Statement from the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers Regarding the Changes to the Social Work Code of Conduct

We the board of the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers received the stunning news about the change to the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct that “slipped in” at the last minute at a request of Governor Greg Abbott. This bypassed the usual 30-day requirement for public comment and bypassed usual approval procedures because it was voted on and approved at a joint meeting of the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners (TSBSWE) and the Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC, TSBSWE’s governing body).

The governor personally strong-armed the board into approving this change, without opportunity for public comment. His explanation was that elsewhere in the Texas Code and legislation, this language is not used and therefore should be removed from the Social Work Code to align it better with the “usual” language. In other words, our state does not recognize sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes (as we do race, religion, etc.) and therefore Texas social workers should not either.  We are both horrified and speechless at the removal of the protections against discrimination for disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity, and gender expression from the Social Work Code of Conduct. This move appears to be an exertion of the governor’s power in both a professional and a deeply personal way.

Standing precedent is that political agents are not to dictate the Social Work Code of Conduct; this responsibility belongs to the TSBSWE.  The state Code is also presented as a minimum and is not expected to be inclusive for every profession, area of practice, and population – governing boards are appointed to make rules, as deemed necessary and appropriate for their respective professions. The law should never sanction unethical practices and in fact, should do just the opposite.

As we are called by our National Code of Ethics to both, not discriminate or oppress any group or person, for any reason, and to speak out against systems that seek to do just this, we refuse to accept such dehumanization. The rule to protect the access of service for persons of all sexual orientations and gender expressions was added into our Code in 2012, without objection from the governor’s office.  This language MUST be restored immediately. We must make sure that our VOTES are for representatives who will help us protect access to service for the most vulnerable. This is just the beginning.

NASW is mobilizing action steps to fight this. Members can call their state representatives and the governor’s office right now to oppose, but we will need something collective to beat back this oppressive action. Religious freedom must never come at the expense of serving the most vulnerable in our communities.  Social workers must stand against removing any anti-discrimination protections from the Texas Social Work Code of Conduct.

To see a full list of the NASW/TX board members please visit https://www.naswtx.org/page/Board_and_Staff. To receive the latest updates on the subject visit our website, follow us on Facebook and Twitter (NASW/TX and NASW/TX Advocacy.

What Schools Can Do To Reduce Risky Behaviors and Suicides Among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Youth

A high school English teacher in New Mexico told me about one of his students who had difficulty focusing in class. When the teacher showed concern, the student confided in him that her parents had kicked her sister out of the house after they found out she was dating a girl. The teacher tried his best to console the student and referred her to the school counselors for help.

The next year, the same girl sought his support when her parents took similar punitive measures against her because she, too, came out as a lesbian. This time he spoke openly with her, explaining that she had to keep her spirits up; that no matter what happened, she had to be true to herself. In concluding the story for me, the teacher explained that he knows the school needs to be a safe place in a community that may not accept his student. But even though he strives to create a safe environment, he does not think all staff people or students at the school are equally accepting.

At another high school, I heard something quite different. When asked about the experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students, an administrator responded – simply and implausibly – “We don’t have any of those kids at this school.”

Such accounts from teachers, administrators, nurses, and counselors illustrate the importance of schools and school staff for students struggling with their sexual orientation in a world that does not always support or even acknowledge their existence. Paradoxically, schools are often the only places lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth may find marginally more accepting than the surrounding community – and of course schools may not be more accepting. The everyday traumas experienced by these youth, especially when they find themselves in schools that ignore their needs, can put lesbian, gay, and bisexual students at increased risk for depression, substance misuse, and suicide.

Research Links Suicide to Sexuality

According to the Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than two-fifths of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth have seriously contemplated suicide. These young people are three times more likely to think about taking their own lives than their straight peers and four times more likely to actually plan and attempt suicide.

In addition to risk of suicide, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are twice as likely to be bullied or threatened with a weapon on campus and three times more likely to miss school because they feel unsafe. Risk behaviors that could result in negative health outcomes are also prevalent at a higher rate among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. For example, such young people have higher rates of smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, misusing prescription medicines, and using dangerous drugs including cocaine and heroin.

These statistics underline serious threats to many American young people. What can be done? The Center for Disease Control has identified several evidence-based ways to reduce the risk of suicide and risk behaviors among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth – by creating safer and more supportive school environments. So far, however, these strategies have not been fully or consistently implemented, and they are only rarely combined to create an optimum response.

How Schools Can Help

Schools are a critical point of intervention because they are the places where students spend most of their waking hours. When it comes to reducing risky or suicidal behaviors, schools are second in importance only to families. School nurses and counselors also often provide the first line of response to student medical or behavioral health issues. In rural settings where resources can be scarce, the school or school-based health center may be the main place students can find support or help. Based on available evidence, the Center for Disease Control has defined several strategies that can be adopted and combined to ensure that all American young people are supported and protected, regardless of their sexual orientation. According to these recommendations, schools can take the following steps – and, to date, only eight percent of schools do all.

