Colombia is a country of contradictions when it comes to LGBT lives. On the one hand, there are impressive gains in civil rights protections for LGBT people, such as recognition of same-sex marriage, eligibility for retirement pensions, and legal protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. On the other hand, there continues to be serious violence and discrimination against LGBT people, particularly gay/bisexual men and transgender people. There is also a continued risk of reversal of achieved rights as the conservative movement strongly opposes those rights.
This report aims to shed light on the LGBT community in Colombia by providing, for the first time, a comprehensive view of core health and well-being knowledge. The study provides a broad picture about LGBT people in Colombia in these areas: (a) demographic characteristics, including socioeconomic status, familial relationships, religion, geographical region; (b) experiences of stress, discrimination, and violence; (c) health and well-being, including psychological distress (e.g., depressive symptoms), drug use, alcohol use, and suicidality; and (d) connection with the LGBT community.
Overall, the study results show that LGBT people live across Colombia and come from all social strata. They experience high levels of discrimination and violence, and a significant proportion of LGBT people have experienced psychological distress and suicidal ideation.
The study used in-person and social media methods to recruit a sample of LGBT people who reside in Colombia. Because it is not feasible to obtain a probability (representative) sample, we aimed for a sample that is diverse in sexual identities, gender, gender identity, geographic residence, and socioeconomic status. Respondents were provided a link to an online self-administered online survey. Recruitment lasted five months from February to July 2019.
This study is the largest and most comprehensive study conducted on LGBT people in Colombia. The final sample includes 4,867 LGBT people, including 1,243 cisgender and gender non-binary lesbian/ gay women, 895 cisgender and gender non-binary bisexual women, 2,163 cisgender and gender non-binary gay men, 334 cisgender and gender non-binary bisexual men, and 232 transgender people. Cisgender groups include 307 gender non-binary respondents based on their sexual identification.
Most of the respondents (76%) were between the ages of 18 and 29 years old, about 20% of the respondents were aged 30–50, and 5% of the LGBT sample was aged 50 and older. The relatively young age of the respondents reflects the fact that more younger people, generally, identify as LGBT. It is also a limitation of the study—a result of our reliance on social media, which is more heavily used by young people.
Our sample was diverse in terms of gender, gender identity, residential geographic distribution, and social class. Although 44% of our LGBT respondents were college-educated, another 44% earned less than the minimum salary in Colombia, and 37% had a socioeconomic status level of 3, in the middle of the 1–6 Colombian social strata classification. Significantly more transgender respondents (25%) were at the lowest economic status (level 1) compared to cisgender and gender non-binary LGB men and women (8%–13%).
Almost half of the LGBT respondents had no formal religion, identifying themselves as atheist, agnostic, spiritual, or non-religious. This high proportion of non-religious people may reflect the concern among LGBT people about rejection from some religious institutions, including the Catholic Church, which is Colombia’s biggest religious denomination.
Health and Wellbeing
In terms of health, despite reporting that they had good, very good, or excellent general health, 72% of the respondents reported at least moderate psychological distress.
Consistent with the high rate of psychological distress, 55% of respondents had suicidal thoughts in their lifetime, and one in four (25%) had attempted suicide at least once. Bisexual women (33%) and transgender people (31%) had the highest rates of suicide attempts, with one in three people reporting they had attempted suicide at least once.
Overall, one in five (21%) LGBT respondents have received treatment from someone who tried to change their sexual orientation or to make them identify with their assigned sex at birth (“conversion therapy”). An even higher proportion (35%) of transgender respondents reported having received this treatment.
Victimization and Discrimination
LGBT respondents experienced high levels of victimization and discrimination.
Experiences of victimization, such as being threatened with violence, beaten, physically attacked, or sexually assaulted, were high among LGBT respondents, but especially high among transgender respondents and gay/bisexual men. This is consistent with reports on the targeting of transgender women and gay/bisexual men, by paramilitary groups and others in Colombian society.