By Richard-Michael Calzada, MS, LPC, EMDR Trained
While Pride Month has come and gone, October marks another important period of observation for LGBTQ+ individuals. For 31 days, a variety of different gay, lesbian, and transgender figures are recognized for their efforts in combating stigma, oppression, and inequality. LGBTQ History Month commemorates those pioneers, both living and deceased, who have paved the way for others to learn from and overcome the legacy of intolerance many minority individuals have lived through. This month also serves as an important reminder of how those in the mental healthcare industry can become allies to individuals who continue to face discrimination.
According to an article published in The Hill, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared October 2021 LGBTQ History Month, a month which has been commemorated by the General Assembly of the National Education Association since 1995. Especially noteworthy is the fact that Washington has its own coalition for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals, known as the Office of LGBT Affairs. The coalition undertakes various endeavors to support the LGBTQ+ community. For example, during DC Values Week, both Mayor Bowser and the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs passed a new bill which included HOPE LGBTQ Senior Housing Vouchers, as well as 20 additional vouchers for LGBTQ adults in need of housing assistance. In Mayor Bowser’s proclamation, she highlighted the importance of honoring the trials and losses members of the LGBTQ+ community have endured, while also emphasizing the importance of progressive human rights laws and advocacy. Not only is this proclamation empowering for many people, but it also underscores the need for greater awareness of what wellbeing looks like for individuals who are routinely pushed to the fringes of society. Not surprisingly, many then go on to seek out mental health services. Their concerns often extend beyond typical diagnoses and medication management and into the realm of systematic stigmatization. For these reasons, it is important for all providers to become more outspoken allies. The Ally Training offered by the Trevor Project and the LGBTQIA Resource Center website are excellent places to start.
Allyship, a term often used in the fight to end domestic violence, also applies. According to a handout published by the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (OCADSV), allyship is “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person holding systemic power seeks to end oppression in solidarity with a group of people who are systematically disempowered.” In their mission statement, OCADSV emphasizes the importance of traditionally empowered folks, such as cis-white men and women, taking the initiative to identify and confront instances in which fear, coercion, and violence are used to undermine any person’s autonomy. With such efforts, equity and inclusion are more readily fostered for folks in the LGBTQ community. Many individuals now serve as notable icons for LGBTQ History month. Among them are Little Richard, journalist and sportswriter LZ Granderson, singer-songwriter Janis Ian, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, and Ashley Diamond, a transgender advocate and prison rights activist whose lawsuit resulted in transgender prisoners being provided medically necessary hormone therapy and safe prison assignments. As the list above illustrates, advocacy happens at all levels, from the arts and sciences to the volunteer and government sectors. Empathy and person-centered care are empowering interventions and provide the chance to let a hurt person share their story in their own voice. The same humanistic approach is vital in providing comprehensive mental healthcare to all clients.
In the mental health field, LGBT History month is an opportunity for clinicians to further advocate for clients who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and asexual. Many mental healthcare providers are in a key position to educate family members, partners, and the community on the virtues of providing compassion-first care. We are often also a person’s first line of contact, the first professional they confide in about a variety of psychological wounds they have suffered over the years. Keep in mind that advocacy begins with establishing a warm and respectful relationship with anyone we see, regardless of their religion, sexual orientation, or economic status. If you are seeking help we offer supportive and inclusive services. We have therapists and psychiatrists who are available and offer telehealth services. Many barriers have been dismantled since high school teacher Rodney Wilson first created LGBTQ History Month in 1994. While our history has been marred by indiscriminate oppression, we have also reached a hopeful turning point. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage be legalized in all 50 states. From then until now, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and asexual folks have come out and found a more inclusive – if uncertain – landscape. Oppression still exists, and hatred directly impacts our clients’ mental health. Symptoms such as racing thoughts, frequent crying spells, irritability, and physical tension are likely to stem from their hostile lived experience. How do we discern which issues to work on? Simply put, the first step is to trust in your client. Walk into every encounter with an open mind. Be a supportive listener and understand that their truth involves hardship from countless experiences of them being discounted, shamed, and even physically attacked. Healing begins with compassion. No matter who we love, we all deserve the chance to heal. Please contact us to schedule an appointment near you. Reference Points: https://lgbtqia.ucdavis.edu/educated/ally-training https://www.thetrevorproject.org/ally-training/