  • Create “safe spaces” like a designated classroom, office, or student organization where students can receive support from school staff or other students. Only about 60% of schools currently have such spaces available.
  • Prohibit bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation or gender expression. Most schools report having such policies in place, but a fraction of them do not.
  • Facilitate access to medical health and behavioral health providers with experience serving lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Fewer than half of US. high schools facilitate such access.
  • Promote professional lessons on how staff can create safe and supportive school environments. Less than 60% of high schools provide this type of support to their faculty.
  • Deliver health education that includes information relevant to lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Only one-fourth of U.S. schools do this.

These strategies are an important way to address the needs of not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, but may also help transgender and gender non-conforming students as well. Unfortunately, research on these subgroups and programs to help them remains to be done. An important recent development is the inclusion a gender identity question in the 2017 Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey.

Recognizing the existence of sexual and gender minorities in America’s schools and gathering large-scale data about their experiences can provide a clearer picture of the challenges various groups of students face – and, in turn, allow improved responses to their needs. By creating safer and more supportive school environments, we can reduce dangerous behaviors, eliminate many suicides, and improve academic and health outcomes, not only for sexual and gender minority youth, but also for all other students in our schools. Problems and tragedies that affect some students reverberate among many – and undermine America’s future.

Deadpool, Gaymers and Girlfriends at London ComicCon

10 Video Games for Gay Gamers

Being gay and being a geek are, you might think, quite different things. But sometimes these two aspects of identity collide, creating a wonderful spectrum of possibilities. London ComicCon 2018 raised the rainbow flag and became a sparkling example of one such space for the  LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.

Glittery linguistic stereotypes aside, London Gaymers presented a funny, intimate and hopeful panel about LGBT gamers and the video gaming community at large.

They started with startling offline statistics from the LGBT charity Stonewall which found over 60% of university graduates return to the ‘closet’ and over a quarter are not ‘out’ at work. Conversely, the panel was comprised of Charley Hodson, Ashely Spindler, Izzy Jagan, and Nathan Costello all work in the gaming industry and all are ‘out’ in their workplaces.

So, how can we continue the good practice, and ensure that more geek workplaces are queer-friendly?  “We need people leading organisations to be supportive, to be open, to be kind most of all – from the top to the very bottom”.

Working in small firms, where one is known and appreciated as a person, was seen as a Good Thing with regard to sexuality representation. At some points, the positive storytelling had an almost bashful edge – perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that this is counter to the dominant narrative of hardships.

That is: It is much more effective if someone from a dominant (or privileged) position espouses the values and principles of equality. In addition to the usual impact of management/leadership positions, a privileged individual is not subject to a fallacy of vested interest when they promote equality. Allies have “access to cultural capital, and cultural power to change the world” (well said, Ashley!).

Doesn’t that sound just like a superhero power?

Of course, some gamers in online communities may need help to adjust their belief in the ‘post-homophobic era’. That era, sadly, is currently as much of a fantasy as a crocodile shooting out bananas from its Kart in order to trip up a pink-clad princess (ten points for getting the reference). It may seem as though LGBT persons have ‘enough rights’, but the sobering statistics say otherwise.

Whilst the London Gaymers panel was in agreement that true equality is on its way, it is still in its infancy. It needs nurturing, and time, and effort… and, yes, the occasional time-out. Ashley was candid regarding the online abuse aimed at her, purely for being trans, leading to necessary banning. Likewise for times that people need to shut their comments sections or step away from the gaming community’s occasional toxicity.

A soft hug of an idea to address this comes from Overwatch. The popular first-person shooter game translates unsavoury phrases into, for example, “It’s past bedtime. Please don’t tell my Mommy” and “I feel very, very small… Please hold me”.  A nudge into nonviolent communication – with humour.

Indeed, the voice actors who play Genji, Mercy, and Zarya noted in their panels that the popularity of the game it partly its inclusivity and diversity – not just within the game but within its community – “There is something for everybody”.

London Gaymers suggested the Overwatch model “holds people accountable” without necessarily stepping into the shaming, combative dance which can so often play out. Banning users from chats can ‘work’ in the short term – in order to remove hate or bigotry from online spaces – however, in the longer term, change will be created by supportive re-education.

Well, that, and visibility: the old adage we’re here, we’re queer still has its place. The fact of the matter is that gay people are game. “We support the industry, and the industry needs to support us too…. We deserve this respect – if we’re not getting it, demand it.”

There are, of course, different kinds of representation. It is not all about mere presence. There is the bells-and-whistles flounce of a queer archetype, whose one discerning feature is their sexuality. However, there is also the happens-to-be-gay character, whose queerness is part of ordinary – or extraordinary! – human richness.

