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The Church vs. Black Gay Men
A recent study by Jonathan Mathias Lassiter, PhD found that Black men who have sex with men (BMSM) attend church less than heterosexual Black people but still consider themselves at least moderately religious.
BMSM participated in religious services and activities, and identified as religious at lower rates compared to Black Americans in other samples (Pew, 2008; Pew, 2014). Specifically, 22.1% of BMSM reported attending church at least weekly compared to 53% of Black American (presumed) heterosexuals. Similarly, 32.3% of BMSM reported identifying as at least strongly religious while 79% of Black American heterosexuals feel that their religion is very important to them (Pew, 2014).
Findings also indicate that:
Bisexual and heterosexual-identified BMSM attend church less than gay-identified Black men.
- Men who don’t attend traditionally Black churches identify as more religious than those who do.
- Men who don’t disclose their sexual orientations to their fellow church members attend church less and identify as less religious.
Traditional Black churches’ homonegativity push many BMSM out.
Homophobia is a description of emotions and feelings towards homosexuality, such as fear, hatred or aversion, as “Homonegativity” means intellectual disapproval of homosexuality. Homonegativity is a term, proposed for use by Hudson and Ricketts in 1980, for description of a negative attitude towards homosexuality or homosexual people, instead of the term homophobia.
This can rob them of the positive health benefits associated with religious communities such as health behavior regulation and social support. But BMSM may still be able to tap into the health benefits (such as finding meaning in life) of having internalized religious identities.
These findings have implications for mental health professionals who work with BMSM. This study provides nuanced information that can help mental health providers better understand how religious participation and identity intersect with sexual orientation, sexual orientation disclosure, religious environments, and mental health.
A total of 428 men provided data that was included in the analyses presented in this paper. However, it should be noted that because of some missing data, some analyses were conducted with fewer cases.
Dr. Mathias Lassiter is an experienced public speaker with expertise related to health disparities (e.g. HIV, depression), religion and spirituality, ethnic and racial minority issues, and LGBTQ issues.