Myrick, 1974). Because of the higher rate of suicide in the LGBT community than in the rest of the population; it appears that self-esteem could play a major factor in suicide related deaths. Although the estimated numbers of LGBT are less than ten percent of the population, per capita the thought of suicide has been higher for many years among gay men, with as many as 35 percent considering suicide as an option, lesbians with 38 percent, and transgender persons with over 50 percent (Suicide, 2009). This may not seem to be a major issue in regards to self-esteem, but with factors that raise the suicidality factor, we as a society need to look at how we may be causing low self-esteem thinking in LGBT individuals. This will be one of the factors that will be researched and discussed later in the research.
Literature Review
In understanding self-esteem, one must look at how self-esteem is defined by professionals in order to find the identifiable causes of low self-esteem. John and Catherine MacArthur present Blaskcovich and Tomaka’s explanation of self-esteem as “the evaluative component of a person’s self-concept, broader representation of the self that includes cognitive and behavioral aspects as well as evaluative or affective ones” (2004, 1991). This element of an individual’s self-concept includes cognitive, behavioral, evaluative or affective aspects, all of which are found in the learning processes of Jean Piaget’s developmental theory (Benoit, 2001/2008). When a person succeeds, is praised or experiences another’s love, all of which are events associated with relational appreciation, the individual’s self-esteem rises, however, on the other hand, when an individual is dealt failure, criticism (even if it is constructive), rejection, and other events that have negative implications for relational value, the individual’s self-esteem is lowered (Leary, 1999). Further more, people look to others to fulfill psychological needs for love and validation (Park, Crocker, & Mickelson, 2004). Although the examination of self-esteem, in both the psychological and sociological fields has been studied extensively since the beginning foundations of both fields, the cause of low self-esteem in LGBT individuals has had very few studies completed in either field. According to Brett Pelham and William Swann, Jr., they state that it appeared that people’s general sense of self-worth is determined by three distinct factors: (a) their positive and negative feelings about themselves, (b) their specific beliefs about themselves, and (c) the way that they frame these beliefs (1989).
Since John Jacobs & William Tedford explained that homosexual individuals seem to have a lower self-esteem than heterosexuals (1980), it is not surprising that the major influence on self-esteem in the LGBT individual is identification with the general culture and its power structure, it is easier to see why they have suffered a lower self-esteem because of an individual’s sexual orientation (1980). Many of the causes of low self-esteem can be understood through; (1) self-esteem as it is viewed psychologically; (2) being a member of the LGBT community; and (3) the social factors outside of the LGBT community. With other studies focusing on issues regarding low self-esteem and not placing an emphasis on the causes, defining every cause will need further research, since there are a numerous possible causes. By becoming aware of ones personal identity and accepting who they are as an LGBT person, many LGBT individuals have gained a higher self-esteem through their own self-efficacy.
Self-Esteem as it is Viewed Psychologically
To understand self-esteem more deeply, John Santrock explains self-esteem as being the same as self-worth and self-image and that it is also on the global dimension (2007). By looking at three separate definitions in Webster’s New College Dictionary, we see first that self-esteem is the belief in oneself and that it is also self-respect, after which self-respect is then defined as the proper respect for oneself and one’s worth as a person, which then leads us further on to self-worth being defined as one’s worth as a person, as perceived by one’s self (Agnes, 2007). The idea of an individual’s self-esteem, self-worth or self-image brings to mind the various theories about an individual being so unique to have their own view of themselves either being high or low. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Santrock, 2007) says that esteem is the fourth level that we as individuals come to in our necessities of life. In his theory, Maslow says that self-esteem, confidence and achievement, along with respect by and for others, all come after our psychological, safety and love needs. With this understanding, self-esteem would become important in an individuals life during their preschool and early school years. This has been emphasized by numerous developmental psychologists (as cited in Pelham & Swann, 1989). Overall, there are no more widely studied personality traits in psychology than self-esteem, locus of control, and neuroticism (Judge, Erez, Bono, & Thoresen, 2002).
For many individuals among the LGBT community, several factors could play key roles in causing an individuals self-esteem to drop; rejection from family, friends or religious organizations, the media and looks, ethnicity, financial status, drugs and/or alcohol, HIV/AIDS as well as other health related issues, or prejudice, discrimination, and stigmas. Each individual is unique; therefore, each individual who suffers from low self-esteem has their own independent variables that have hindered their self-esteem. Each individual has to find their own importance in life and if that importance is blocked or stopped completely, it alters their self-esteem. On the other hand, some argue that self-views are connected to an individual’s values and goals, and that they strongly influence their global self-worth (Pelham & Swann, 1989). When a transgender, Female to Male (FtM), for instance, sees his transition as his wholeness and this helps his self-esteem increase, he becomes a happier, more positive individual and can be much more productive. However, if he is ready to finish his transition and he has a doctor that tries to bilk him for more money because of who he is as a transgender individual, this could easily set him back and cause him to not desire to allow himself to follow through with the completion of his transition and undoubtedly would lower his self-esteem.
Since the early days of psychology, self-esteem has been considered an important construct (Leary, 1999), however, deciphering the causes of low self-esteem has been perplexing to interpret due to the numerous variables there are. First off we must ask why self-esteem is so important and secondly what function it serves (1999). It is suggested that when an individual verifies their identity, it produces feelings of competency and worth and while self-verification increases these feelings of competency and worth, the disturbance of the self-verification process has been revealed to have harmful emotional consequences (Cast & Burke; 2002). It is with this high self-esteem in which the individual is able to increase their coping with the world around them (1999). With each individual’s self-efficacy fighting for a higher self-esteem, it is better to gradually allow self-esteem to grow than to try and gain a sense of high self-esteem abruptly as not to have a crash of self and allow their self-esteem to relapse to a lower self-esteem than before. This stability of self-esteem is an important predictor of the individual’s cognitive and emotional reactions (Kernis, et al, 1993).