We have seen this in television with shows such as The Wire, The Walking Dead, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are already games which allow same-sex romantic interactions, such Dragon Age, The Sims and more recently The Last of Us and (author favourite) Life is Strange.

The number of Gaymers who explored their gender and sexuality through The Sims (Nathan helpfully chimed in, “I’m gay, so I could make lesbians!” compared to actual lesbian Izzy, who unfortunately couldn’t) was cute to the extent of heart-warming. True sandbox play.

In short, as Nathan stated: “You can put gay characters in the game, and if the game is good, people will want it”. If an audience is interested in the story, the game will be popular.

However we must be careful about how we cater to online spaces: “It’s not a bonus if someone isn’t homophobic, transphobic, racist”. We must expect better from our online communities. Most importantly, “Sharing the positivity, enthusiasm, passion, and love we have, speaking up against injustice and misrepresentation, pulling people up to our level rather than going down to theirs” are all ways that the Gaymers think we can make a difference.

Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool) (R)

Indeed, it isn’t just video games that are changing to represent audiences. Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool and the more recent Deadpool 2) noted that she was respectfully asked by bigwigs (or biggish wigs) in the industry whether she wanted to keep quiet about her own sexuality, given the presumed response from audiences.

Brianna did not want to ‘keep quiet’ although she didn’t want to shout either. Her sexuality emerged in the public eye quite casually in a tweet which has been covered extensively elsewhere (not to be sensationalised as a ‘reveal’, mind). Responses have been supportive, and Brianna said that ComicCon 2018 had provided a platform for queer kids to talk to her about the importance of herself and her character in representing queerness in geek pop culture.

And it didn’t stop there. Not only is Brianna officially gay, but so is her character Negasonic, who was ‘outed’ in the same lowkey style. Ryan Reynolds – the characteristically ‘sweet guy’, the eponymous anti-hero, and co-writer of Deadpool 2–asked Brianna, “Hey, would you mind if we gave Negasonic a girlfriend?”.

(It is important, of course, to ask first).

Brianna claimed, with a wry smile, that she responded, “Mind?! I’m ecstatic!”.

And so, love of a feminine and lilac-becostumed variety struck the teenage warhead. Brianna discussed how they thought it would be more impactful if Negasonic’s love interest was mentioned, but ‘not a thing’. (This, by the way, has been considered by some theorists as the mark of ‘true diversity’; a celebration that neither erases nor exotifies difference).

When asked how Deadpool 2 covers such tender and sensitive issues amidst its swearing, sexuality and gratuitous violence, Brianna and Stefan Kapičić (who plays the well-mannered, gentle giant Colossus) said it’s because of the “Magic of Deadpool”. It’s the use of humour, the fact that these issues are treated as if they’re “Not a big deal”.

And it is magic. It’s the magic of fun, and fantasy, and play. It’s the fun about engaging in media that represents you – or gives you empathy to understand someone who is different to yourself.

It’s putting equality as a casual thread, not as a snazzy sideshow, the same way that the many queer vendors at ComicCon’s Comic Village market were just.. there. Not in a special LGBT section, but integrated with all the other talented artists. (Pride comics, and Joe Glass in particular, I have to give you a mention because you expertly encompassed the superhero realm with the adage, I didn’t see anything like me, so I created it. Allow me to share your creation.)

In short, pop culture is evolving, and much like an Eevee (ugh, too dated?) it comes with a range of elements. It is okay in the modern era to get your geek on. It is becoming steadily (or sporadically) more acceptable to get your gay on. And of course, at ComicCon, you can even get your gay geek on.

Call for the change you want to see – and if you can’t see it, be it. Rainbows for the win.

Transgender TV Characters Have the Power to Shape Audience Attitudes

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Watching transgender characters on fictional TV shows has the power to influence attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues, according to new research from USC Annenberg. Just published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles, the research further highlights the ways political ideology shapes viewer responses to transgender depictions in entertainment.

The researchers surveyed 488 regular viewers of the USA Network series Royal Pains, of whom 391 saw a June 2015 episode featuring a portrayal of a transgender teen, played by transgender activist Nicole Maines. Those who saw this episode had more positive attitudes toward both transgender people and related policies, such as students using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The fictional Royal Pains storyline was more influential than news events; exposure to transgender issues in the news and Caitlyn Jenner’s transition (which was unfolding at the time of the research) had no effect on attitudes.

Beyond the impact of the Royal Pains episode, the study is the first to demonstrate the effect of cumulative exposure to transgender portrayals, across multiple shows. The more shows featuring transgender characters (such as Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) that viewers saw, the more transgender-supportive their attitudes. Viewing two or more transgender storylines reduced the association between viewers’ political ideology and their attitudes toward transgender people by half.

