Sharing What We Have Learned: Healthy City Collaborative

Wendy Bostwick
Wendy Bostwick

Sharing What We Have Learned is sponsored by the Office of Community Engagement and Neighborhood Health Partnerships, Healthy City Collaborative, and the Office of Health Literacy, Prevention, and Engagement. We are pleased to highlight research and community engagement activities of UIC researchers. Each month we feature a researcher and important findings from their work. This information is shared in a ready-to-use format suitable for widespread distribution. If you would like more information about our efforts to share what we have learned, visit our website or email

Wendy Bostwick, MPH, PhD
Associate Professor
Population Health Nursing Science, UIC College of Nursing

Men’s and women’s daily experiences studies
A recent Gallup Poll (public opinion poll) found that 7.1% of U.S adults identify as LGBT. Bisexual people, or those with an attraction to more than one sex or gender, make up the majority of the LGBT community (57%). Yet research, including my own, shows that bisexual people specifically are subjected to stereotypes and assumptions unique to their sexual identity. The enactment or expression of such stereotypes and prejudices can be understood as bisexual-specific microaggressions. Examples include telling someone that bisexuality “isn’t real” or “just a phase,” or assuming that bisexual people are incapable of being faithful in a relationship. Such assumptions come not just from strangers, but also family, friends and even partners. How might these experiences impact the mental and physical health of bisexual people?

To answer this question, we conducted two mixed-method studies, one focused on women and the other on men. We recruited bisexual-identified adults, both cisgender and transgender. We asked about experiences of MAs based on sexual orientation, as well as gender and race, and many questions about health. Among women (n=112) 57% of participants were people of color, and among men (n=123) 60%.

Participants reported numerous sexual orientation and race-based MAs. Over 90% reported that they’d been told their sexual identity was “just a phase” in their lifetime. Microaggressions were associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptomology. Daily experiences of any MAs, whether based on race, gender or sexual orientation, were also associated with poorer mental health when compared with people who didn’t report MAs. We also found that daily MAs were related to physical health problems, such as headaches, back pain and stomach upset.

Finally, in qualitative interviews, bisexual men regularly discussed the emotional toll of family members, partners and society devaluing or not believing them regarding their bisexuality. All participants reported that sexual orientation MAs frequently came from people within the LGBT community, which was especially upsetting and frustrating.

These findings suggest that denying and devaluing people and their identities is harmful. Consistent with previous work, we found that prejudice hurts and can contribute to poor health. Simple ways to avoid continuing harm can include: being aware of the biases you bring into clinical or other settings; believing people when they tell you who they are and supporting them in being their authentic selves; and taking the initiative to become educated on issues related to sexual and gender minority groups.
It’s important to acknowledge that discrimination and prejudice have long and enduring histories in the United States and require us to enact structural and systemic changes. Yet, as our data show, so, too, is there power in small interactions and exchanges. We can and should work for systemic change, while simultaneously striving to minimize our own biases and assumptions.

About our researcher
Bostwick has been conducting health disparities research for over 20 years, with a focus on LGBT+ populations. Her work has been funded by NIH and has appeared in numerous journals. She has served on the Board of Directors of Howard Brown Health and the Guttmacher Institute. She is currently adjunct faculty at the Fenway Institute in Boston.


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