Beside the negativity one feels toward themselves, there are dangers to having low self-esteem. One of these many dangers is the risk of an individual’s health. Danu Stinson and his colleagues at the University of Waterloo, along with Jessica Cameron at the University of Manitoba, found that by having lower self-esteem, the individual has an elevated level of cortisol in response to stress. Because of this higher level of cortisol, over time it can cause damage to the endocrine system and lead to not only negative health outcomes but also more doctor visits and less money in the individuals wallet (Stinson, et al.; 2008). By doing all that one can over a period of time, an estimated time frame being from six months to a year, one can eliminate the causes of lower self-esteem, gain a more positive outlook about themselves and not only live a healthier mental life but a healthier physical life as well.
Being a Member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, although categorized in a larger community base, each have their own identity groups and various possible causes for low self-esteem. Many lesbians for example have shown to have a more internalized homophobia according to existing literature (Sophie, 1987; Szymanski & Chung, 2001). By restructuring the cognition and changing meanings associated with ones lesbian identity, these individuals are able to change the meanings of the self-concept, of individual values and future expectations. Disclosing ones sexual identity is also a positive correlation related to self-esteem. This internalized homophobia, if not addressed, can manifest itself in numerous ways (Jordan & Deluty; 1998; Sophie, 1987; Szymanski & Chung, 2001). Gay men on the other hand face more homo-negativity (Rosser et al, 2008), cultural and social stigmas, (Frable, Wortman & Joseph, 1997) which are stressors with “profound mental health consequences, producing inwardly directed feelings of shame and self-hatred that rise to low self-esteem, suicidality, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and feelings of powerlessness and despair that limit health-seeking behaviors” (Johnson, Mimiaga & Bradford, 2008), and internalized battles of self-esteem issues as seen through the use and abuse of alcohol, drugs and the objectification of a sexual partner (Déaz, 1999 Skinner & Otis, 1996). Bisexual and transgender individuals also face numerous obstacles in obtaining and keeping a high self-esteem. These can include, but are not limited to, poverty, racism, bi-phobia, trans-phobia, victimization and harassment (Caroll, 2006; Díaz, et al., 2001; Herek, Gills, Cogan, & Glunt, 1997; Heubner, Rebchook, & Kegeles, 2004; Johnson, Mimiaga, & Bradford, 2008; Major & O’Brien, 2004; Meyer, 2003). Roughgarden called for psychologists to convey disapproval of transphobic and otherwise prejudiced research when it came to J. Michael Bailey’s 2003 book on transsexualism called, “The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-bending and Transsexualism” (Hegarty, Lenihan, Barker, & Moon, 2009).
A review of existing literature shows that members of the LGBT community can have various causes for low self-esteem. By comparing cultures, we can see from the past that levels of self-esteem have fluctuated throughout history in regards to inequality, hatred, bullying, stigma, stereotyping, prejudice and victimization (Garnets & D’Augelli, 1994). This is just one cause of low self-esteem in the LBGT community, which are all caused by bigotry and prejudice, which will be discussed later in this review.
We have seen American history show that homosexuality was illegal in all states less than sixty years ago. In 1969, in the late evening hours of June 27, the early morning hours of June 28, the “Stonewall Rebellion” took place in New York City, “this was in response to several days of confrontations…by routine police raids on a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn” (Garnets & D’Augelli, 1994), and it wasn’t until 1973 that mental health professionals stopped viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) II (American Psychiatric Association, 1973). Although homosexuality was no longer referred to as a mental disorder, the board of trustees of the American Psychological Association chose to substitute “Sexual Orientation Disturbance” in their DSM-II and in 1987 and deleted the diagnosis of homosexuality from the DSM all together (Rosario, 2002). Psychologist, Charlotte Patterson says that, “At this moment in history, and in the Western cultural settings, sexual orientation is likely to be a significant aspect of an individual’s identity, but it is not the only aspect for anyone’s identity” (1995) and regardless of the advancement, the common public persist to believe that homosexual behavior is deviant (Jacobs & Tedford, 1980). As psychologists with a unique concentration in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender psychology and civil rights, we acknowledge the necessity to revolutionize the way psychology has constructed all of these populations to draw from recent works contained in the field of psychology to increase our everyday actuality about our social worlds (Hegarty, Lenihan, Barker, & Moon, 2009).
Social Factors Outside of the LGBT Community
As more and more research is done in this renaissance period of the LGBT culture and the enlightenment period of Western societies in regards to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender culture, researchers are trying to address the numerous social factors and concerns that address LGBT issues. By understanding the LGBT individual and the steps they are taking to come out of the closet, researchers are able to determine various reasons that these individuals choose to or not to come out. By addressing these issues behind the coming out process, researchers are able to assist others in helping the LGBT individual take that first step with those closest to them by assisting the family and friends of the LGBT individual in accepting them just as they are, and if one is so inclined, to try and understand why they have the bitterness, resentment, prejudice, hatred and bigotry toward the LGBT community. The psychologist will then be able to assist this person in understanding why they are non-accepting and guide them in learning how to accept others as they are.
By addressing identity theory perspectives, researchers are able to define self as being an integrated part of social interaction. Identity theorists also contend that self-definitions, which include self-worth, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-respect, echo the social roles in which individuals perform customarily in their daily lives (Roberts & Bengston, 1993). Identity in short is defined as the position of being a specific person. This can be done by being exactly like someone or taking on qualities and characteristics of an individual or a number of individuals. Each individual’s identity is primarily formed during their adolescent years as described by Erik Erikson (Harder, 2002). During this time, the individual is trying to identify themselves by traits that they have learned from their parents, friends, role-models and individuals that are in authority. As the child and adolescent is finding their own identity, their perceptions of everyone in their life, and the individual qualities of each of these people, are easily able to become associated with the adolescent’s self-esteem (Rubin et al., 2004). This agrees with Lora Park, Jennifer Crocker and Kristen Mickelson when they defined humans as inherently social creatures (2004).