According to Traci Gillig, a doctoral candidate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the lead author on the study, “While media visibility of transgender people reached new levels in recent years, little has been known about the effects of that visibility. Our study shows the power of entertainment narratives to influence viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that serves as a free resource to the entertainment industry on TV storylines addressing health, safety and national security issues. HH&S Director Kate Langrall Folb explains: “We worked closely with the Royal Pains writers, connecting them with medical experts and providing information for the storyline.”

The results of this research suggest increased visibility of transgender characters in mainstream entertainment can have far-reaching influence on public perceptions of transgender people and the policies that impact them.

“Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters,” said HH&S Senior Research Associate Erica Rosenthal.

Read more about the research in an analysis by Gillig and Rosenthal. “Can transgender TV characters help bridge an ideological divide?” was published by The Conversation.

Mental Health Issues Suffered By Gay Men

The mental health issues gay men have to deal with aren’t limited to stigma and discrimination. According to a recent study, gay men are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight men. Moreover, more than half of the men who identify themselves as gay suffer from anxiety or depression. In short, the mental health issues suffered by gay men are a serious problem so finding ways to counter them is crucial.

As mentioned above, the mental health issues suffered by gay men are a serious problem and the best way to counter them is spreading awareness about gay mental health. Spreading awareness about the mental health issues suffered by gay men will help to improve their health and allow them to live a stress free life. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the common mental health issues suffered by gay men.

Internalized Homophobia

Years of exposure to myths, stereotypes and homophobic rhetoric has forced gay men to internalize this negativity and believe, consciously or subconsciously, that these myths, stereotypes and homophobic rhetoric are true. This mental health problem suffered by gay men is known as internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia is known to worsen general stress which in turn leads to poorer physical health.

Body image and Femininity issues

If you browse gay dating/hookup sites, you will find many profiles with the statements ‘No Fats, No Fems.’ This statement basically means that the individual isn’t interested in dating men with feminine qualities. This is an indication of larger issues in the gay male community such as overvaluing stereotypical heterosexual qualities and unreasonable body image expectations.

According to a recent study, the pressure of being masculine forces gay men to be less emotional and affectionate. Moreover, body image issues increase their risk of developing an eating disorder. As it contradicts the acceptance, quality, and openness the gay community should provide, the pressure to be masculine causes many gay men to feel frustrated and stressed.

Overworking to prove themselves to the world

Also according to the aforementioned study, on average, gay men have a higher income and are more successful than straight men. This may sound as great news, but it isn’t. Some gay men see their sexuality as a deficiency. So, to compensate for their ‘deficiency’, gay men try to be high-achieving or perfect in other aspects of life. The pressure to be perfect in different aspects of life causes great stress and anxiety in gay men. This is a mental health issue that troubles many gay men today in Australia and abroad.

The fear of bullying, being judged or rejection causes many gay men to isolate themselves or suffer from social anxiety. Also, legislations that limit their right reinforces to gay men that they’re not equal to heterosexuals. All of these things lead to the aforementioned mental health issues suffered by gay men.

Social Working the LGBT Child

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To effectively perform social services, providers must understand where a person comes from. It is taking the time to recognize a person’s background, culture, and personal story. When it comes to children, this can be even more important to helping them develop. It is taking into account their background and making sure they have all the resources they need, especially those in the LGBT community.

Within the foster system, social service providers have the goal of making sure children are placed in an environment that is least restrictive to their development. When it comes to children of different races, ethnicity, gender, etc., caseworkers should ensure that children’s caregivers can match their specific needs. This can often be a task with lack of foster homes, distance between homes and resources, difference in culture surrounding a child, and many other issues within personal communities. When it comes to children of the LGBT community, this becomes even more of a task.

The LGBT (QIA) community is still not something that gets a lot of attention. Specifically, in Illinois, the policies within the Department of Children and Family Services address LGBT children, however, it is not something that is well known to most workers and there is still a major lack in literature, policies, training, and advocacy for those children. While policies directly protect them against discrimination, the fragility of those identities in children is not necessarily taking into account. This is the same for the policies in most states across the U.S. It is a phenomenon that is still not fully discovered.

Children typically start to question their sexual identities as early as age 5. Most children won’t come out until much later, but they will begin to face an internal struggle, trying to understand the parallel between what they feel inside, and what the world around them is assigning to them.

One of the main issues with sexuality is that sexual education in schools does not address the possibility that not all children will be heterosexual. Puberty is a huge time in a child’s life where they begin to question themselves, and their emotions become heightened,  and they feel less “child-like”. It is during this time that we must be active as parents, educators, and social service providers to make sure that children understand that it is OKAY to not be sure about who or what they like. This is something lacking in our education system. Often it is left up to the parents, but this leaves a lot of foster children to fall through the cracks. Children who do not end up in permanent placements or who get passed from home to home are left even more confused.

