June is a significant month for both the LGBTQIA+ ((lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual +) community and those living with eating disorders. It’s a time of celebration, advocacy, and remembrance for the LGBTQIA+ community worldwide and in Australia, it is also an opportunity to commemorate the historical milestones achieved in the fight for equality. The month is celebrated with colourful parades, community events and discussions on important LGBTQIA+ issues.
One of these issues is the intersection between LGBTQIA+ identities and eating disorders.
While there is limited evidence about the experience of the LGBTQIA+ community living with eating disorders, research suggests LGBTQIA+ adults and adolescents experience a greater incidence and risk of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours than their heterosexual and cisgender (cis) counterparts.1 Additionally, LGBTQIA+ teens may be at higher risk of binge-eating than their heterosexual peers.2
This can be attributed to various factors, including minority stress, social stigma, discrimination, and body image concerns.
Research also suggests that transgender people (assigned sex at birth does not match their gender identity) are more likely than cisgender people (assigned sex at birth matches their gender identity) to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.3
In a society that often perpetuates narrow beauty standards and unrealistic body expectations, the LGBTQIA+ community can face additional challenges. The pressure to confirm to these ideals can intensify their vulnerability to body dysmorphia and eating disorders. For example, gay men may experience body image issues due to cultural ideals that idealise a muscular and lean physique.
What are the unique needs of LGBTQIA+ people with eating disorders?
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are more likely to meet criteria for a mental disorder, report self-harming, experience homelessness, and engage in substance abuse. They are also more likely to attempt suicide as a result. Consequently, these groups have layered and complex needs.
It is important when working with LGBTQIA+ people with an eating disorder to include the social elements of their health, such as discrimination and harassment, as well as violence.
One of the most important aspects of eating disorder care is to ensure respectful, knowledgeable and inclusive care. Always. The added layer of having an eating disorder can make LGBTQIA+ people particularly vulnerable. Any negative interaction when seeking eating disorder treatment, due to perceived stigma, could lead to them rejecting essential health care.
Still challenging homophobia in the 21st Century
Despite advances, blatant homophobia still exists in the 21st century, which is why International Pride Month remains so important to the LGBTQIA+ community.
The month has a rich and proud history for the LGBTQIA+ community against many hard-fought and homophobic circumstances. The watershed moment for Pride month was a cascade of spontaneous protests by the gay community in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, New York City, on June 28, 1969. Activists, long frustrated by police brutality, joined in solidarity including the Black Panthers; feminist and gay liberation movements; students; artists and poets. The Gay Liberation Front formed out of the protests.
British activists involved in the US movement returned to the United Kingdom to form a British chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, with the first UK Gay Pride Rally taking place a few years later on July 1, 1972.
These global actions would change the course of gay rights around the world, including Australia. In 1970, Christabel Poll and John Ware ‘came out’ in The Australian newspaper and announced the formation of CAMP: the Campaign Against Moral Persecution. Australian gay and lesbian activists began to organise demonstrations, marches, and produce newsletters to promote gay rights.
In June 1978, the 9th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a daytime march and evening parade was organised in Sydney. This was the first Australian gay and lesbian Mardi Gras parade. It was met with police violence and arrests. After much public backlash, the following year brought 3,000 people out to march in an incident-free Mardi Gras.
Pride month retains the spirit of both protest and celebration across the world. It celebrates the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community and is a time to reflect and celebrate the journey across the past 54 years. It is also a time to reflect on rights yet to be realised, including the right to empathetic and non-judgmental treatment for eating disorders.
Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA) is here for you
Eating Disorders Families Australia is the only national eating disorder organisation that focuses solely on supporting families and carers of people with eating disorders, including those from the LGBTQIA+ community. EDFA is proud of its inclusive, empathetic and lived-experience care towards anyone affected by an eating disorder.
A lived-experience organisation, EDFA was created by families and carers for families and carers. It is committed to providing reassurance, social connection, and most importantly, hope.