Study analyzes the relationship between pets and their young LGBTQ owners

There are pros and cons to owning a pet as a marginalized individual.

cute dog wearing LGBTQ pride flag

The goal of this particular study is to focus on the younger LGBTQ population and to examine how human-animal interactions might impact a person's experience and well-being when faced with victimization over their sexual orientation or identity.

Photo by Yekatseryna Netuk on Shutterstock
  • Since 2018, an ongoing study at the VCU School of Social Work has been analyzing the way pets impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.
  • From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety, there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.
  • While the majority of current research is being focused on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society, this specific study could bring more clarity to how pets positively and negatively impact the lives of young LGBTQ people.

An ongoing study at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work is doing research into the ways that pets and other forms of social support can impact the lives of young LGBTQ individuals.

This study began in 2018 and has since focused on the role that animals specifically play in the lives of LGBTQ youth between the ages of 15-21 years old. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many of these interviews with individuals have been conducted via video conferences. The study parameters have even expanded, allowing for questions about what it's been like to have pets during the coronavirus lockdown.

Associate professors Shelby McDonald, Alex Wagaman, and Traci Wike work alongside a team of student researchers (including Caroline Richards and Ryan O'Ryan) to interview LGBTQ individuals on their experiences with pets and how that has impacted their lives.

Questions in these interviews include things relating to:

  • Detailing their relationship with their pets
  • Any stressors or benefits to living with a pet
  • The impact of pets during coronavirus lockdown

McDonald explains to Commonwealth Times: "We added questions about experiences with pets during the pandemic because we wanted to expand our focus to understand how pets might support gender and sexual minority youth who were forced to live at home in a family environment that might not affirm their identity."

Does human-animal interaction impact a person’s experience and well-being?

two women standing in front of the golden gate bridge with their dog

From animal-assisted therapies to having dogs visit schools to bring down stress and anxiety levels, there have been many studies that look at the benefits of pet ownership.

Photo by Joshua Resnick on Shutterstock

Absolutely. Over the years, many studies have proven the benefits of human-animal interactions. From animal-assisted therapy practices to having therapy dogs in schools to reduce anxiety - there are many mental health benefits to animal-human interactions.

A similar study has been done on the impact of pets in the lives of older LGBT individuals.

A different 2018 study explored the role of pets in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adults over the age of 50.

This particular study addressed the following questions:

  1. How does living with a pet impact perceived social support and social network size?
  2. How do LGBT older adults describe the meaning of pets in their lives?

In this study, over 59 percent of participants reported that they have pets and described them in affectionate terms, often referring to them as family. Many individuals classified their pets as "supportive" either by offering companionship or keeping them active and socializing. Many participants explained that their pets help them cope with some form of physical or mental health condition.

How is this study different?

The goal of this particular study is to focus on the younger LGBTQ population and to examine how human-animal interactions might impact a person's experience and well-being when faced with victimization over their sexual orientation or identity. Not only that, but this study takes a look at both the positive and negative impacts of having a pet as an LGBTQ individual.

The vast majority of current research focuses on people who are not discriminated against or marginalized by society. According to the researchers, pets may lead marginalized people to "a path of financial stress and housing instability," which are issues the LGBTQ community already struggles with.

"Pets can better people's lives," Richards explains to Commonwealth Times, "but it's also been interesting to see the ways in which pets can be stressors for people experiencing homelessness and financial insecurity."

Shelby McDonald, one of the lead associate professors on the study, has dedicated the last decade of her life to researching the role of animals in the lives of children and has recently turned that focus toward LGBTQ youth.

As of September 2, the researchers have conducted 164 initial interviews. O'Ryan, one of the student researchers, explains: "We've collected a pretty diverse bunch, but the participants we interviewed have been largely white, cisgender, bisexual women. I wish we had the chance to interview more people of color and more people from diverse gender identities."

For more information on the study or a change to join as a participant, email

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
She was walking down the forest path with a roll of white cloth in her hands. It was trailing behind her like a long veil.
Keep reading Show less

NASA finds water on sunlit moon surface for first time

Water may be far more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.

Lunar surface

Credit: Helen_f via AdobeStock
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have long thought that water exists on the lunar surface, but it wasn't until 2018 that ice was first discovered on the moon.
  • A study published Monday used NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy to confirm the presence of molecular water..
  • A second study suggests that shadowy regions on the lunar surface may also contain more ice than previously thought.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…