As social service providers, it is crucial that we are paying attention to a child that might be questioning themselves. Gender identity and sexuality is an extremely fragile thing. While we definitely want to make sure we are providing children with resources, we also want to ensure they don’t feel singled out or like they have a problem. Often times service providers might refer a child to counseling to deal with the emotions of questioning their identity, but it is crucial that providers leave that up to the child themselves.

Often children feel like something is wrong with them, if they’re sent to counseling. Depending on the age of the child, this should not be something that is forced, rather encouraged and left open as an option for them. Furthermore, if a caseworker does not feel they have enough resources they should look up the policies within their state child welfare system.

Many caseworkers are not trained on the specific policies for the LGBT community, due to differing opinions of those who do the trainings. For example, in Illinois there is very little training that addresses how to work with LGBT children specifically, however, the state does have their own LGBT liaison. Many offices are unaware the state liaison exists, which is why it is crucial to do extra research when the possibility of having a child with these specific needs enters your caseload.

The biggest piece in working with children of the LGBTQIA community is to make sure they are in a supportive, open-minded, and safe environment. This means making sure the caseworker, foster parents, and those working with the child, have no personal beliefs that would interfere with the child thriving in their environment with their personal sexuality. Some private agencies have religious affiliations which could be a hindrance to some children.

Open mindedness and a willingness to learn are the key factors in looking for an LGBT placement. Children of the trans community will need a large amount of support and advocacy and a lot of that will need to come from a caregiver, due to the emotional toll of day to day living.

Caseworkers and agency staff should still remain sensitive to the child’s specific needs and ensure their foster placement is supporting them. This does not mean children need to be in a home of homosexual couples or caregivers. While that certainly  might help, it does not mean they cannot get what they need from other caregivers. It just comes down to making sure foster parents are trained to have the same open minds as social service providers and that children are matched to the best, most supportive homes.

The last thing to remember is that children have the right to choose when they “come out” to others. Even if a worker suspects something, they should ALWAYS seek specific permission from the child, before addressing anything with sexuality. This includes counseling, LGBT advocacy, foster placements, support groups, service planning with specific tasks on LGBT, life skills training with specific LGBT elements, etc. It is never a service provider’s job to out a child. Unless that child is in specific danger, their sexuality should remain a private matter.

Children have a right to privacy and they have a right to support. As service providers, we must always remain sensitive to our client’s needs, and if a child is suspected to have some questions, workers should be very careful on how they proceed. The last thing anyone wants to do is traumatize a child more, by simply being unaware of the proper proceedings. Please also remember that personal opinions and religious beliefs should have no bearing on how a child is addressed. Children deserve the same care and respect, no matter their gender, race, religious belief, or sexuality. I encourage everyone to read up on their state policies and for agencies to add trainings to ensure children are getting everything they need within this community.

Leaving Abusive Relationships Is Especially Hard for People in Minority Communities

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Partners in abusive relationships — with psychopaths, narcissists, and other disordered individuals — often suffer in silence. This is especially true in marginalized communities.

Partners’ silence reinforces their isolation and reduces their capacity to end abuse and exploitation in these relationships.

What stops a partner from seeking help? Among the barriers to reaching out for a reality check — and support for leaving — are these common factors:

Shame. Partners worry that their association with a toxic person reflects poorly on them and that others will judge them if they know about the abuse they are tolerating. If they’ve left and returned, the shame feels greater.  Partners also often want to protect the “good reputation” of their toxic mate or the status the couple enjoys within a family or community.  If friends or family opposed coupling with the toxic person, the partner faces the shame of acknowledging the decision to ignore good advice and feels unworthy of support now.

Fear.  Partners of personality disordered people experience many kinds of fear as they contemplate seeking help. Fears range from the fear of retribution or stonewalling by the partner to the fear of being seen as crazy when they describe what is happening.  They sometimes fear that they cannot trust their own perceptions, or that they aren’t really seeing what they think they are seeing.

Hopelessness.  Partners may trust their perceptions that a relationship is toxic, and believe that others would sympathize with their situation, but still feel trapped by financial, cultural, and familial limitations.  As a result, they continue to suffer in silence, assuming that nowhere they turn will offer practical help in ending an exploitative relationship.

These three limitations affect partners of psychopaths and others with toxic personalities across categories of gender, sexual identity, race, religion, and relationship status.  For members of minority groups, barriers to seeking help are even greater.

Because members of marginalized groups are already stigmatized by society, they often work to “protect the reputation” of their communities, thinking that calling attention to dysfunction or violence within them reinforces negative stereotypes. For this reason, domestic violence and sexual assault are frequently under-reported within communities of color, religious minority groups, and LGBTQ communities.