When looking at the causes of low self-esteem in society, researchers have found that an individual’s self-esteem can be affected by a number of independent variables: from academic, financial problems, shame, being a member of a devalued social group (rather it be an ethnic minority, women, or LGBT groups) (Katz, Joiner, & Kwon, 2002), or gender; self-esteem is affected in most individuals. In the LGBT community, this is very common due to the fact of individuals being outside of their community and having a different belief system inside the LGBT community. These stereotypes are cognitive structures of prejudice as described by numerous researchers as antigay violence and discrimination, from the Nazi extermination of homosexuals to the murder of Matthew Shepherd; from wide spread abuse, torture and ill treatment, to assault and murder (Meyer, 2003; van den Boss & Stapel, 2009). As we see, prejudice and bigotry can play a large role in many individuals self-esteem among the LGBT community.
Studies show that although self-esteem, whether high or low, is not necessarily related to the LGBT individual; however, various causes can correlate the two together. While the causes can include internalized homophobia and/or religious stereotyping or prejudice, they also can include, but are not limited to variables such as alcohol, drugs, health, socio-economic status, relationship and lack of support and communication within the LGBT community. To better understand the research, a mixed methods approach was used for this study and research was conducted by means of numerous articles, books, websites and Chapman University’s Leatherby libraries.
Data was reported from 63 individual surveys and 20 personal interviews among the LGBT population and their allies in California while at various non-profit organization functions and group gatherings for the LGBT community, in both Orange and Tulare counties, and through personal contacts, emails, web-log postings, and online participation through polldaddy.com. Of the 83 respondents ten surveys and two interviews were removed from the study as outliers; the reasons will be explained later in the discussion. The research was conducted in order to find the identifiable causes of low self-esteem among the LGBT individual. By conducting both self-response surveys and personal interviews in the LGBT community, this gave access to a broader range of individuals than locating individuals in a traditional public setting.
The individuals that participated in this study were either members of the LGBT community or supporting allies, with a focus specifically being on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender participants. The individual community base of the LGBT individuals was chosen for this research since there are insignificant studies that have been conducted in the field of study of LGBT self-esteem. With only one focus that was specifically on lesbian and gay individuals and self-esteem that was conducted in 1980, by broadening the scope to include the bisexual and transgender community as well, and conducting a more up to date study, this research will help to promote further studies on the LGBT individuals and self-esteem in the future.
Test Materials
The scale used for this study consisted of 60 questions for the survey (Appendix A), and 89 questions for the personal interviews (Appendix B). Both questionnaires consisted of Yes/No/ or No Response, multiple choice questions, and four different self-esteem measurements, which will help to identify the independent variables associated with the dependent variable of low self-esteem in the LGBT individual. The interview and survey questions explore the individual’s demographic characteristics, individual sexual identity, and abuse toward or by the individual, as well as a ten question self-esteem test, 18 question self-esteem quiz, a short four question personal self-evaluation and a ten question lie scale to test any possible outliers to help determine if respondents were trying to hard to appear to have high self-esteem. The survey’s was composed of closed-ended questions only while the interviews were composed of eight open-ended questions, the same closed ended questions, an additional 21 closed-ended questions, as well as dialogue interaction with the respondent after the interview had been completed and analyzed. Answers were recorded on a printed questionnaire, through e-mails, and online through a series of surveys at http://www.polldaddy.com.
Test (T). Rosenberg’s (1965) scale of self-esteem was used. Jacobs and Tedford (1980) also made use of this measurement in their study.
Quiz (Q). Roth’s (2009) self-esteem quiz was used for a more in depth testing of self-esteem. This quiz used a 5-point Likert scale (1 = “never”; 5 = “always”). This quiz was also used to compare and contrast Rosenberg’s scale of self-esteem.
Self-Evaluation (S). A self-evaluation score was included to test four distinct areas of the individual’s personal view of themselves. These areas’s included a self-evaluation of personality, looks (not including the individual’s weight), style, and weight.
Lie Scale (L). Ryden’s (1978) version of Dr. Stanley Coopersmith’s self-esteem scale used to measure self-esteem in children. Dr. Ryden’s of self-esteem inventory lie scale was used. The lie scale helps establish if the respondent is trying too hard to come out with having high self-esteem.
Data Analysis
The purpose of this study is to bring about research that is up to date as to the identifiable causes of low self-esteem amongst the LGBT population. The most recent research that had been completed, not only was outdated, by nearly three decades, but it only covered ideas of how any of the causes being researched in this study may only alter ones self-esteem and not if it is a factor in low self-esteem in the LGBT individual and not about the independent variables that may cause low self-esteem (Jacobs & Tedford, 1980).
Participation in this study was entirely voluntary and was conducted during the months of April and May 2009. The respondents had the ability to stop the survey or interview at any time without repercussions. They were also notified at the top of the survey, as well as verbally or through e-mail conversations, that all information would be kept in the strictest confidentiality and that no other person, including their significant other or family members, or any agency that they might be affiliated with, shall be contacted or notified as to any part of the survey in which they completed. The self-respondent survey took between six and fifteen minutes to answer and the personal interviews took between fifteen and forty-five minutes to complete. Each individual participant was also notified that the responses will go to help research self-esteem among the LGBT community.
The scoring of the self-esteem test (T) as well as the self-evaluation (S) scores were altered to suit a better outcome in order to be comparable to the self-esteem quiz (Q). The test (T) was changed from a zero, one, two, three score, to a zero, three, six, nine score and the self-evaluation (S) was changed from a one through ten score to multiply each number by nine. These alterations to the scoring allowed for the test (T), quiz (Q), and self-evaluation (S) to be scored on the same scale. The lie scale (L) was to test their integrity by using questions to see if the individual respondents trying to hard to appear to have high self-esteem.
