A NEW national study has found lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) Australians who live in the outer suburbs of major cities face similar levels of discrimination and social isolation to those living in rural and remote areas.

The results of the study, which was conducted by the University of Sydney’s School of Psychology and compared the experiences of LGB communities in a range of metropolitan and rural locations, was published today in the Australian and New Zealand of Journal of Public Health. Researchers have said the results could have implications for health promotion and service provision to vulnerable LGB groups.

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Just over 1300 LGB people — 721 men and 585 women — took part in the study by completing an online survey. Data was collected from every state and territory and was analysed to interpret the effect of locality independent of sex, age, ethnicity, education and income.

The survey found those in rural/remote and outer metropolitan areas experienced similar levels of “minority stress”, such as internalised homophobia, concealment of sexuality from friends and concern regarding disclosure of their sexuality.

Compounding this disadvantage, LGBs in rural areas and outer suburban areas also reported reduced social support compared to their urban peers, including less involvement in an LGB community.

“Previous research has found lesbian, gay and bisexual people in remote and rural areas experience higher levels of disadvantage than their city counterparts but the finding for people in outer city areas was unexpected,” said James Morandini, the lead author of the study.

The survey used a government census classification to define rural and metropolitan areas. It defined outer metropolitan as a location outside a 10km radius of the general post office of an inner-city.

“Our findings reinforce those of past qualitative research, indicating that LGBs living in rural and remote Australia experience a greater likelihood of risk factors linked to adverse mental health outcomes including substance abuse and suicide,” Morandini said.

“A tentative explanation for the unexpected findings from outer metropolitan areas is demographic factors such as low socioeconomic background, which are more highly represented in some of these areas and may contribute to a more stigmatising environment for lesbian, gay or bisexual people.”

Those in outer metropolitan areas also reported increased social isolation, something not seen among the rural sample. The researchers also suggested LGB individuals in outer metropolitan areas may face many of the disadvantages of rural LGB individuals without the protective factors associated with rural living, such as close-knit and cohesive communities that can assist in countering the experience of social isolation.

“A common sentiment from people in outer metro areas is ‘I don’t see or know about anyone else like me in my area or any services for people like me and I wouldn’t feel comfortable being out to people in my neighbourhood, which is pretty conservative’.” Morandini said.

“At the same time they were often aware of a large gay community in the relatively nearby inner city.

“These insights may assist in informing public health and health service interventions to reduce homophobic stigma or discrimination in these localities, and in improving awareness among medical and allied health professionals of the disadvantage faced by LGB individuals in these areas.”

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