In addition to the common forms of shame, fear, and helplessness that many victims feel, members of minority communities also experience fear that others will judge them for calling negative attention to the community.

They also fear that the legal system will not protect them as it should.  Because people from majority groups dominate criminal justice, legal, property, and financial systems, turning to people in authority to seek help with a toxic relationship is an extremely courageous and vulnerable act. But it could result in the system being unresponsive or shaming — or actually siding with the perpetrator.

In a worst case scenario, a victim could alienate friends, family, and community members by naming the problem and seeking help, only to find themselves treated poorly by the systems to which they have turned, resulting in more isolation and danger than if they had remained silent.

A famous example of how minority status increases vulnerability to psychopaths occurred in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous Milwaukee serial killer of gay men.

Dahmer was white. Many of his victims were poor men of color, men whose “missing” status would be less of a priority for white authorities to resolve. One of them, a 14-year-old Southeast Asian boy, Konerak Sinthasamphone, escaped Dahmer’s apartment, drugged, naked, and bleeding. African American witnesses called the police asking for assistance on his behalf.  White officers responded, only to return the minor to Dahmer, who had assured them that the two were a couple and everything was fine, despite the victim’s obvious distress.  Within moments of the police leaving the boy in Dahmer’s apartment, he was killed — a victim not only of the psychopath, but also of police ignorance, incompetence, and hostility toward minority people.

Aware of situations like these, victims from minority communities often seek help only with great caution, both when they face “stranger danger,” harassment, and hate crimes, and when they are victimized by intimate partners or family members. It is vital for people in the helping professions to be prepared to respond skillfully when people from minority populations take the risk of seeking help.

Police officers, lawyers, doctors, therapists, and clergy need an awareness of the patterns of victimization created by psychopaths and other troublesome people, as well as the special vulnerabilities of people in minority populations to exploitation and abuse.  When victims of toxic partners decide to reach out for help, we have a professional obligation to understand not only psychopathic abuse, but also what it means for a person in a minority community to come forward, to seek help, and, possibly, to exit their relationship.

Minority victims of toxic partners, like all victims, deserve to know that competent help is available when they take the important step to seek help, despite the barriers of shame, fear, and hopelessness.

Shared Humanity after the Orlando shootings

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“We’re all human” is, we hope, a common attitude. It stems from empathy and solidarity –  the idea that, despite our differences, we are all the same.

However, whilst it seems like a positive attitude on the surface, the well-intentioned “We’re all human” is more complex than this. It has a darker underside of erasure. Used improperly, the suggestion that everybody is the same can be used to minimise problems that are faced by particular communities under the guise of common humanity.

Examples of this can be seen in responses to attacks on a range of oppressed social groups. It can be seen in the All Lives Matter response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the need for a #YesAllWomen reaction to #NotAllMen -a hashtag which was initiated after a man instigated a mass shooting in Santa Barbara due to a lack of sex from women. Now, it can be seen in the aftermath of the horrific homophobic attack in an Orlando club.

Take a recent television interview about the Orlando attack, whereupon journalist, activist and LGBT person Owen Jones stated, “It is one of the worst atrocities committed against LGBT people in the Western world for generations, and it has to be called out as such”.

The immediate response to this statement was, “Well it’s something that’s carried out against human beings isn’t it”. Later, when Owen attempted to reiterate, “This has to be called out for what it is. It was an intentional attack on LGBT people”, the interviewers again responded with “On the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves”, (italics added).

In this case, the worst LGBT attack in the Western world for generations is being dismissed with “We’re all human” rhetoric. The intention of the reporters was not to show empathy and share in the grief of this attack, but to dismiss the fact the attack was targeted against LGBT persons specifically.

As such, we cannot use ideas of common humanity uncritically. There needs to be some balance between “We are all people” but also, “We are not the same, and that is to be celebrated. Because we are not the same, I will listen to your struggles, which may be different from mine.” That is, being the same and being different are not mutually exclusive.

There are lessons to be learned here – not just about social injustice, the links between prejudice and violence, and how not to conduct oppressive media interviews, but also about how professionals can work with people who are from such oppressed groups. Particularly, such wider societal issues have relevance to mental health.

Firstly, we can evaluate the extent to which we consider people’s distress in wider context. People’s social circumstances have a significant impact on mental health. Especially when we are working with ethnic minorities, women, LGBT+ individuals, and other such persons, we must consider why that person may be in distress, in addition to what is troubling the person at that time.

For example, if an LGBT person has beliefs that strangers are out to hurt them, how ‘delusional’ can we call those beliefs? If an unemployed Black man experiences moods of anger and intense need to act, followed by periods of deep sadness, to what extent do we attribute this to faulty brain chemistry? If a new mother in financial debt feels helpless, can we suggest this is down to rumination and negative thought patterns?

