Empowerment Initiative Blog: Spiritual Values, Sexual Orientation, and Religion

Empowerment Initiative Blog: Spiritual Values, Sexual Orientation, and Religion

15 Oct 2019    

Empowerment Initiative Blog: Spiritual Values, Sexual Orientation, and Religion

Raul Palacios, Ed.S.

Susan M. Swearer, Ph.D.

University of Nebraska - Lincoln

In 2014, Born This Way Foundation recruited youth and young adults from across the world to participate in the Born Brave Experiences Survey, 3.0 (BBE 3.0). Since then, researchers from the Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Initiative have been studying BBE 3.0 survey responses to learn more about youth (ages 13-18) and young adults’ (ages 19-25) mental wellness and social-ecological factors that contribute to their well-being.

Early this year, Thai Q. Ong (James Madison University), Dr. Deborah L. Bandalos (James Madison University), and Dr. Susan M. Swearer (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) had an article, “Does the Spirituality Values/Religion Subscale of the Self-Description Questionnaire III Function Differentially across Heterosexual and Non-Heterosexual Young Adults? A Measurement Invariance Study,” which used data from BBE 3.0, published in the Journal of Homosexuality. This study looked at how non-heterosexual young adult’s religiosity compared to participants who identified as heterosexual. Religiosity is described as having strong religious feelings or beliefs.  People who have strong religiosity may be people who frequently attend their religious or spiritual congregation, read spiritual literature, and live their day-to-day lives in agreement with their faith.  While research has found that religiosity has many positive benefits for young adult’s mental wellness (e.g., fewer mental problems, lower use of substances), the authors highlight that these research findings have focused primarily on participants who identify as heterosexual and research has not yet studied this phenomenon in non-heterosexual young adults.

This study looked at whether there were any differences in the way non-heterosexual young adults reported their religiosity when compared to heterosexual young adult participants. The authors first ran a statistical procedure (i.e., confirmatory factor analysis) to make sure that the questions asked on the SVR subscale measured a participant’s level of religiosity the same for heterosexual and non-heterosexual participants. The authors found that the SVR was a good measure of religiosity for both heterosexual and non-heterosexual young adults. The researchers then found that non-heterosexual young adults reported significantly lower levels of religiosity when compared to heterosexual participants.  They hypothesized that religion could potentially cause more stress for non-heterosexual young adults, which could prevent them from identifying as a religious person and may increase feelings of internalized homophobia.

Sexual identity does not need to impact feelings of religiosity. There are currently many religious organizations that have made it part of their mission to be an affirming institution that supports inclusion. For people who practice the Christian faith, gaychurch.org has compiled a list of affirming churches across the world. Earlier this month, NBC News wrote an article highlighting affirming mosques across the world and their efforts to support all individuals regardless of their genders and sexualities. For individuals who practice the Jewish faith, PLAG has created a resource page on their website for Jewish individuals who identify as LGBQ+. While these are just a few examples of religious supports, these religious institutions are helping to create an affirming and kinder and braver world.

Nebraska Bullying Prevention and Intervention Lab