Blog Post By:
Asia McCleary-Gaddy, Ph.D.
Director of Diversity and Inclusion
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry
As I look at the varied affinity groups across UTHealth I am in awe and encouraged by the diversity our institution has been able to retain. Within the medical school alone, we have organizations such as the South Asian Medical Student Association (SAMSA), LGBTQ+ Health, Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), and Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS) where students who share that identity converge to discuss their unique experiences. However, what happens when you identify as a lesbian Latina? Do you choose between LMSA, LGBTQ+ Health, and AMWA, or must you be a member of them all since in reality you are a member of them all?
Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how multiple aspects of a person's identity combine to create varied forms of discrimination and privilege. Health experts such as Dr. Janet Turan uses this framework to better understand the health effects of our growing diverse population. Intersectional stigma is defined as the merging of multiple stigmatized identities within a person and to address their joint effects on health. Stigmatization is a negative attitude, cognition, or behavior that is attached to an individual or group identity. Stigma usually manifests itself in stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. An intersectional approach to health permits health professionals to think holistically about how living with multiple stigmatized identities affects behaviors, individual and population health outcomes, and how this all contributes to health inequities. An intersectional approach also emphasizes the unique coping strategies that emerge when people with similar identities unite.
The majority of literature focuses on the consequences of only one stigmatized identity in isolation although intersecting forms of stigma are a common reality. Leaders in the field have begun to develop instruments and methods to better characterize the mechanisms and effects of intersectional stigma such as the LGBT People of Color Microaggression Scale or the Stereotypic Roles for Black Women Scale. However, we have a long way to go!
Turan, J. M., Elafros, M. A., Logie, C. H., Banik, S., Turan, B., Crockett, K. B., ... & Murray, S. M. (2019). Challenges and opportunities in examining and addressing intersectional stigma and health. BMC medicine, 17(1), 7.