These are interesting times for gay civil rights.

On the one hand, thanks to a skillful campaign and the support of the business community, Indiana once again dodged a bullet. The proposal to amend the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, civil unions and anything “structurally similar” (business partnerships? Roommates? Who the hell knows?) won’t appear on the 2014 ballot.

On the other hand, several states are considering—and Arizona actually passed before the ensuing uproar led the governor to veto it—a “religious liberty” law protecting merchants and government employees’ “liberty” to discriminate against GLBT folks. (I have no clue on how the sexual orientation of customers was to be determined…) Arizona legislators evidently believe that requiring businesses and government agencies to treat all customers and citizens equally would be an unspeakable violation of their right to “religious liberty.”

I’m sure this use of religion as a justification for hateful behavior is infinitely pleasing to their (very small) God.

The Arizona legislation is just one of a number of reactions to a larger—and immensely welcome–social phenomenon. Gay civil rights have come farther, faster, than most of us could have imagined a decade ago, and these eruptions of nastiness can accurately be discounted as tantrums thrown by people who are realizing that they’re on the wrong side of history.Still, it’s hard not to let these hateful reactions get under one’s skin.

Which brings me to the subject of this post: shadenfruede.

“Shadenfruede” is a German word that translates, roughly, to “taking pleasure from the bad fortune of others,”  and it’s probably the word that best describes my not-at-all-nice reaction to a new study described in a recent issue of the Atlantic.

Researchers have found that homophobia takes about two and half years off the lives of those who harbor such sentiments.

Previous research has shown that the stress hormone cortisol increased in white people with high levels of racial prejudice when they were interacting with someone of another race. And a different survey found that having a high level of prejudice against black people was linked to higher mortality rates in whites.

In a new study, published in American Journal of Public Health, researchers at Columbia University and the University of Nebraska looked at whether anti-gay prejudice could similarly be linked to mortality.

And guess what? It could.

The researchers controlled for—and ruled out—factors like socioeconomic status, health, and demographics. They also controlled for racial prejudice and religiosity, both of which have been strongly linked to anti-gay prejudice in previous studies.

Previous research—especially the “gold standard” General Social Survey–has established that homophobia is more prevalent among people who have less education and who profess conservative ideologies.

Bottom line–even after controlling for demographic factors, the study found a “significant association” between homophobia and earlier mortality. “The difference in life expectancy between those who expressed prejudice and those who did not was 2.5 years. The researchers also looked at specific causes of death—homophobia was linked to cardiovascular-related deaths, but not cancer.”

Maybe Dr. King was right, and the moral arc of the universe does bend toward justice.


  1. The GOP is not only practicing schadenfreude (however it is spelled) but are leaving their pleasures behind in the form of many laws to – hopefully – be dealt with later.

  2. interesting description. I thought it meant “sick heart” and was listed in German medical diagnostic codes as a treatable disease, although under Oberbamer Care it may be a verboten code subject to discipline if ever suggested here.

  3. I’ve absolutely no doubt that chronically elevated levels of the hormone cortisol can be damaging to a person’s health and longevity. Homophobia and racism certainly could be individually, or collectively, responsible for increasing cortisol levels in those people whose emotions are heightened into states of agitation or hate. At the same time, extremely high cortisol levels are also noted in otherwise tolerant people who live in long-term states of stress and hyper-vigilance precipitated by a myriad of life’s situations including: financial problems, divorce, a loved one’s illness, death of a loved one, job concerns, or simply being treatment-resistant Type A personalities who view everything in life with a personal urgency and an apparent need to fix situations that are outside their purview of control.

    Hoosier son, DePauw and Harvard graduate, and Terre Haute native, Max Ehrmann, penned some essential words in 1927 for those with elevated cortisol levels when he wrote ‘Desiderata’. “Go placidly amid the noise…”

  4. You never cease to amaze. You are an magnet for interesting information. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Unfortunately, the homophobia kills gay people fast than it does the homophobes. Another study recently showed that gay people in regions that had the highest prevalence of homophobia had a life expectancy 12 years shorter than gay people who lived in area with the lowest level of homophobia. So basically, homophobia kills everyone involved… Just kills the targets faster than the homophobes.

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