Does research focus too much on queer people’s experiences of mental health difficulty instead of queer joy?

Oftentimes, stories of LGBT+ experiences centre around traumatic topics such as rejection and mental health difficulties.

In STEP Study’s research, it was important for us to focus on queer people’s experiences of mental health difficulties to find out how they impacted queer pupils’ experiences in schools and college, and what could be done to address this.

Our conversations with young people for the STEP Study have highlighted that it is still important for research to focus on experiences of mental health issues. Young people expressed how ongoing LGBTphobic bullying in schools contributes to young LGBT+ people’s experiences of mental ill health.

Young people identified this bullying as manifesting through microaggressions, peer-on-peer abuse, and targeting LGBT+ young people who express gender in a particular way – for example, boys ‘presenting’ as ‘feminine’.

A focus on mental health difficulties therefore enabled young people to discuss how they felt LGBTphobic bullying could be addressed, such as through:

– Victim support
– Recognising microaggressions as a hate crime
– Introducing non-gendered uniform rules
– Peer support groups
– Implementing an educational approach that helps perpetrators understand why LGBTphobic bullying is wrong

At the same time, focusing solely on experiences of mental health difficulties can exacerbate them. Lack of positive representation or discussions around LGBT+ identities can lead to associations of queerness with negative outcomes and unhappiness.

As well as discussing experiences of mental health difficulties in our interviews, young LGBT+ people also stressed that they want to feel safe, seen and celebrated. They expressed wanting history and literature to reflect a range of LGBT+ experiences, to have sex education lessons which are more inclusive of LGBT+ experiences and relationships, and to embed LGBT+ identities in all lessons – all of which would help tackle stigma, to have more positive role models for young LGBT+ people, and to enable young LGBT+ people’s identities to be respected and validated.

As Zoya Raza-Sheikh, writer for Gay Times, rightly points out: ‘How can a community evolve if it continues to be enshrouded in shame and a lack of self-love?’

There are some fantastic examples of research into queer joy which can be implemented in the STEP Study’s future research. These include the Queer Joy Project, a multimedia project that celebrates queer stories such as daily lived experiences, moments of happiness and serenity.

An article by CNN also highlights the different ways LGBT+ people can experience queer joy, such as through discovering their own uniqueness, queer-friendly music, and truly feeling safe for the first time.

Future research can therefore include interview questions such as:

– ‘What does queer joy mean to you?’
– ‘How do you celebrate your LGBT+ identity?’
– ‘How can others contribute to celebrating LGBT+ identities?’

While experiences of mental health difficulties amongst young LGBT+ need to be told, there is more to being LGBT+ than mental ill health. Young LGBT+ people should also be given a platform to talk about how they feel pride in their identity, which can in turn have a positive impact on mental health and help to empower other young LGBT+ people too.