Respondents for this study were self-defined gay men, lesbians, bisexual males and females, transgender individuals in various stages of their transition, and heterosexual males and females. Of the 83 surveys and interviews, 58 respondents (69.9%) were gay males, 13 respondents (15.7%) were lesbian, four respondents (4.8%) were bisexual, four respondents (4.8%) were heterosexual, three respondents (3.6%) were transgender, and one respondent (1.2%) gave no response. Of these 83 respondents, 65 respondents (78.3%) were male and 18 respondents (21.7%) were female. Because the study is focused specifically on the LGBT community the four respondents that responded as heterosexual were found to be outliers and were determined ineligible for this research. Future research to compare and contrast the homosexual and heterosexual communities should be considered at a later time. There were also two additional respondents who did not complete the questionnaire on the reverse side of each page, therefore, this brought about two additional outliers.
After asking questions regarding the individual’s identity, 65 (91.5%) respondents said they were open about their identity, two (2.8%) respondents said that they were not open about their sexual identity, and four (5.6%) chose not to answer. In regards to being open about their identity, the respondents were asked how long they had been out; one (1.4%) respondent answered less than a year, six (8.5%) responded with one to five years, 14 (19.7%) responded with five to ten years, another 14 (19.7%) responded with ten to 15 years, eight (11.3%) responded with 15 to 20 years, 24 (33.8%) responded that they had been out for more than 20 years, and four (5.6%) chose not to answer. This brought up questions as to why they chose to give no response for their openness as well as no response on how long they have been out. When asked if they battled with their sexuality, four respondents (5.6%) agreed that they did battle with who they are as an LGBT individual, while 67 respondents (94.4%) said that they do not battle with who they are sexually. The respondents who participated in the interviews were also asked if they had ever wished that they were heterosexual, six (33.3%) responded yes, 11 (61.1%) responded no and one (5%) gave no response.
Each of these individuals reported to be from 16 counties in the state of California, 11 counties across the United States, including, Arizona, Nevada, Texas Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Hawai’i, Connecticut, Oregon, and Washington, two respondents from Canadian Provinces, Nova Scotia and British Columbia and five individuals who chose not to give a response as to where they live. These included 51 (71.8%) respondents said they were from California, 13 (18.3%) from other counties throughout the United States, two (2.8%) from Canada, and five (7%) that chose not to respond. When the respondents to the interviews were later asked if they had moved away from where they grew up because of their sexual identity, only five had said that it was the reason that they had moved and only one respondent stated that they truly were not pleased with their new city of residence. This question was also found to be an inconclusive variable to this study and was removed from this research as well.
Age and ethnicity were also a factor in looking at demographics. When asking about age, no respondents were under the age of 18, six (8.5%) respondents were between 18 and 25, 37 (52.1%) were between the ages of 26 and 45, 23 (32.4%) were between the ages of 46 and 65 and 5 (7%) were over the age of 65. There were 50 (70.4%) Caucasian respondents, ten (14.1%) Hispanic respondents, two (2.8%) African-American respondents, one (1.4%) Asian-American respondent, and eight (11.3%) respondents who were of mixed ethnicity.
The third part of the demographics that was asked was in regards to education and employment. Twenty-four (33.8%) respondents said that they had some college education, there were ten (14.1%) respondents said they had received their associate’s degree and ten (14.1%) respondents had received their bachelor’s degree, seven (9.9%) respondents had received their master’s degree, six (8.5%) respondents had only received their high school diploma, two (2.8%) respondents had not graduated from high school, two (2.8%) respondents had received their professional degree and one (1.4%) respondent had received their doctorate degree. When asked about employment status, respondents had the option to choose more than one response and no more than three. Although there were only four respondents that replied to more than one response, an additional nine responses were recorded into the total, changed the totals slightly to, 35 (43.9%) respondents said that they were working full-time, seven (8.5%) respondents said that they were working part-time, six (7.3%) respondents said that they were said that they had more than one job, seven (8.5%) respondents said that they were self-employed, five (6.1%) respondents said that they were on disability, five (6.1%) respondents said that they were students, nine (11%) respondents said that they were retired and six (7.3%) respondents said that they were unemployed, in which three (50%) of the unemployed respondents stated that their unemployment was due to the current economic crisis. Unemployment has also been studied in regards to self-esteem; however, it was deemed as an unidentifiable for this research and was eliminated from this study as well.
When searching for support for the LGBT individual in the literature that was reviewed, there were several aspects that needed to be covered. The first question was in regards to the respondents’ relationship status. This included respondents who were in a civil union or domestically partnered 37 (52.1%), 27 (38%) single respondents, four (5.6%) legally married respondents, one (1.4%) divorced respondent, one (1.4%) separated respondent, and one (1.4%) of respondent did not respond. The second question was how many people live in your home and was only asked of the interview respondents, with possible responses being one, two to four, five to eight, and nine or more. Of the 18 respondents, only four respondents (22.2%) responded that they live alone and 14 (77.8%) respondents said that there were two to four people living in their home.
The third section had to deal with how the respondent’s family and friends accepted and supported them as an LGBT individual. When asked about family support 40 (56.3%) respondents said that their family did support them when they came out, while 29 (40.8%) respondents said that their family did not support them, and two (2.8%) respondents chose to give no response to this question. Of the 29 families that did not give support when the respondent came out, there 14 respondents stating that their families did eventually support them as an LGBT individual. At this time, ten families still do not support their LGBT family member. When asked during the interviews if they currently have support from their family, 14 respondents said yes and four said that they currently do not have that support from their families. When asked if the majority of their friends accepted their identity when they came out, 60 (84.5%) respondents said yes and nine (12.7%) respondents said no. Only two of these nine respondent’s friends did come to accept their LGBT friend. When asking the interview participants if they had the support system in their friends, 17 respondents said that they did have that support system. One respondent chose to give no response on either support question in regards to their family or friends.
