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Education The Faculty Graduate Schools Graduate School of Behavioural and Social Sciences Research Master
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How do pro-LGBTIA+ policies affect the life satisfaction of sexual minorities?

Date:22 December 2021
Author:Maaike Jonker
 Does the societal norm follow the policy, or does the policy follow the societal norm?
 Does the societal norm follow the policy, or does the policy follow the societal norm?

For my Master thesis, I examined the association between pro-LGB policies that existed in 30 European countries and the amount of life satisfaction LGB adults report. I looked into the life satisfaction of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) adults in several European countries. It turned out that in countries where there were more pro-LGB policies, LGB persons also reported more life satisfaction.  

After finishing my bachelor in Social Work I realised the work in that field was often based on existing policies. I really wanted to be able to do things differently, to change things. That’s why I decided to pursue another degree. I’ve always been interested in topics related to the LGBTQIA+ community. During my premaster I wrote a thesis on the relationship between social trust and the attitudes of people towards transgender people. I was really happy that I was able to do more with this topic for my master, under the guidance of Laura Baams.  

The research project
For the project, I compared the degree of life satisfaction with the degree of protective laws and policies. Life satisfaction was used as an indicator of well-being, and encompasses several elements of mental and physical health and well-being. 
To answer this question we combined two datasets: first, the Rainbow Index 2020 by Ilga Europe. The Rainbow Index is an annual benchmark tool that looks at laws and policy concerning LGBTI people in Europe. The second dataset we used was the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ LGBTI Survey. This survey asked respondents about a wide range of issues like experiences of discrimination, harassment or violence, openness about their LGBTI identity, life satisfaction and health and wellbeing. 

The result we found was what we hoped for: LGB people living in countries with a lot of protective laws and policy reported more life satisfaction. They experience less stigmatisation and discrimination and report a better level of mental and physical wellbeing. This indicates that protective policies play a very valuable role in the wellbeing of LGB people. Interestingly, no indirect effect was found between the total of protective laws and life satisfaction through discrimination or victimization. 

More research needed
It is, however, still unclear how this relationship works: do LGB people experience less discrimination because they are protected and opportunities that are close or closer to their non-marginalized counterparts? Or have these policies been implemented because society expresses the wish to protect the rights of a marginalized group? In other words: does the societal norm follow the policy, or does the policy follow the societal norm? To answer this we need to repeat this study in the coming years and look at which policies change and which changes we observe in the life satisfaction of LGB people. 

Although more research is needed to prove the relation between policy and stigma, these results can be a helping hand for policymakers since there is a strong correlation between well-being and protective policies. We already thought this to be true, and I’m really happy that our research now confirms this.

The project was really interesting. I was happy to work on a topic like this, which is dear to my heart. For the study, I had to learn and do a lot of new things, especially in terms of statistics. It was very interesting to go a little more in-depth with that. In the future, I hope to be able to do more research projects related to the LGBTQIA+ community. 

About the author

Maaike Jonker
Maaike Jonker

Maaike Jonker (26, the Netherlands) completed a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work at NHL University of Applied Sciences before starting a premaster in Sociology at the University of Groningen. She then continued with the specialisation social psychology in the research master's track Understanding Societal Change. Since graduating she works as a researcher for a research agency.