School of Social Sciences


April, 03, 2008 10:47 Age: 10 yrs

Sexual orientation & human development: Seminar

Category: SSS News

Sexual orientation & human development: Lesbian, bisexual & transgender youth at risk, by Dr. Sveinbjorndottir

Dr. Sveinbjorndottir, Dr. Schultz & Brynjar Sveinbjorndottir

Dr. Sigrun Sveinbjorndottir, Associate Professor, Developmental Psychology at the University of Akureyri, Iceland, who is visiting USP as a sabbatical scholar in the School of Education, held a lunchtime seminar on “Sexual Orientation And Human Development – Lesbian, Homosexual, Bisexual And Transgender Youth At Risk”, on Friday 13th October. The seminar was hosted by the Division of Psychology in conjunction with the School of Education.


The seminar which was well attended by academics from USP and FSM, students and individuals from women’s and sexual minority non-government organisations, discussed recent developments in Iceland towards lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender youth at risk.


Dr. Sveinbjorndottir began her presentation outlining the evolution of attitudes towards homosexuality; showing that each generation is shaped by the spirit of their time. She explained that attitudes towards non-heterosexual groups have changed over the past 30 years due to the consistent fight for acceptance by human rights activists. 


She posed the question why the research community has not asked why some people are heterosexual; instead focus has been on why some people are homosexual. Using recent research on human sexuality that has provided a vast body of new knowledge she verified that homosexuality is part of human nature. “People do not choose their sexual orientation”, she said.


Dr. Sveinbjorndottir explained that stigma, homophobia and heterosexism had adverse effects on members of the gay community. That sexual prejudice is a health risk for lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender youth at risk. Gay youth are exposed to an ever more difficult task, due to invisibility, fear, sexual prejudice, harassment and the inability to talk to anyone about how they feel. She highlighted the importance of protecting adolescents because of their vulnerability to ill health if emotionally, socially, and/ or culturally excluded. In such circumstances, identity diffusion is unavoidable, self-esteem often badly damaged and lives are put at risk. More often than not, the consequences from sexual discrimination are health problems, increased harassment and violence, and suicide.


Consequently, in Iceland, changing attitudes towards the gay community have resulted in new legislation designed to overcome sexual discrimination. It took a long time to achieve, but now the gay community is warmly accepted into main stream Icelandic society.  A case in point is the annual ‘Gay Pride’ parade which has become a national festival.


 Dr. Sveinbjorndottir emphasised that the health effects of sexual discrimination on gay youth can only reduced through greater community awareness, informed discussion and re-education.

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