Since many of the respondents participated in this research at various functions that were sponsored by non-profit organizations, it was surprising to find that only 53 (75%) said that they were involved in a non-profit organization and that only 47 (66%) of them were involved in more than one organization. When being involved in a non-profit, eight (11.3%) respondents said they had been involved for less than a year, 15 (21.1%) respondents said they had been involved between one and five years, 14 (19.7%) respondents said they had been involved five to ten years, nine (12.7%) respondents stated that they had been involve for ten to 15 years, two (2.8%) respondents had been involved for 15 to 20 years, and seven (9.9%) respondents had been involved for over 20 years. Although the question about these organizations or personal supports being a help to ones self-esteem and sexual identity was only asked of the interview respondents, 72.2% of them said that they were helpful. Fourteen respondents that had participated in the interview said that they have an LGBT support system, 10 said they have support from a professional, and in regards to finding resources that are available to the LGBT individual, 15 respondents knew of national resources available to them, either in the U.S. or in Canada. Two additional questions about how the groups and support systems are help and what kind of support that they give were included as well in the interviews. Although these were a few of the open-ended questions in the interviews, the questions did not appear to be relevant to the outcome for this research and were removed from this study and should be include in future research.
In this study, religion was the key factor in finding the identifiable causes of low self-esteem. Although this will be touched on further in the discussion, for this portion of the study it was ultimately chosen to be included under the abuse section of research. In regards to religion, 55 (77.5%) respondents stated that they were raised in church as a child or adolescent and only 39 (54.9%) respondents said that they had been part of a church as an adult. Of these respondents, eleven said they had felt that they had been rejected as a child or adolescent from the church that they were raised in and only two respondents said that they felt rejected as an adult from their church. Twelve additional respondents felt that they had been rejected by their churches that they were a part of, both as a child or adolescent and as an adult.
Physical and mental abuse can play a role on one’s self-esteem, and when that abuse becomes a hate crime it can possibly cause even more damage to one’s self-esteem. Although one respondent chose not to respond to this subject, 32 (45.1%) respondents said that they had been victims of a hate crime, and although there were only 32 that said yes, many of these individuals had more than one type of hate crime committed on them; these include 20 episodes of physical assault, 27 episodes of verbal assault, and 16 episodes of personal property damage. In further researching this topic of physical and mental abuse, the interview participants were asked about four additional abuses that they may have been victims of. Other than hate crimes, four (22.2%) respondents had been victims of sexual assault, eight (44.4%) respondents had been victims of physical assault, five (27.7%) respondents had been victims of domestic violence or abuse, and ten (55.6%) respondents had been discriminated against because of their sexuality.
Alcohol and drugs are not only a part of our society and culture; they also can play a vital role on self-esteem when abused. Sixty-two participants responded that they do drink alcohol and thirty-seven respondents admittedly said that they currently or have previously taken illegal or prescription drugs for pleasure. This will be addressed much more in depth further on in the discussion as well. It was also addressed by one participant that the research should also include the option for those in recovery during future research.
When discussing suicide, one does not necessarily consider it as abuse; however, the thought of suicide is a mental abuse that the individual deals with psychologically. The previous independent variables that have been mentioned can either play an individual role on one’s self-esteem or can coalesce with any of the other independent variables to build the thought process of abusive thinking, psychologically, in regards to suicide. When asked if suicide had ever been seriously considered, 29 (40.8%) respondents said yes and only one chose not to respond. This is a question that should be studied as the only variable with low self-esteem in future research of LGBT individuals.
After completing the research and gathering the totals of the self-esteem scales, the average response score was 67.4 out of 90 points, which is not to be confused with the mean score of 62.5, and the median score was 62.85 points. The range was 52.5 points and the mode consisted of six scores; 58.7, 62, 64.5, 65.5, 74.7, and 76.2. These point scores were divided into five levels of self-esteem which include, extremely low self-esteem (1 – 18 points), low self-esteem (19 – 36 points), self-esteem needs improvement (37 – 54 points), average self-esteem (55 – 72 points), and high self-esteem (73 – 90 points). This scoring showed that the average respondent score came in the area of average self-esteem. With four respondents returning incomplete self-esteem scales, it was found that these scores would alter the results and were therefore removed as outliers. The lie scale showed an average responding of four which was a low lie scale score. With two respondents scoring extremely high on the lie scale, they were also removed as outliers.
In the self-esteem self-evaluation, the most common response in regards to an individual’s self-scoring of their own self-esteem, through the popularity of responses, personality scored an eight out of ten, looks (not including weight) scored a six out of ten, style scored a five out of ten, and weight scored a five out of ten. The mean score of the self-evaluation scoring was, personality scored eight out of ten, looks scored 6.7 out of ten, style scores 6.6 out of ten, and weight scored 5.3 out of ten. These results show that the respondents felt a higher self-esteem when thinking in regards to their personality and looks than their style and weight. After speaking more in depth with several of the individuals who completed the interview, the majority of individuals said that although the interview participants that completed their interview in person varied in their weight, they all felt that their weight was a major issue.
There were other variables that were not included into this research due to extremely high probability of individuals not comfortable in responding to the questions. The main questions that were not included were in regards to physical health, mental health, and HIV/AIDS status. Johnson, Mimiaga, and Bradford explain that “social stigma is a stressor with profound mental health consequences, provoking inwardly directed feelings of shame and self-hatred that give ride to low self-esteem (2008; Meyer & Northridge, 2007). When it comes to physical health, as discussed earlier, increased cortisol can cause damage to the endocrine system, which was started by high levels of stress, and with low self-esteem many individuals in the LGBT community find themselves dealing with these higher levels of stress and increased cortisol (Stinson, et al.; 2008). Also when dealing with having HIV or AIDS, the individual obviously becomes stressed, therefore once again increasing the cortisol, as well as having that low self-esteem that “now that I am infected, no one will want to be with me.” Since these topics are more in depth, future studies would prove to be beneficial on each of these topics individually as well as studied together.

