An Examination of the Impact of Identity Conflict on the Relationship between Sexual and Religious Identities and Mental Health




di Bartolomeo, Amanda E.

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Research using samples of primarily heterosexual participants indicates that identification with a religious community promotes mental health and protects against psychopathology (George, Ellison, & Larson, 2002; Pargament, 2002). Additionally, research on lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals indicates that identification with an LGB community provides similar mental health benefits (Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Hammersmith & Weinberg, 1973; Savin-Williams, 1990). However, limited research exists exploring the role of religious identification among LGB individuals. Existing research demonstrates mixed results for the benefits of religious identification among LGB individuals (Allen & Oleson, 1999; Greenberg, 1973, as cited in Rosario, et al., 2006; Mohr & Fassinger, 2000; Shidlo, 1994; Szymanski, Chung, & Balsam, 2001; Woods, Antoni, Ironson, & Kling, 1999). Religious identification may not serve the same protective role for LGB individuals that it does for heterosexual individuals because of the anti-gay dogma professed by many major religious traditions. Previous research has suggested when two communities with which an individual identifies have conflicting values, weakening identification with one of those communities may lead to resiliency (Brodsky & Marx, 2001). However, studies examining the role of religion in the lives of LGB individuals have not investigated the potential identity conflict between religious and LGB identities. The present study examined strength of identification and identity conflict for 174 religiously-identified LGB individuals in a community sample. It was hypothesized that identity conflict would mediate the relationship between the interaction of LGB identity and religious identity and mental health outcomes, specifically, depression, anxiety, and life satisfaction. Although the hypothesis was not supported, conflict did mediate the relationship between both LGB identification and religious identification, independently, and mental health outcomes. The current study demonstrated that as identity conflict increases, LGB and religious identification decrease. Additionally, as identity conflict increases, levels of depression and anxiety increase and life satisfaction decreases. The current study also investigated the mediational model for a subset of participants, those who endorsed belonging to a religious congregation, with similar results. Exploratory analyses investigated an alternative model, in which LGB identification, religious identification, and the interaction between the two mediated the relationship between conflict and mental health outcomes, but found that the hypothesized model demonstrated a better fit. Clinical implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.



Identity, Religion, Community, Sexuality, Gay, Lesbian