SFSU Study Seeks Same-sex Couples


Project SHARe at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of American (PAA) Conference

Allen at Conference

Dr. Allen LeBlanc presented findings from Project SHARe at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of American (PAA) conference, which was held May 1-3 in Boston, MA. PAA aims to promote the improvement, advancement and progress of the human race through research of problems related to human population.  The SHARe team presented a poster titled, “Similar Others in Same-Sex Couples’ Social Networks.” This poster presentation was recognized as one of the official, “Poster Session Winners,” for this year’s annual meeting of the PAA! Congratulations to the Project SHARe team! 

About the Findings: Participants (N = 120 couples) in the Greater Atlanta and San Francisco Bay areas provided demographic data about “other same-sex couples they know.” The median number of other same-sex couples known was 12, and this did not vary significantly by study site or gender. However, it did differ by couple race/ethnicity. Couples where one partner is non-Hispanic White and the other is a person of color knew significantly fewer other same-sex couples than their counterparts where both partners are non-Hispanic White or both partners are persons of color. Analysis of these data also suggests there is significant homophily – the tendency of people to associate and bond with similar others – based on gender and on race/ethnicity within the social networks of these couples.

These data provide an initial glimpse into the social networks of same-sex couples, in particular the degree to which they know other same-sex couples, a topic about which very little is currently known. Future analyses are needed to better understand what determines the size couples’ networks of similar others, as well as the potential role that the presence of similar others may have in helping them cope with challenges or stressors related to being in a same-sex relationship.

SFSU Study Seeks Same-Sex Couples

Elliot Owen, Bay Area Reporter
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013

Click on this link for the online article.

In today's world belonging to a sexual minority population often means experiencing invisibility, marginalization, and discrimination, making day-to-day life challenging. Imagine taking on twice that burden, as is what happens when people enter into same-sex relationships – your partner's stresses often become your own, too.

In partnership with the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, San Francisco State University's Health Equity Institute is spearheading Project SHARe: Stress, Health and Relationships, a National Institutes of Health-funded study to better understand how same-sex couples experience social stress together.

SFSU sociology Professor Allen LeBlanc, 49, the study's principal investigator, explained that traditionally, scientific research has focused on how individuals are affected by stress. This study is starting at the unit of the couple, specifically same-sex couples, not only to study how they experience stress together, but to determine how being part of a sexual minority group can amplify that stress.

"All couples worry about things like money, sex, kids," LeBlanc, who is gay, said. "Those are normal stressors. Minority stressors are rooted in the unique experience of being in a disadvantaged population – social stigma, rejection from society, experiencing everyday discrimination and prejudice in the forms of one-on-one interactions and institutional barriers."

People also experience sexual minority stress in the form of internalized homophobia, he explained, where rejection from society is internalized and leads to hiding sexual orientation and subsequently intimate relationships, too.

Also important, LeBlanc emphasized, is addressing the experiences of various minority populations that exist within the broader sexual minority population.

"This study is designed to have a racially, ethnically, socioeconomically diverse population," he said. "There's a growing awareness in the minority stress research field that you have to think about multiple minority stressors simultaneously and that's why we're reaching toward diversity."

While SFSU is the home institution for the project, Atlanta's Emory University will also be identifying couples in keeping with the guideline of diversity.

"Both Atlanta and San Francisco have large gay and lesbian populations but they're fairly different in their sociodemographic populations," LeBlanc said.

During the first year of the five-year study, Project SHARe's goal is to interview 60 same-sex female couples and 60 same-sex male couples recruited from all over the Bay Area.

Five months into the project, the study's team is currently looking for more participants. Couples must have spent a minimum of six months together to enroll. The one-time interview consists of up to two hours of self-guided relationship reflection which, LeBlanc said, has been really enjoyable for couples.

"They really determine the focus of the interview," he said. "We ask them what's been significant in their relationship and we have exercises to facilitate that conversation."

Kelly Whitney, 43, and Trisha Pulido, 35, a same-sex couple from Concord that has been together for seven years, enjoyed their interview.