With the core aspect of an individual’s identity revolving around their sexual orientation and with the majority of research in the area of sexual orientation being conducted prior to homosexuality no longer being classified as a mental disorder (Schaeffer, et al, 1999), it appears that new research is needed in the LGBT culture in regards to various topics. Since John Jacobs and William Tedford, Jr. conducted their research about “Factors Affecting the Self-Esteem of the Homosexual Individual” (1980), after researching numerous articles, websites and various libraries for more research on this topic, no additional related research could be found.
While there was one additional article found in the Journal and Family Review from 1989 in regards to religious oppression of the gay and lesbian individual, no other research addressed the exact causes of low self-esteem in the LGBT individual. The research conducted herein will clarify some identifiable causes; however, further research will need to be done at a later time.
Through the interviews, the respondents were asked three questions to scale their belief of what they believed the definition of self-esteem was. The first question was for them to define self-esteem in their own words. The responses were virtually the same from the respondents; self-esteem is feeling good, or the perception of one’s self. The second question on self-esteem asked the question, “What do you believe are the causes of high or low self-esteem?” This time the answers were as different as each individual. One respondent said that high and low self-esteem are caused by social situations as well as the individuals upbringing and life experiences, while a second respondent said that it was confidence in yourself, and a third respondent said that everyone is different on what causes their high and low self-esteem and continued to talk about what makes their personal self-esteem high or low.
Tiffany Belle wrote in her article entitled “Causes and effects of low self-esteem” for helium.com; “Everyone at some time or another has suffered from low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is having a low value and self-worth of yourself. For many people, though, it is a life long problem. They never think they are good enough, pretty enough or worthy of anything” (2009). For over a hundred years, psychologists have been helping individuals find within themselves the tools needed to expand their self-esteem to a higher level. Although these tools are nothing new in society, they have assisted many individuals in finding themselves with a deeper level of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-respect. It was in the early 1900’s that Mary Calkins (1863 – 1930), a student of William James, developed an influential psychology of self. She saw the self as an active, guiding, and purposive agency which is present in all acts of consciousness. It was Calkins who had developed the self theory which anticipated, at least in some ways, Gordon Allport’s personality theory (Fancher, 1979/1996). It was Allport (1897 – 1967) who had later introduced what he had called propriate functioning, the functioning in which a manner is expressive of the self (Boeree, 1998/2006). Propriate is a tern which comes from the word proprium, or the self. This led Allport to suggest that the self is composed of the aspects of ones experiences which one sees as most essential, warm, and central. It was this functional definition that became a developmental theory all by itself and brought about the awareness of the seven functions of self in which Allport suggested arise at certain times in one’s life. These seven functions include: 1) sense of body, 2) self-identity, 3) self-esteem, 4) self-extension, 5) self-image, 6) rational coping, and 7) propriate striving. For the remainder of this study, self-identity, self-image and self-esteem will be the main focus for this research.
Allport believed that self-identity, as well as the sense of body, developed in the first two years of life (Boeree, 1998/2006). He suggested that there is a point that we come to where we recognize ourselves as continuing, having a past, present, and future, and that we also see ourselves as individual entities, being separate and different from other individuals. This agrees with Jean Piaget’s (Benoit, 2001/2008) theory of the preoperational stage in which he says that children are pre-logical but involved in the development of symbolic thought. This stage of Piaget’s developmental stages takes place between the ages of two and seven, and although the time frame is different, Allport and Piaget were similar in their thinking in regards to one’s self-identity.
Allport then said that after self-identity, self-esteem develops between the ages of two and four (Boeree, 1998/2006). It was at this time when we recognize that we have value, both to others and to ourselves. This is especially tied to a continuing development of our sufficient needs for one’s means. Allport felt that this was what the “anal” stage, originally developed in Sigmund Freud’s (Fancher, 1979/1996) theories, was really all about!
Between the ages of four and six, Allport believed that the development of self-image took place (Boeree, 1998/2006). This was called the “looking-glass self” which was known as the “me as others see me” stage. This is the impression that one makes to others through their “looks,” social esteem or status, which also include the individual’s sexual identity. Others call this the beginning of conscience. This corresponds with Erik Erikson’s (Harder, 2002) ego developmental outcome of both the “initiative versus guilt” and “industry versus inferiority” stages. Erikson believed that in the initiative versus guilt stage, between the ages of three to five, we usually become involved in the “Oedipal struggle” and resolve this struggle through our social role identification (2002). It is during the industry versus inferiority stage between the ages of six and twelve that we are capable of learning and this becomes “a very social stage of development and if we experience unresolved feelings of inadequacy and inferiority among our peers, we can have serious problems in terms of competence and self-esteem” (2002).
When looking at the dependent variable of self-esteem in the LGBT individual, we find that many times various independent variables can either cause or enhance a person’s feeling of low self-esteem. By analyzing these independent variables that have the most prominence in causing low self-esteem, we can work to erase those variables and replace them with independent variables that cause high self-esteem.
The focus of this study was originated by the appearance of low self-esteem in LGBT individuals, specifically the gay male. Although many of the independent variables do not show a significant contribution to affect self-esteem, it appears that all of the variables in this study made an independent contribution to self-esteem rather high or low. These individuals have had to address the fact of religious based organizations, what we will call churches, either disowning or excommunicating the individual from their religious practices and services because of their sexual orientation, belittling them for who they are, telling them they are going to go to hell for who they are, and ultimately being rejected by their religious faith.
After interviewing and surveying several individuals, it was found that religion, or churches may actually not be a cause of low self-esteem, but they can be a factor in one’s low self-esteem. With 55 (77.5%) respondents saying that they grew up in church as a child or adolescent, forty-two percent of them said that they felt that they had been rejected by their church due to their sexual orientation. As adults however, only 39 (54.9%) respondents said that they have attended church since the age of eighteen at one time or another and thirty-six percent of those respondents had felt they were rejected because of their sexual identity.
