LGBTQ+ identified folks experience unique stressors that may contribute to the development of an eating disorder. While there is still much research to be done on the relationships between sexuality, gender identity, body image, and eating disorders, we know that eating disorders disproportionately impact some segments of the LGBTQ+ community… Research shows that, beginning as early as 12, gay, lesbian, and bisexual teens may be at higher risk of binge-eating and purging than heterosexual peers… LGBTQ+ people, in addition to experiencing unique contributing factors, may also face challenges for accessing treatment and support. Common barriers may include a lack of culturally-competent treatment, which addresses the complexity of unique sexuality and gender identity issues, lack of support from family and friends, and insufficient eating disorders education among LGBTQ+ resource providers who are in a position to detect and intervene.
Though research is limited, current research indicates that gay and bisexual men and boys are at higher risk for compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or laxative use, and are also at higher risk for developing binge behaviors. Queer folks across the board have higher rates of all eating disorder behaviors. LGBTQ+ folks of color, specifically Black and Latinx individuals, are particularly at risk.
Because of this clear intersection between eating disorder prevalence and LGBTQ+ identity, it’s important that we as an eating disorder community address queer issues. This is especially important because research suggests that having a sense of connectedness within the LGBTQ+ community can act as a protective factor against eating disorder development. This includes discussing Pride Month. According to Jeff Wallenfeldt of Encyclopedia Britannica:
Colorful, uplifting parades with floats and celebrities, joyous festivals, workshops, picnics, and parties are among the principal components of LGBTQ (Gay) Pride Month, which is celebrated in June in the United States. Pride Month commemorates years of struggle for civil rights and the ongoing pursuit of equal justice under the law for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community, as well as the accomplishments of LGBTQ individuals.
Pride Month is an important time for the LGBTQ+ community, and supporting queer individuals in their queer identity is essential for preventing eating disorders in this particular population. According to NEDA, there are a number of potential factors in the development of an eating disorder for LGBTQ+ youth, from fear of rejection or internal negative beliefs about oneself, to experiencing violence or becoming a victim of bullying.
But how do we as an eating disorder community support our queer brothers and sisters when typical Pride Month activities are essentially banned due to COVID-19? There are some creative solutions that might be fun to explore:
Attend a march for racial justice
While the typical Pride marches throughout June have been canceled, recent events have sparked a tsunami of protests against racial injustice in the U.S. Though we may not be able to hit the streets with our rainbow flags for typical Pride parades, we can head out in protest for black lives, many of whom are themselves queer and LGBTQ+. Transmission of COVID-19 may be reduced in outdoor gatherings compared to indoor gatherings; regardless, be sure to practice safety measures to reduce spread of the virus. Wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and gloves, and bring extra supplies for others.
Host or attend a virtual pride celebration
Virtual parties have become more popular throughout the last few months as COVID-19 has forced us to adapt to a socially dstanced lifestyle. Why not utilize this new excitement around virtual get togethers by hosting a Pride party? Invite those who need queer community. Encourage everyone to decorate their background with Pride-themed colors and posters if they’d like. Get creative with it!
Plan a socially distanced picnic
New York City has begun painting white chalk circles in their parks in order to help park goers adhere to the social distancing guidelines. Why not employ the same technique for a picnic of your own? Invite groups of folks who have been quarantining together to bring their own blankets and spread out enough to reduce transmission while still being able to socialize. Remember that transmission of COVID-19 can be reduced when outdoors, so park or yard activities are great solutions for folks who are yearning for in-person interaction.
Read books by queer authors and watch films by queer directors
For those of us who prefer a more introverted approach to celebrating Pride month, dig into films and books by LGBTQ+ folks. Host a movie night (there are lots of apps out there that allow you to sync up your Netflix with someone else’s), create a bookclub, or just enjoy the stories and experiences of queer folks. Two of my favorites are the Netflix documentary, “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson,” and the book, “All About Love,” by bell hooks.
Keep in touch with queer friends and allies via social media, phone and texts
All in all, Pride Month is meant to be a touchstone for queer folks to celebrate their identity and lived experience to prevent loneliness and to strengthen relationships. Nurture your relationships with fellow queer folks and/or queer allies and keep in contact with them. Reach out when you’re in need of support. Taking care of yourself is just as much of an act of LGBTQ+ pride as a parade.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, Center for Discovery can help.
Ashley M. Seruya is a therapist, writer, and illustrator specializing in eating disorder recovery, Health at Every Size®, and weight stigma. Learn more about her work at ashleymseruya.com or on her Instagram at @fatpositivetherapy.