Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Julie Hicks Patrick


During emerging adulthood, individuals struggle to form an identity and must develop personal resources to help them cope with life stressors. Lesbian and gay (LG) adults must do this from within a context of heterosexist discrimination, which can negatively influence multiple aspects of psychological well-being. The specific aims of this study were to examine: (1) differences by gender and sexual orientation in psychological well-being, (2) the role of individual characteristics (gender and sexual orientation) and personal resources (mastery and social support) in explaining psychological well-being, and (3) the influence of heterosexism and personal resources on psychological well-being of LGB individuals. The current study used an online survey to examine the influence of social support, personal resources, and heterosexism on the psychological well-being of 332 participants aged 18-30 years. Results indicate that LG individuals experienced higher depressive symptomatology and lower self-esteem than heterosexuals, and lesbian women reported lower life satisfaction than both men and heterosexual women. Across sexual orientation, variations in psychological well-being were explained by personal mastery and social support. Internalized homophobia among sexual minority persons was positively associated with poor psychological well-being, and personal resources helped to explain additional variations in well being. Sexual minority persons appear to be drawing on internal (mastery) and external resources (social support) as a way to protect against the negative influence of internalized homophobia. These findings are consistent with the minority stress paradigm. However, it is possible that for LG individuals in emerging adulthood, the instability which characterizes this stage of life is compounded by the developmental challenges posed by sexual minority status. The current study contributes to the literature by showing that the effects of sexual orientation on well being are reduced or eliminated with the addition of personal resources and that these factors may buffer against the negative effects of heterosexism among sexual minority persons. Future research should focus on collecting longitudinal data across emerging adulthood to better understand developmental differences and coping strategies as a function of sexual orientation. Recommendations are made to reduce heterosexism through support-building and educational interventions.