Journal of Adult Development

, Volume 16, Issue 4, pp 250–262 | Cite as

The Meanings and Manifestations of Religion and Spirituality among Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Adults

  • Perry N. Halkitis
  • Jacqueline S. Mattis
  • Joel K. Sahadath
  • Dana Massie
  • Lina Ladyzhenskaya
  • Kimberly Pitrelli
  • Meredith Bonacci
  • Sheri-Ann E. Cowie


The present study employed a mixed method approach in the effort to explore religious and spiritual practices among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, as well as the meanings ascribed to the terms religiosity and spirituality by LGBT adults. Data were collected via a cross-sectional survey consisting of open- and close-ended items among 498 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) identified individuals attending an annual Pride event in a large northeastern city. Both quantitative and qualitative findings suggested that consistent with other studies, spirituality was defined largely in relational terms (e.g., in terms of one’s relationship with God and with self). Religion, in contrast, was defined largely in terms of communal worship and in terms of its negative influences in the lives of individuals and communities. For this sample of LGBT persons, spiritual identities were more pronounced than religious ones, and this pattern may be explained by their understanding of the spiritual self in relation to prosocial engagement and interconnectedness with others, the world around them, and the universe. Further, religious affiliation and practices were explained, in part, by the religion in which the individual was raised, level of educational attainment, as well as the developmental stage in which the person is currently situated. The findings highlight the reality that a substantial number of LGBT individuals may remain committed to religious and spiritual life, which may be related to a motivation to make sense of one’s place in the world especially in light of societal misunderstandings and intolerance to LGBT individuals.


