It’s practically an unspoken rule that once you move to Midtown, your brand new pet isn’t far behind. Non-profit pet organizations like PAWS and PALS Atlanta have a huge presence in the LGBT community. The Piedmont Park Conservancy just put an additional $1.5 million into renovating the dog park, quite likely the gayest dog park in the nation.
These aren’t coincidences. Harris Interactive conducted a poll on pet ownership and found that while 63% of straight respondents were pet owners, the number jumped to 71% for LGBTs. So pets are an important part of our lives, more so than other groups. But what about our background makes us more likely to fawn over our pets? What situations affecting our community inevitably make us more likely to take in a cat or dog who needs a home? Are we creating our own type of family unit or is it something more?
We Stand Corrected
The LGBT community’s exposure to homophobia from a young age may have something to do with our love of pets.
“People that are gay grew up and were marginalized and didn’t have acceptance from other people,” says Brett Rozen, a psychotherapist who specializes in LGBT issues. “Pets are a wonderful way to get the care they didn’t get growing up.”
It’s a situation known in the psychological community as a corrective experience. When one grows up being denied love or acceptance, they either shut down emotionally or seek out new sources of that long-denied acceptance.
“Pet’s don’t cast judgments on us or our lifestyles,” says Rozen. “They provide a corrective experience in that they demonstrate unconditional acceptance and love.”
Pursuit of Happiness
A gentle cat or dog could be added right alongside popular pharmaceutical drugs like Lexapro and Zoloft in aiding the treatment of depression. Since studies show greater incidents of depression in the LGBT community, the need becomes greater for a little companion.
That need for companionship and love goes into overdrive for those living with HIV/AIDS, who typically experience even greater levels of depression than most. The UCLA School of Public Health conducted a study examining the health benefits of pet ownership among people with HIV/AIDS.
Those with AIDS who didn’t own a pet were three times more likely to experience depression than men who didn’t have AIDS. And men with AIDS who had a pet were only 50 percent more likely to experience depression compared to men without AIDS. Basically, pet owners with AIDS show significantly lower rates of depression than those without pets.
And aside from the love and companionship provided inside the home, some pets force those dealing with depression to get outside and socialize.
“Pets, such as dogs, get people out of the house, which is normally the last thing someone with depression or anxiety wants to do,” Rozen says. “While outside, people with pets become more approachable and give others a reason to stop and talk.”
The Family That Plays Together…
Ultimately, the big gay embrace of pets could be traced back to the simple search for family.
The “traditional” avenues of having children are not so traditional in the LGBT community. Surrogates, adoption, artificial insemination—when it comes down to difficult choices like these and the expense involved, many gay people turn to a pet to complete their family.
When looking back on the love we share and who we share it with, we (hopefully) give it to those who will love us unconditionally, without judgment or spite. When that love is delivered in all furry fours or on a perch, who are we to deny it?