The relationship between internalized homophobia and psychological distress in lesbians
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Growing up and living in a homophobic society, lesbians are exposed to numerous negative attitudes, assumptions, and messages concerning homosexuality. Internalized homophobia refers to the incorporation of these homophobic beliefs within the lesbian's self-image. Internalized homophobia is assumed to be associated with psychological distress and as presenting a significant threat to healthy self-esteem and identity development in lesbians The purpose of the present study was to examine the association between internalized homophobia and psychological distress in lesbians. Participants were self-identified lesbians residing in one of three cities: a small rural city; a mid-sized city; or a large metropolitan area. The data consisted of participant scores on the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised (SCL-90-R) and the Internalized Homophobia Scale for Lesbians (IHSL) . Results of this study indicated general internalized homophobia significantly correlated with overall psychological distress as well as with depression in lesbians. The findings also indicated that psychological distress was associated with younger age, medication usage, lower income, nega tive attitudes toward other lesbians and non-white ethnicity. In addition, results indicated participants from the smallest city in the sample displayed significantly higher levels of internalized homophobia compared to participants from the other cities. This research demonstrated internalized homophobia is a salient factor in the lives of lesbians and needs to be addressed when researching identity development and psychological functioning in lesbians. Additionally, this study pointed to the need for therapists who work with lesbians to have a clear understanding of internalized homophobia and skills in helping lesbians deal with this issue.