The theory that brought about this research was that religion was that the prominent cause of low self-esteem in LGBT individuals. J. Michael Clark, Joanne Carlson Brown, and Lorna M. Hochstein summarized their research by saying,
“While gay men and lesbians have been consistently involved in the institutional forms of Judeo-Christianity throughout history, those institutions have themselves failed to accept or support openly gay individuals or couples, either professionally, liturgically/pastorally, or doctrinally. Judeo-Christianity has instead encouraged homophobia in society, thereby fostering antigay oppression which dehumanizes gay individuals, undermines gay couplings, and exacerbates familial tensions between gay and non-gay relatives” (Clark, 1989).
It was this kind of bias that religion, specifically the Judeo-Christianity, has placed on the LGBT community for centuries, and specifically more-so over the last fifty years. This kind of antigay oppression has caused so many of these individuals to leave their religious faith which can be seen in the results above. Although this can play a role in lowering one’s self-esteem, without further research, it is found that religion is not a prominent cause of low self-esteem.
When the topics of gay or lesbian issues arise in research regarding self-esteem, one should not look past the fact of ethnicity and demographic location along with hate crimes. “It has been hypothesized that hate crimes against gay men and lesbians are more severe than other forms of bias-motivated aggression. Medical personnel observe that gay men and lesbians are often victims of assaults, frequently with weapons, that result in life-impairing conditions including head traumas, rape, and multiple-fracture injuries,” (Dunbar, 2006) as well as psychological disturbance. Dunbar goes on to say that, “hate crimes are an important social problem in contemporary U.S. society. It has been argued that hate crimes substantially impact the lives of the individual victims and the larger social context in which they occur” (2006). Violence based on sexual orientation is now widely recognized as a serious problem in the United States (Herek, Gillis, Cogan, & Glunt, 1997).
Returning to Jonathan’s story from the introduction, three weeks after he had started dating his current partner of seven years, the two of them were mugged at gun point. Although his partner believed the act of violence to be simply that, a random act of violence, Jonathan believes to this day that the mugger targeted them for the simple reason of them holding hands in a conservative town. After having a gun held to his head and the intent of the mugger to steal whatever he could from Jonathan and his boyfriend, for seven years Jonathan has felt that it is not safe to hold hands in public. When him and his partner go out to any gathering in public with friends, Jonathan is always watching his friends to make sure that they do not hold hands or kiss in public for fear of any random person coming up to him for being gay and hurting him or his partner. This has resulted in Jonathan’s self-esteem remaining low after having worked for years to try and build it up.
In his research results, Edward Dunbar wrote, that “of the 1,538 hate crime cases reported in Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, 35.8% were classified as offenses motivated by sexual orientation bias” (2006). In recent reports, homophobic teasing and bullying have had disastrous consequences in our society. During the month of April 2009, two eleven year old boys who had been bullied and called a “faggot” and “gay” for nearly a year or more at their schools in Massachusetts and Georgia, took their lives by hanging themselves to avoid the harassment of school bullying and being called names (The Oprah Winfrey Show, 2009). “Homophobic teasing is often long-term, systematic, and perpetrated by groups of students; it places targets at risk for greater suicidal ideation, depression, and isolation” (Espelage, Aragon, Birkett, & Koenig, 2008). Reports show that homophobia includes negative beliefs, stereotypes, attitudes, and behaviors toward gays and lesbians (2008; Wright, Adams, & Bernat, 1999). However it is not just external homophobia, but also internalized homophobia and homo-negativity that can have disastrous consequences in our society.
Internalized homophobia, in theory refers to the irrational fear of homosexuality and homosexual persons, which is found more so in heterosexual individuals, where internalized homo-negativity can be defined as the negative perceptions of homosexuality internalized by individuals with a same-sex orientation (as cited in Hudson & Ricketts, 1980; Rosser, et al., 2008; Weinberg, 1973) It is this internalized homo-negativity that correlates with depression, distrust, loneliness, low self-esteem, psychological distresses, and somatic symptoms (Shidlo, 1994). It is through this internalized homo-negativity that keeps individuals from coming out to their friends and family, and in so doing, eats away at them causing mental stress, fear, and self-hatred.
The first area of focus when looking at hate crimes is the fact of ethnicity. In two distinct interviews, one personal respondent from Chicago who was not able to complete the interview and survey reported that there is a high stigma on being gay and being of Hispanic or African-American ethnicity, while the second respondent from San Diego replied that the stigma of being gay and Hispanic or African-American did not exist nearly as much in California as it does in Illinois. Although ethnicity can play a role in self-esteem among LGBT individuals, this would need to be studied more in depth in order to understand the causes that may not be seen in this study.
In 1998, the brutal death of Matthew Shepard, who was attending university in Wyoming, made national headlines after he had been beaten to death for being homosexual. Since his death the United States government has been working on numerous bills over the years that have followed to put an end to violent crimes related to hate. In areas such as Wyoming, or Kansas, or rural areas that are more of the conservative population, homosexual hate crimes, although slowly declining, seem to be more highly profiled than the more liberal communities such as New York City, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Although five respondents in the interviews said that they moved away from the city they grew up in, only one said that they were not as pleased with the new location that they moved to. Although location could play a factor on self-esteem, from the results in this study it is not a prominent factor of low self-esteem, and should be studied further in future research.