"We were there for three and a half hours," Whitney said, "because we just kept talking. It was so much fun."

As a small incentive, each partner is given $30 for participating. 

Concord couple Kelly Whitney, left, and Trisha Pulido, shown with their cat Buddy, are participants in San Francisco State University's same-sex couple study.(Photo: Elliot Owen)


The first of its kind, Project SHARe exists as a starting point not only for understanding how stress is shared in same-sex relationships (and other types of relationships, too), but also for developing better social services that take into account the complex experiences that accompany belonging to a sexual minority population.

"It points to the places where we can intervene," LeBlanc said, "where social services and clinical providers can identify where people are most vulnerable to stress and where they need the most support.

"It's also a means of educating the general public," he continued, "about the challenges placed on people's lives by virtue of being in a minority group. Stressors like blocked access to marriage could actually be something that becomes a public health issue."While still relatively new, the study is having a positive impact on the morale of some participants. Feeling excited, recognized, and validated are a few sentiments couples have relayed.

"It's different for same-sex couples because the only support we get is from each other," Whitney said. "It's nice to get acknowledgement beyond our community."

LeBlanc and his colleagues also hope that this study will lead to future studies that include transgender people.

Professor to Examine Same-Sex Couples' Mental Health

Philip Riley, SF State News
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Click on this link for the online article.

October 31, 2012 --

Lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience unique stress as part of their status as "sexual minorities" in society, says Health Equity Institute Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc, especially when they enter into a relationship.  A new study will explore how same-sex couples face this stress both individually and as partners in a couple.

"I'm interested in how the experience of social stress can change over time, moving from one area of life to another, and in particular how stress is shared between people in relationships," said LeBlanc, who teaches courses on medical sociology and the sociology of mental health.

Health Equity Institute Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc

Professor of Sociology Allen LeBlanc.

LeBlanc and his colleagues recently launched Project SHARe: Stress, Health and Relationships, a five-year study that will examine stress among same-sex couples. The project has begun to recruit couples in the Bay Area and Atlanta, and will eventually expand with a large-scale survey that includes couples in other parts of the country as well. The research, said LeBlanc, will be among the first to provide insight into the ways LGBT people experience stress as couples, rather than just as individuals.

"In addition to any challenges one may experience as a result of being lesbian, gay or bisexual, people who are in a same-sex relationship can be exposed to additional stressors associated with that relationship," said LeBlanc. "For example, some individuals may not experience stigma or discrimination on their own, but can begin to experience these kinds of stressors when they become part of a couple, making their sexual minority status visible in new ways."

The study is being funded by a prestigious $2.7 million National Institutes of Health grant awarded in spring 2012. LeBlanc has assembled a team, including researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, who are recruiting participants through the project's website and outreach in gay and lesbian communities.

Working with colleagues at UCLA, LeBlanc has previously studied mental health among older gay men, finding that gay-related stigmas significantly affect their well-being. Other research has found that sexual minority stressors can lead to a range of mental health issues in LGBT people. But studies so far have focused mostly on individuals, not couples.

"We will explore the important questions of how stress affects the likelihood that couples will stay together and how they manage stress as a couple. We hope to identify the stressors that are most harmful to their mental health, and well as the social supports that help them remain resilient," he said.

LeBlanc and his team will recruit a diverse sample of 120 couples -- 60 couples each in the Bay Area and Atlanta. The participants will represent male and female couples, different relationship durations and ethnic minorities. Once the couples are selected, they will participate in an in-depth interview about the rewards and challenges of being in a same-sex relationship. These couples will also refer the researchers to other couples who might participate in later stages of the research.

"Our hope is that identifying same-sex couples in these ways will help us learn from couples who represent the great diversity of sexual minority communities in the U.S.," said LeBlanc.LeBlanc said the study will also provide a broad framework for further research into the ways social stress is shared between people in other kinds of relationships.


Stay up to date with Project SHARe by reading our latest newsletter:  Project SHARe Newsletter Summer 2013