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GLBT Pride Month at NIEHS

By Eddy Ball
July 2007

Ilan Meyer
Columbia University Psychologist Ilan Meyer (Photo courtesy Paula Juras)

Cover of 'Out The Past'

Two events in the NIEHS 11th Annual Noon-in-June series sponsored by the NIEHS Diversity Council highlighted the orientation-specific challenges and accomplishments of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals. On June 5, employees gathered in B200 to watch the videocast of a lecture on "The Impact of Prejudice on the Mental Health of Lesbians, Gay Men and Bisexuals" by Ilan Meyer, Ph.D. Two weeks later, on June 19 in the Executive Conference Room, the NIEHS Diversity Council aired the gay pride documentary film "Out of the Past."

Meyer's lecture was based on his extensive work on gender-specific stress at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, where he is associate professor and deputy chair of Master of Public Health Programs, Sociomedical Sciences. The lecture outlined a conceptual framework for understanding the higher prevalence of mental health disorders observed in GLBT individuals as compared to heterosexuals.

According to Meyer, the added stress of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination creates a hostile and stressful social environment, compounding the normal stresses of life. The additional stresses, which he describes as "minority stress," lead to a higher rate of mental health problems among minorities, especially those who belong to two or more minority groups.

His model described stress processes, including the experience of prejudice events, expectations of rejection, hiding and concealing, internalized homophobia and ameliorative coping processes. The added burden of minority stress can have a negative impact on the work performance, social interactions and personal relationships of individuals affected.

The companion to Meyer's lecture, the film "Out of the Past: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Rights in America" (1998), featured the voices of narrator Linda Hunt, Gwyneth Paltrow and Edward Norton and was directed by Jeff Dupre. Originally shown on public television, the film is told through the eyes of Kelli Peterson, a 17-year-old high school student and GLBT activist in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The film explores Peterson's experiences forming a Gay Straight Alliance in her public school in an attempt to bring about open discussion on the subject of sexuality. "Out of the Past" also intersperses profiles of past movements and their activists into the narrative, providing insights into gay and lesbian struggles throughout American history.

The film develops a central theme about the link between self-respect and history, introduced early in the narrative by Yale University historian George Chauncey. "If we don't find ourselves in the past," he observed, "it's like we don't exist in the present."

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