Taking these factors into account can help us to keep a person’s lived experience at the heart of our mental health interventions. It may also support professionals to maintain hope, because interventions can be realistic and appropriate to a person’s circumstances. A psychotherapist, for example, may realise that connecting with Social Services or getting in touch employment support is a key factor in recovery – rather than feeling that the therapy is failing if things are not changing.

Secondly, we should bring people together and empower them through common experience. Examples of this include Recovery Colleges, whereby educational courses about wellbeing are co-created and co-facilitated by peers with lived experience of mental health problems, ‘sober bars’ for people with prior alcohol addictions, and supporting people with learning disabilities to go to parties, festivals and clubs. Sometimes, hearing a “me too” from someone in similar circumstances can be a powerful intervention in of itself. Where safe spaces have been compromised, new spaces need to be built and existing spaces reinforced.

Finally, we can use common humanity to engage and connect with others. As professionals, perhaps there is a role for being an ally, and acknowledging the limitations of not having lived experience of a particular thing. One powerful way to honour our shared personhood is to say: “I am not the same as you in this respect, and I also stand by you”. Professionals could, in this vein, engage in campaigning for change at a wider level. For social groups which experience high levels of violence, wouldn’t preventing the violence in the first place be the best intervention?

These concepts fit into a less well-known psychological approach called liberation psychology. By bringing people together in dialogue, we can encourage them to take action to address their social situation. By being alongside people, we can offer our support and potentially our power. And, by speaking out, we can help to change the social world within which we are all trying to get by.

We cannot change the atrocities which happened in Orlando. At the same time, we cannot shrug off social responsibility for collectively supporting a culture of violence against LGBT persons with our silence. Yes, we are all human. But no, not all humans are treated equally. Let us tap into that common humanity and stand by those who have been affected – without erasing the reality.

Call The Midwife and Social Justice

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For those who follow my writing, you know I am a devoted fan of Call the Midwife.  My husband and I just finished watching the conclusion to season five and wow! While the story is quite different from the show, I fell in love with it during seasons one through three — where they were drawing from Jennifer Worth’s memoirs and based on her experiences working in London’s East End in the late 1950s — season five proved to be an amazing journey.

The season fully explores topics of social justice — issues of power, race, and misogyny. In fact, season five seems to be the point of reinvention. This is where the show decided to really take on themes that are sadly still relevant today such as queerness, the lesbian love story, poverty, how differently women have to navigate the world, and how difficult it can be for women to govern their own bodies.

From the start, season five addresses powerful topics and does not shy away from where and when people in the “helping profession” cause harm. Such is the case in episode two, which deals with breastfeeding or using formula. What is lovely is that our dear Sister Evangelina (Pam Ferris) is able to offer some repair work to a woman who was unable to breastfeed.

Episode three was very difficult to watch and deals with how we treat pregnant women who are not married and also takes on the issue of abortion. I strongly recommend this episode, as here in 2016 women still face so many of these same barriers. Of course, if we then look at intersecting identities, we look at how women of color and queer women may face even more barriers.

The show also takes on sex work, poverty, and the clandestine lesbian affair between Patsy and Delia. We also see the advent of the pill and how we look at women’s reproductive health and choice. I have to say that every episode is very intense and well done. I will continue to use many of the episodes in social work classes I teach, as they address what good social work can look like and what intersectionality is.

While I am exceedingly sad that our Pam Ferris has left the show, and I still miss Chummy (Miranda Hart), I am thrilled that Call The Midwife will return for a sixth season.  Rumor has it that our Chummy will return. I don’t know of another show that takes on social issues the way this show does, especially around the disparities in how we treat women. This ensemble cast continues to provide not only a narration of birth, they also give us a didactic story of health care, social work, feminism, and social justice. Each episode is like a gift — a remarkable story that is utterly compelling.

Sadly, season five is far too relevant to social issues I would have thought should have been resolved at least 40 years ago. Even more regrettable is the current discourse in the United States which is violently anti-woman, racist, anti-queer, and vilifying of people in poverty. Bloviating candidates shout epithets and invent their own reality, stirring the passions of an angry subset of the electorate. This trend is so baked into one party’s discourse that it will take a resounding electoral failure to still the voices of hate.

As an antidote, Call The Midwife gives me hope that we can find a way to reach out to our shared humanity. If you have not had a chance to watch this amazing series, I encourage you to watch at least one episode, for I know you will become addicted to this very sweet and sad story of humanity from birth to death. Well Done! Stay tuned for Season Six.

Human Rights Campaign Outreach to Child Welfare Workers

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The Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s All Children – All Families project is conducting a survey of public and private child welfare agency staff. Your responses to this survey will help us understand your agency’s experiences working with a range of resource parents, volunteers and youth. We will use this information to improve our resources and technical assistance for child welfare agencies, and we will also share it with policymakers.

