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Deconstructing Stigmas, from Labelling to Treatments

October 4, 2012

According to Goffman, stigma is an “attribute, behavior, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way” (Goffman, 1986). Once stigmatized, it is difficult for a group to reject the opposition they face from mainstream society. The LGBT community is an example of a group that has been progressing towards a de-stigmatized world. Their reaction to the stigma of being ‘homosexual’ is through social movements and this is one of the ways Goffman suggested that stigmatized groups cope with their label. The other form is withdrawal from society by the individual or trying to conceal what has stigmatized them, which regrettably many individuals still have to do. Although we live in a society that is implementing a system of privacy and free speech rights, the stigma of being ‘homosexual’ along with it being referred to as pathology has not ceased to exist despite it’s removal from the DSM in 1973.

This week in California a ban on conversion therapy for youth was set in place, but not without opposition. California is the first state that has set to ban this dangerous therapy practice leading to the notion that the stigma of ‘homosexuality’ still exists not necessarily among the general public but in some psychiatric and psychotherapeutic practices. This form of therapy is harmful to the client because it tries to convert LGBT members from their sexual orientation to heterosexual. This reifies the idea that something is wrong with them and that they have a stigma society believes should be dealt with. Highly influential organizations such as the American Psychological Association state that homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease suggesting that there is nothing to be treated. Therefore, if homosexuality as a mental disorder was removed from the DSM by the 1980s, and the APA has stated on numerous occasions that conversion therapy is unjustifiable, then why is the LGBT community still facing the struggle with suggestions of conversion?

Observing the struggle that the LGBT community has faced politically and in the world of mental health illustrates how difficult it is to remove a stigma, even when fellow citizens and influential organizations are on the side of the stigmatized. Goffman used the idea of a social movement or isolation by the individual as ways to cope with the stigma. Analyzing the consistent stigmatization of LGBTs, anyone can see that we need to move beyond just two coping methods. Communities must stand together to eliminate stigmas especially in a time when social groups are more distinct and thus more likely to be targeted, partly due to an increase of discussion in politics. Whether joining in on the social movement, or preventing the progression of a stigma by educating others, if we combat stigmas such as ‘homosexuality,’ everyday citizens can help prevent the consequences of a stigma such as mental illness. Therapists, psychiatrists, and the like are helpful in supporting the harmed individual with a stigma, but it’s important to remember that everyone plays a role in creating a stigma and through day-to-day actions everyone can do some part in reversing its effects.




 Marija Brzev

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2012 6:26 pm

    I think that this is a great blog post. I agree that there shouldn’t be a stigma around being homosexual. In our society, history has shown us that the only things that have worked to help get a group past being stigmatized like this, are large groups of people and important key people helping the stigmatized group to make the change as well as just simply time. Our nation was able to over come civil rights issues and now people of all races are equal. Just as our nation was able to overcome gender issues and inequalities. In both instances though it took people such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King as well as decades to make significant progress. Not to say that race and gender issues still don’t exist though. Which is where the second part becomes crucial; time. It will more than likely take years and years for there to be completely no stigma for being gay.

    **Ashley Burton

  2. October 5, 2012 1:25 am

    I really appreciate the connection that was made here. Within society there are so many intersectionalities it can be helpful for further understanding to study a multitude of oppressions and stigmas together. It is interesting that you mention that homosexuality should not be considered a disorder because this implies something is wrong, because I believe that may disorders should not be labeled as such because of the same reason. I like your ideas and what you mentioned about ways in which to remove or cope with stigma, however the fact is, is that once a label is in place, stigma occurs, and because of this we need to be careful with what we classify as a disorder and if labeling a person with this disorder will provide them with more or better support. I find it interesting as well that the above commenter said that “It will more than likely take years and years for there to be completely no stigma for being gay”. This is interesting because I do not find it to be true. Women still hold stigma, students with ADHD and ADD still hold stigma even though it has been around for quite awhile. Progress and be-riding of stigma is difficult to entirely remove because of the already imposed and imbedded ideas about these types of things, however I do also have hope.
    -Alexis Borges-Silva

  3. October 8, 2012 5:10 pm

    A particularly nice way to get the conversation started on Goffman! Well-written, too. Prof Replogle

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