“As for men, it is possible that certain male subcultures emphasize appearance to an extent that affects the perceived ideal body discrepancy and disordered eating of their members,” (Silberstein et al., 1989). The fact that weight and body size, as well as looks and style, has become such an issue in American culture, specifically over the last thirty years, society has placed such a stigma on being thin that media feeds off of this stigma constantly and bombards the public with constant reminders that if you are even five pounds over your ideal weight, you are fat, and ten pounds over that weight means you are obese. It is this kind of stigma that caused the number of cosmetic procedures that are performed in the United States to rapidly increase (Sadick, 2008). After reviewing the various aspects of the respondent’s answers, the most common factor of low self-esteem appeared to be the self-evaluation in regards to one’s own weight. Although there was little literature found on weight and the LGBT individual, after looking at American culture over the last ten years, it appears to be that media causes this problem more than any other factor and that the constant bombardment of advertising of skinny jeans, extremely thin women in two piece bathing suits, young men with muscular abdominal muscles, and constant reminders of fast food, snacks and movies, it appears to be a constant reminder to them that everyone needs to be in the norm of society.
In the LGBT culture, the stigma is even greater with its focus in their various subcultures. For example, the four most common categories in the gay male culture are twinks, cubs, bears, and wolves. To be classified as a twink, a guy must be under the age of 30 and are thin. To be classified as a cub, the guy must be under the age of 30 traditionally, have a stalky build and be at least moderately hairy. Bears usually are the men between the ages of 30 and 60, and are usually heavy set and hairy. While men over sixty that are on the lighter side, but not necessarily thin, these gentlemen are known as wolves. Should you not fall into one of these categories and you are gay, the subcultures practically act like you do not exist, and that you should not be gay. “The homosexual male community represents such a subculture in contemporary society. It has been observed that the homosexual male subculture places an elevated importance on all aspects of a man’s physical self—body build, grooming, dress, and handsomeness” (Kleinberg, 1980; Lackoff & Scherr, 1984).
When taking into consideration, how one views and assesses their identity, self-esteem can refer to universal assessments of self-worth or to domain-specific evaluations of characteristics of the self (Galinsky & Ku, 2004). When we look at the various aspects of the individual and their psychological profile, one must take into consideration not only the synchronic research of all the current research and survey questions, but also the diachronic research from the survey questions that referred to not only the present moment, but also over a period of time. It is through both diachronic and synchronic research, as shown here, that future studies will be able to identify the independent variables that cause low self-esteem in the LGBT individual. By identifying the specific identifiable causes that lower self-esteem in the LGBT individual, psychologists will be able to assist in the betterment and empowerment of a culture that has tried to find their place in society for centuries.
Since the “Stonewall Rebellion” on June 27, 1969, thousands of gay and lesbian men and women, as well as bisexuals and transgender individuals have been able to come out of the proverbial closet and say that they are who they are with no regrets or excuses. It has been with the help and support of others that many of these individuals have been able to accept who they are. By joining organizations such as the International Court System, which was started by Jose Sarria in 1965 (Campbell, 1998/2002), to the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), these individuals are able to have support and an outlet to be who they are unashamed. By becoming a part of such a group or organization, “we explore how the external social structure influences internal self-processes by examining whether one’s status in the social structure influences one’s ability to self-verify across multiple identities” (Stets & Harrod, 2004).
After interviewing and surveying over 80 respondents, the common theme was that most of them were part of some sort of organization that gets together, rather to raise funds for charity, meet together once a month for dinner at someone’s home, go out for dinner and drinks once a week or participate in a gay rodeo, and having interaction with others that support them for who they are as a human being and not just their sexual identity. It is in these social situations that the LGBT community is able to help each other when times are hard psychologically and like other aspects of the self, self-esteem is highly stable, but responsive to change in social situations (Cast & Burke, 2002). It is because of this importance of social group memberships to individuals’ self-concept and social behavior is explicitly acknowledged in social identity theory (e.g., Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992). Evidence also suggests that, for some, by joining a homosexual group, rather for dinner, a support group, or just for fun, it can lead to a better psychological adjustment (Jacobs & Tedford, 1980).
While looking at the possible identifiable causes of low self esteem, the data shows that there is no true identifiable cause. Although religion was the basis for the research and seeing if religion was the cause of low self-esteem, most respondents did not have a low level of self-esteem. When searching the 14 low self-esteem scores, the average self-evaluation score was 4.75 out of ten; this included their self-evaluation scores about their personality, looks, style, and weight. Of the three interviews included in these respondents, all three gave themselves a score comparable within less than one point from their total self-evaluation scores at the beginning of the interviews. It was also found that only two of the 14 drank alcoholic beverages for escape, two one used drugs within the last year, two chose not to reveal where they live, and four had been victims of various hate crimes. It did seem however, that on the scoring of their weight, the responses ranged from one to five with two respondents scoring five, one scoring a four, and the rest scoring them selves in how they perceive their weight with three or less points out of ten.
Although alcohol, drugs and suicide were not found to be identifiable causes to low self-esteem, it was found that they were sub-problematic factors, or enhancers to the identifiable causes. These factors can stem from low self-esteem, however, there are other possible reasons that an LGBT individual chooses to abuse alcohol and/or drugs or to seriously contemplate suicide.
After the data was clearly researched, it is the belief of the researcher that there were a few problems and biases. First there was the fact of a disorganized survey and interview questionnaire. Both questionnaires should have been organized in a manner that addressed specific thoughts and issues together in separate categories. Secondly, there was the fact that the scores had to be recalculated in order to have an easier to read result. These problems should be addressed in any future studies. As for biases, the researcher did choose to get respondents outside of the organizations that he was involved in, but due to certain criteria and constraints, the majority of respondents that participated were from organizations that the researcher was associated with.
In conclusion, it is agreeable that there are causes that lower one’s self-esteem, and with each individual being as different in their psychological profile and background as they are, the chances of two individuals sharing the exact same identifiable independent variables, or causes that lower the dependent variable of self-esteem are very unlikely. Many people have more than one cause that lowers their self-esteem; rather it is being raised in a religious home that their church rejects them for who they are as a sexual being, or being beaten by five guys for being gay, rather weight, demographic location, or health; each of these factors above may not be identifiable as the cause of low self-esteem, but as it has been discussed, further research is needed toward each variable in order to eliminate it as an identifiable cause to low self-esteem and would be very beneficial to the LGBT community.