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Media centre home > News> Gender and sexuality> Sense of community 'important' to LGBT people

Issued:08/11/12

Feeling part of a lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) community has a positive impact on mental health, emotional wellbeing and quality of life, according to new research.

In the only known UK study to directly investigate what the word 'community' means to LGBT people, carried out by the Centre for Education and Inclusion Research (CEIR) at Sheffield Hallam University, participants said that feeling part of an LGBT community is particularly important when ‘coming out’.

The study sought to examine understandings and experiences of LGBT communities, and assess implications for LGBT health and wellbeing.

It found that many participants felt an 'intangible' connection to other lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans people, who are assumed to have had similar experiences and to be able to offer mutual support or understanding.

Participants also spoke of not having to ‘regulate’ their behaviour, with many talking about wanting to feel ‘safe’ and able to show their partner physical affection, for example, which some felt was only possible in front of other LGBT people or in ‘LGBT spaces’ such as the commercial scene.

But, the study did find that despite there being a sense of solidarity among LGBT people this did not mean that LGBT people are all the same, with participants highlighting the varying experiences and needs within LGBT communities. 

Senior research fellow Eleanor Formby, who carried out the study, said this had particular relevance to policy makers and service providers who should attempt to acknowledge the diversity and inequality embedded within LGBT communities.

She said: "The term ‘LGBT community’ is increasingly used in policy, practice and research, yet there is little explicit discussion of what the concept of ‘community’ means to LGBT people.

Senior research fellow Eleanor Formby carried out the study

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"This study found that generally LGBT people see the word 'community' as having positive connotations, whether it's a physical space, or a sense of belonging.

"A sense or experience of community was linked to reported wellbeing, including combating isolation, heightening confidence and self-esteem, and sometimes improving or maintaining physical health.

"Caution is needed, however, when the term community is used in the singular or when it is assumed that LGBT people are more alike than not - use of LGBT communities in the plural is just the start to acknowledging this diversity." 

The research included 627 survey respondents and 44 participants involved in in-depth interviews and/or discussion groups, and was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The findings of the study will be presented at the conference Solidarity but not similarity? LGBT communities in the twenty-first century taking place at The Crucible Theatre on Friday 9 November.

For press information or a copy or executive summary of the report contact: Tess Humphrys on 0114 225 4025 or email pressoffice@shu.ac.uk