Abstract: Exploring the Associations between Outness and Psychological Well-Being of Emerging Adult Sexual Minorities (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Exploring the Associations between Outness and Psychological Well-Being of Emerging Adult Sexual Minorities

Friday, January 22, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Michelle G. Thompson, PhD, Vice Provost Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Outness is the level in which a person who identifies as a sexual minority, or engages in same-sex sexual activity, discloses his or her sexual orientation. While outness can lead to experiences of discrimination, concealing one’s sexuality can impact quality of life. Moreover, outness may vary among subgroups of sexual minorities where for some, coming out is a celebratory experience that includes acceptance from family members, peers and their community; whereas for others, the coming out experience can lead to a loss of family and friends and community support. Coming out typically begins in adolescence and may overlap into emerging adulthood yet, research on emerging adults has focused primarily on heteronormative patters of sexuality, leading to a gap in knowledge about sexual minorities and factors that may determine psychological well-being (PWB). This study explored the relationship between disclosing sexual orientation and PWB among emerging adult sexual minorities with the following research questions: (1) Are there mean differences in outness and age, race, sexual orientation, and income among emerging adult sexual minorities? (2) What is the association between outness and indicators of PWB (environmental mastery, purpose in life, and positive relations with others) among emerging adult sexual minorities?

Method: Cross-sectional data was collected from participants at a university and LGBTQ-related events via an online, anonymous survey. Data were screened for missing values, assumptions of normality and non-model and model-based outliers. Independent t-tests and one-way ANOVAs were conducted to examine outness mean differences. Unadjusted and adjusted multivariate regression analyses were used to explore the independent relationship between outness and three indicators of PWB. Standardized coefficients were reported in the results.

Results: Sample consisted of emerging adult sexual minorities (N=232; mean age 22.4 years). Most of the sample were people of color (POC; 78.9%, n = 183) and 29% identified as White non-Hispanics. There was a mean difference in overall outness score, with White non-Hispanics reporting higher scores compared to POC [M = 4.03 vs. 3.17, <.01]. Significant mean differences between outness were also found between gays and bisexuals (Mdif = 1.98, p < .001), bisexuals and lesbians (Mdif = 1.33, p < .001), and age (r = .275, p < .001). There were no significant mean differences found between outness and income. Controlling for sociodemographic factors, outness in the community was positively associated with environmental mastery (β = .24, p<.001), positive relations with others (β = .37, p<.001), and purpose in life (β = .22, p<.001).

Conclusions: Outness may be associated with PWB and may serve as a protective factor among subgroups of emerging adult sexual minorities. Interventions are needed to better support resiliency when coming out among sexual minorities. Sexual minorities are a health disparity research priority, and these findings illustrate the need to further explore the challenges faced by this underserved group.