Winning Thesis

As many as 2 million lesbian, gay and bisexual people over 50 live in the United States, experts estimate, and their numbers will likely grow as the nation’s aging population increases.

“A lot of research has been done on young and middle-aged LGB persons,” says Bethany Perkins Detwiler ’15 Ph.D., “but older sexual minority populations have been overlooked.”

Detwiler studied older LGB adults for her doctoral thesis in counseling psychology. Last spring, she received the Elizabeth V. Stout Dissertation Award, which is given to one doctoral candidate from each of Lehigh’s four colleges.

For her thesis, Detwiler surveyed 189 people who report having some degree of same-sex attraction. She found that older LGB adults, in dealing with discrimination, get more help from social support groups and networks of friends and family members than from accessing their self-esteem.

Detwiler, now a postdoctoral resident in Lehigh’s Counseling Center, concluded that prejudice is strongly linked to psychological distress and reduced quality of life, and that external events of prejudice are more significant in this regard than having a concealed LGB identity and internalized homonegativity.