Methods: In June 2020, 162 sexual minority men were recruited through app-based advertisements on gay dating apps in the state of Georgia. Potential participants completed an online screener, and if eligible, participated in an online survey (n=239) and then a supplemental survey (n=162). The current study uses data from supplemental survey. Participants answered items asking about demographics, religious identification, religious factors (parental negative messages about LGBTQ people, family religious emphasis, and personal importance of religion), religious identity conflict, internalized stigma, and depression symptoms. Proc calis, in SAS OnDemand, was used to model the path from religious factors to religious identity conflict, to internalized stigma, and then to depression symptoms.
Results: Seventy percent of the sample reported maturing in a Protestant Christian home. Participants identified a range of current religious identifications: 27% spiritual but not religious, 25% Protestant Christian, 15% atheist or agnostic, and 12% non-religious. The majority of the sample (68%) reported hearing their parents use religion to criticize being LGBTQ. Fifty-nine percent of the sample reported that religion is at least somewhat important to them. Approximately a third of the sample reported experiencing conflict between being a sexual minority and their family’s religion. The model accounted for 24% of the variance in depression symptoms. Three factors had a direct effect on depression: internalized stigma (b=.445, p<.001), negative parental messages (b=2.285, p=.002), and family religious emphasis (b=-.486, p=.004). Importance of religion had a significant positive indirect effect on depression through religious identity conflict and internalized stigma.
Discussion and Implications: Results indicate that parental negative religious messages and personal importance of religion are both associated with higher levels of depression symptoms. Findings indicate that religious factors have an impact on identity conflict and indirectly on internalized stigma. Previous research has identified how religious identity conflict is associated with internalized stigma, but this is the first known study to identify the factors (i.e., religious importance, and negative parental messages) associated with religious identity conflict. Findings suggest that clinicians working with sexual minority men should assess religious factors when investigating symptoms of depression. Future intervention research should focus on implementation of internalized stigma-reducing interventions as a way of attenuating the impact of identity conflict on depression.