Religion Spirituality LGBT Mixed methods 


  1. Bauer, G. R., & Welles, S. (2001). Beyond assumptions of negligible risk: Sexually transmitted diseases and women who have sex with women. American Journal of Public Health, 91, 1282–1286.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Berdyaev, N. (1939). Spirit and reality. London: The Centenary Press.Google Scholar
  3. Brewster, K., Cooksey, E., Guilkey, D., & Rindfuss, R. (1998). The changing impact of religion on the sexual and contraceptive behavior of adolescent women in the United States. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 60, 493–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Calhoun-Brown, A. (1996). African American churches and political mobilization: The psychological impact of organizational resources. The Journal of Politics, 58, 935–953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chamberlain, K., & Zika, S. (1992). Religiosity, meaning in life, and psychological well-being. In J. F. Schumaker (Ed.), Religion and mental health (pp. 138–148). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Chatters, L. (2000). Religion and health: Public health research and practice. Annual Review of Public Health, 21, 335–367.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Davis, J. A., Smith, T. W., & Marsden, P. V. (2005). General social surveys,1972–2004: Cumulative codebook. Chicago: National Opinion Research Center.Google Scholar
  8. Douglass, S. (1999). Sexuality and the Black church: A womanist perspective. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.Google Scholar
  9. Dworkin, S. (1997). Female, lesbian, and Jewish: Complex and invisible. In B. Greene (Ed.), Ethnic and cultural diversity among lesbians and gay men. Psychological perspectives on lesbian and gay issues (Vol. 3, pp. 63–87). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  10. Elkins, D., Hedstrom, L., Hughes, L., Leaf, A., & Saunders, C. (1988). Toward and humanistic and phenomenological spirituality: Definition, description, and measurement. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 28, 5–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ellison, C. (1998). Introduction to the symposium: Religion, health, and well-being. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 37, 692–694.Google Scholar
  12. Fetzer Institute. (1999). Multidimensional measurement of religiousness/spirituality for use in health research: A report of the Fetzer Institute/National Institute on Aging Working Group. Kalamazoo: Fetzer Institute.Google Scholar
  13. Goodwill, K. (2000). Religion and the spiritual needs of gay Mormon men. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services: Issues in Practice Policy and Research, 11(4), 23–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenberg, A. (2000). The church and the revitalization of politics and community. Political Science Quarterly, 115, 377–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Greenberg, D., & Bystryn, M. (1982). Christian intolerance of homosexuality. The American Journal of Sociology, 88, 515–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris, F. (1994). Something within: Religion as a mobilizer of African American political activism. The Journal of Politics, 56, 42–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hodgkinson, V., Weitzman, M., & The Gallup Organization. (1996). Giving and volunteering in the United States (1996 Edition ed.). Washington, DC: Independent Sector.Google Scholar
  18. Kalichman, S. C., Benotsch, E., Rompa, D., Gore-Felton, C., Austin, J., Luke, W., et al. (2001). Unwanted sexual experiences and sexual risks in gay and bisexual men: Associations among revictimization, substance use and psychiatric symptoms. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 1–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kates, S. M., & Belk, R. W. (2001). The meanings of lesbian and gay pride day: Resistance through consumption and resistance to consumption. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 30, 392–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kus, R. (1992). Spirituality in everyday life: Experiences of gay men of alcoholics anonymous. Journal of Chemical Dependency Treatment: Special Issue: Lesbians and gay men: Chemical dependency treatment issues, 5, 49–66.Google Scholar
  21. Loveland, M., Sikkink, D., Myers, D., & Radcliff, B. (2005). Private prayer and civic involvement. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mahaffy, K. (1996). Cognitive dissonance and its resolution: A study of lesbian Christians. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 35, 392–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Marler, P. L., & Hadaway, C. (2002). “Being religious” or “being spiritual” in America: A zero-sum proposition? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 289–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maton, K., & Wells, E. (1995). Religion as a community resource for well-being: Prevention, healing, and empowerment pathways. Journal of Social Issues, 51, 177–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mattis, J. (2000). African American women’s definitions of spirituality and religiosity. Journal of Black Psychology, 26, 101–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mattis, J. S. (2002). Religion and spirituality in the meaning making and coping experiences of African American women: A qualitative analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 26, 308–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mattis, J. S., Beckham, W., Saunders, B., Williams, J., McAllister, D., Myers, V., et al. (2004a). Who will volunteer? Religiosity, everyday racism and social participation among African American men. Journal of Adult Development, 11, 261–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Mattis, J. S., Eubanks, S., Zapata, A., Grayman, N., Belkin, M., Mitchell, N., et al. (2004b). Factors influencing religious non-involvement among African American men: A multi-method analysis. Review of Religious Research, 45, 386–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. A sourcebook (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  30. Olson, L., & Cadge, W. (2002). Talking about homosexuality: The views of mainline Protestant clergy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 41, 153–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Pargament, K. (1997). Psychology of religion and coping. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  32. Petersen, L., & Donnenwerth, G. (1998). Religion and declining support for traditional beliefs about gender roles and homosexual rights. Sociology of Religion, 59, 353–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Potts, R. (1991). Spirits in the bottle: Spirituality and alcoholism treatment in African American communities. Journal of Training and Practice in Professional Psychology, 5, 53–64.Google Scholar
  34. Reese, L., & Brown, R. (1995). The effects of religious messages on racial identity and system blame among African Americans. The Journal of Politics, 57, 24–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rodriguez, E., & Oullette, S. (2000). Gay and lesbian Christians: Homosexual and religious identity integration in the members and participants of a gay positive church. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, 333–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Schuck, K., & Liddle, B. (2001). Religious conflicts experienced by lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 5, 63–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Sherkat, D., & Wilson, J. (1995). Preferences, constraints, and choices in religious markets: An examination of religious switching and apostasy. Social Forces, 73, 993–1026.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Silk, M. (2005). Religion and region in American public life. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 44, 265–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stolzenberg, R., Blair-Loy, M., & Waite, L. (1995). Religious participation in early adulthood: Age and family life cycle effects on church membership. American Sociological Review, 60, 84–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  41. Sullivan-Blum, C. (2004). Balancing acts: Drag queens, gender and faith. Special issue: The drag queen anthology: The absolutely fabulous but flawlessly customary world of female impersonators. Journal of Homosexuality, 46, 195–209.Google Scholar
  42. Taylor, R. J., Mattis, J. S., & Chatters, L. (1999). Subjective religiosity among African Americans: A synthesis of findings from five national samples. Journal of Black Psychology, 25, 524–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wagner, G., Serafini, J., Rabkin, J., & Remien, R. (1994). Integration of one’s religion and homosexuality: A weapon against internalized homophobia. Journal of Homosexuality, 26, 91–110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Wood, R. (1999). Religious culture and political action. Sociological Theory, 17, 307–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wuthnow, R. (1991). Acts of compassion: Caring for others and helping ourselves. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Yakushko, O. (2005). Influence of social support, existential well-being, and stress over sexual orientation on self-esteem of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. International Journal for the Advancement of Counseling, 27, 131–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Yip, A. (1997). Attacking the attacker: Gay Christians talk back. The British Journal of Sociology, 48(1), 113–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Zinnbauer, B., Pargament, K., Cole, B., Rye, M., Butter, E., Belavich, T., et al. (1997). Religiousness and spirituality: Unfuzzying the fuzzy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 36, 549–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Perry N. Halkitis
    • 1
  • Jacqueline S. Mattis
    • 1
  • Joel K. Sahadath
    • 2
  • Dana Massie
    • 1
  • Lina Ladyzhenskaya
    • 1
  • Kimberly Pitrelli
    • 1
  • Meredith Bonacci
    • 1
  • Sheri-Ann E. Cowie
    • 1
  1. 1.Applied PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Center for Health, Identity, Behavior & Prevention StudiesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations