Love Wins in the Wake of the Orlando Shootings

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During the weekend, yet another hate crime occurred in the LGBTQ community when a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida left 49 dead and 53 injured. Families and friends of LGBTQ communities across the world are still recovering from the initial shock of the news. Among the victims was Enrique Rios, a New York social worker, on vacation visiting friends when his life ended in tragedy.

As I write this article, I am not only writing as a social work professional, but as an individual all too familiar with the sight, smell, taste, and fear hate crimes create. I am feeling shattered, upset, angry, and confused.

Words do not come easily to describe the cruelty and madness in this news. It is painful, but it should not leave us without reflection, and the message of Love Wins. How can we as social workers take this message and make it a model, an approach, a perspective, a theory, and apply it in our practice?

How can we take the pain and trauma that people experience and transform it into universal love and support? How can we open our eyes and explore the power resonating within us with such rich emotions? How can we recall such emotions and integrate them in the way we support individuals?

An immense number of supporters across the world have gathered together and paid respects to the people who lost their lives and the bereaved in this act of senseless violence. People across the world united to show what love can do, and how love can be used.

“When big events happen that touch the gay community, people immediately come here,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

“There’s been no significant development in the gay rights movement that hasn’t had a presence in the Village,” he added. – New York Times

More than 5,000 people gathered in Soho, London UK, and became silent within seconds altogether and maintained their silence for an extended period to show their respect for the deceased and their families and friends. More than 1,000 people in Athens, Greece came together to light candles and have a peaceful walk to show their empathy and willingness to accompany the bereaved in their journey of grief. People in France, across the US, in Korea, in the Pacific, in South America, all gathered to say one thing… LoveWins.

If love is so powerful, why do we as social workers not make this part of our everyday professional life? Social work, among other things, is an act of advocacy for human and civil rights. Our role stresses to influence policy makers, to influence localities, and to explore support systems in the community.

Love may be the one tool that may bring all these together and facilitate our work to a larger extent. Love may be an answer to the service user’s life. Love might bring different people together and teach them how to BE together and inspire us to help educate and learn from each other. Love may be the tool that will teach people to become more tolerant and eliminate discrimination, prejudice, oppression, microaggressions.

Love may be the tool that will forge strong relationships between community partners to provide holistic social services. Love may be the tool that will enable all people to stop hating each other.

Do we as social workers not pledge to promote the well-being of individuals, families, groups, and communities? Let’s teach people how to love and show them that difference is not a scary thing.

LGBTQ Youth in Schools

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No one should be afraid to be gay or an LGBTQ individual at school.

Just recently, another bullying effect was captured by the media in the UK. In the suburbs of York, in one of the public schools in the area, an 11 year old boy was bullied because of his intention not to hide who he is.

Over a short discussion with his parents, the boy has been terrified by his peers and threatened to be beaten and someday even dead, because of his unwillingness to change who he is. He does not wish to return to his school life currently as he is emotionally and psychosocial terrified of the people surrounding him. I know the picture on the right is intimidating, but that is how reality is for all the children that are bullied in schools because of their sexual orientation.

The boy suffered emotional, psychological, and physical abuse. he was called several names, including a disgrace for his parents. He was kicked to the ground and a chair was broken on his back. His backpack was thrown in the fields while some of his peers tried to humiliate him by stealing his clothes.

What I want from this post, is to raise your thoughts on the issue. If we all try to think what consequences such an event will have on the boy’s life in the future and while growing up.

No one should ever be afraid to be him or herself in the school environment. There are many different issues arising from this instance. Bullying has expanded drastically due to the unintended rage of the youth, which may be based on social reasoning.

How could anyone “blame” their peers for such a behavior? A behaviour that has been copied from the social world kids know of. 11 year old children, almost teenagers, have been through socialization that promotes and enhances such behaviors, as opposed to “shut them down”.

Then again, what about social policies, programs, and services that the schools have to offer? What about the teachers and the staff who are there on a daily basis and experience the institutional culture of the school? What about the parents who receive messages from their children that something is wrong, or that they cause wrong ((in the case of a bully)? What about the decision makers, especially in the UK at this time, when the strands of Equality and Diversity have been revised and enhanced more?

Creating hate for who we are is not accepted by a certain number of people or populations or cultures, and should be unacceptable in the contemporary world where development and evolution take place. The science of social work should see through these occasions and grasp the challenges that arise, take a step forward, create policies, raise awareness, and network and/or link people and organizations. It is crucial for social workers to understand to distinguish what the professional values are and promote those to the systems that request assistance.

Gay Widowers: A Social Role that Lacks Attention

The loss of a loved one, especially a spouse or a partner, is a unique experience that leads individuals into social roles that they are not prepared for; they have had no specific directions on how to become widows and widowers.

51fs6RfThuL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Being gay and a widower is a determinant indicator of disenfranchised grief which is also grief that is not usually recognized by the social world. Let me elaborate on this with an example. Just a year ago I started a project to examine how gay men become widowers; how does that experience deliver for their lives and what the meanings and social supports are.

During this journey, of listening to grieving individuals, someone told me that he cannot fill out the social services’ forms anymore. It is unbearable. Why? Because he is a widower, but he was told that as long as there is no legal proof for that, he is just unmarried.

Experiencing a disenfranchised grief indicates three main things. One is lack of recognition of the relationship that existed, so two gay men being together and being married. Secondly, lack of recognition of the loss that is experienced. and finally, lack of recognition of the new social roles that the loss has brought. It is self-explanatory how these three core determinants interconnect and overlap; one becomes the extension of the other.

Gay men are experiencing grief and loss differently than their heterosexual counterparts. Gay grief may lack recognition based on the given society, and when it does the individual moves towards a complicated process of grieving which may lead social work practitioners in clinical practice (as well as other professionals) to interpret certain behaviors as “abnormal” (for lack of a better word) or pathological.

Gay men are struggling with issues of survival after the death of their spouse or partner. Was the marriage recognized? Is the loss recognized? Is there a social support system for the person left behind? How important becomes the social recognition of the grief and the loss per se, in order for the individual to follow through with a healthy process of bereavement as opposed to dwelling on the lack of opportunities that he faces in his community/society?

Social workers work with gay people in any setting, and they can make a difference, starting from understanding the concepts and the meanings of those concepts, that their client-systems deal with. Awareness of possible scenarios may raise skills and knowledge which are crucial in social work practice.

Bereavement should be a free matter, not a socially constructed fashion! One should be able to grieve and mourn for thy loved one, and not hide it behind the social norms that cannot be fair at the time. I will close this post with something that a very close friend of mine in the US told me recently, as he is a gay widower himself.

“Losing my husband was one unbearable thing. But realizing how unwanted I am in my city, made this experience just the worse” – Gay Widower

LGBTQ Issues: Gender-Neutral Toilets (GNTs)

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Just a week, I sat in a very long meeting regarding Gender Neutral Toilets (GNT’s), and their importance in the academic life of LGBTQ students. I decided to join a very meddlesome LGBTQ society in the UK, which I have to admit has become a rich source for my knowledge and critical thinking on the subject.

During the meeting, and bless my ignorance I asked why is it so important then to have GNTs within a campus. A pause of a few seconds followed, and then a lovely young girl stood up, who we may call Janet for now, and stared right at me and asked me if she looks like a girl. Again, bless my ignorance at the moment, I said yes.

Then, she disclosed in front of everyone that she is a man-to-woman transgender, who has not yet gone through the complete procedure. She looked at me and said, “I actually have to walk for twenty minutes to a public restroom if I want to use one.”

What shocked me? She is a young girl who is still in a process of changing gender and is not welcome in the gents because she is a girl, but she is also not welcome in the ladies because she needs to stand up! What happened to the values of inclusiveness here? Policymakers and decision-makers are still debating on how GNTs are not important. But if there is even one person who is in Janet’s shoes, then it is a necessity to remove every potential risk for the psychological and emotional effect that will have a negative impact later in life on that individual.

I believe in critical thinkers, especially when it comes to social workers. How impacted may an individual’s well-being be if, within a whole university campus, you pay for services (to be delivered to YOU), you mainly find “failure” of delivering a basic service?

I had a talk with her after that disclosure and she told me that she already knew of three transgender people who have dropped out of school, because of the same reasons, and to an extent, transgender in sensitive environments.

I very much wish that this post will raise questions as Janet is teaching us something here. Social Work believes in change. And we are all followers of the same belief and values, regardless of types of practice. LGBTQ client systems may be in any type of social work service provision, and awareness of how our client-system might feel may raise a point for better and more effective practice.

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