  • Who can participate? Anyone who works for a child welfare agency in the United States is encouraged to take the survey. Your employer can be a public or private agency, and its mission could include working with youth, biological parents, resource parents, or volunteers.
  • What you will do in the survey: You will respond to general questions about yourself and your professional role, your professional experiences, and your opinions about specific topics. You will also answer questions about your agency’s work.
  • Time required: Completing the survey will take approximately 25 minutes.
  • Risks: There are no anticipated risks associated with participating in this survey.
  • Benefits: Some participants may find that the survey is an opportunity to reflect on their professional experience and practices. There are no other direct benefits to you of participating in this survey.
  • Confidentiality: Your response will be anonymous. No personally identifiable information will be collected. After the survey, you will have the option to be contacted by All Children – All Families staff, but your contact information will not be linked to your survey response.
  • Voluntary participation: Your participation in this survey is completely voluntary. If you learned about the survey through a professional association, your membership will not be affected in any way by your decision to participate or not participate.
  • Right to withdraw: You have the right to stop taking the survey at any time without penalty. To do so, simply close the browser window. Because the survey is anonymous, it is not possible for us to delete data that you have already submitted.
  • Payment: You will not be paid for your participation in the survey. However, participants who complete the survey will have the option to enter a drawing for one of five Amazon.com gift cards worth $25.00 each. The odds of winning a gift card will depend on the total number of people who choose to participate.

You can begin the survey on the HRC website using this linkIf you have questions about the survey, please contact:

Gabe Murchison
Senior Research Manager, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
1640 Rhode Island Ave NW
Washington, DC 20036
gabe.murchison@hrc.org
(202) 789-8028

HB2: Ignites A Civil War Over Bathrooms

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Toilets, potties, johns privies and bathrooms, we have names from the delicate to the coarse to describe them.  But, who knew that “protecting” this space for the hygienic disposal of human waste and lip stick application for some of us, could be so important to require a special session of the North Carolina legislature?

On March 23rd, the North Carolina legislature came into a special session to pass one bill: HB 2 “An Act To Provide For Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities In Schools And Public Agencies….”.  Law makers state HB2 was enacted, ostensibly, to protect the public and according to many interviews, specifically to protect (vulnerable) women and children.

According to the Advocate, neighboring state, South Carolina Senator Lee Bright responded to HB2 by stating, “There’s a segment of the population that believes that you ought to be able to use whatever restroom you identify yourself as being.  So they think it’s okay for a man to use a woman’s bathroom if he thinks he’s a woman.  From a safety issue, we don’t need men going into women’s bathrooms.”  

However, spokespeople from the Transgender Law Center and the Human Rights Campaign have said there is no data to corroborate lawmaker’s fear of male predators using women’s bathroom to prey on unsuspecting women. The FBI’s 2013 Uniform Crime Report counts 5,928 bias motivated crimes, 31 related to gender identity in which it was the victim who suffered because of his or her gender-identity.

Since the bill’s passage, activists, business leaders, celebrities and the general public have reacted to North Carolina’s law to require that people use the public bathroom or changing facility that matches the sex they were assigned at birth. In response to HB2, 180 CEOs and executives from major companies including Apple, Bank of American and Marriot International have joined celebrities like Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Pearl Jam have cancelled shows and PayPal has cancelled a planned expansion that would have brought 400 jobs to the state. Also, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato have cancelled scheduled shows in North Carolina, and Adam Silver, NBA commissioner announced that if the law is not repealed, the 2017 All-Star Game will not be held in Charlotte as planned.

Governor McCrory has reacted to the outcry by couching his support of the bill in terms of state’s rights and “overreaching” by the federal government.  Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the ACLU of North Carolina all argue that HB 2 is unconstitutional because it violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and violates Title IX by discriminating against students and school employees on the basis of sex. Apparently, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch agrees with them.

This week, Attorney General Lynch announced the administration’s decision to counter sue North Carolina and notified them the state may federal funding to state public safety agencies and to the University of North Carolina withheld during litigation. She explained the justice department acted because the law was simply discriminatory.

Attorney General Lynch said this action is “about more than bathrooms, it is about the dignity and respect we accord our fellow citizens.  It is about the founding ideals that have, haltingly, but inexorably, moved in the direction of fairness, inclusion, and equality for all Americans.”

Transgressing Boundaries and the Intersection of Sexualities in Social Work

The Sexuality and Social Work Interest Group invite colleagues to attend an international conference – Transgressing Boundaries and the Intersection of Sexualities in Social Work. The Conference takes place on 18 and 19 August 2016 at University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW, in Olten, Switzerland, and it seeks to explore sexuality within social work education, research and practice.

This two-day conference will feature keynote presentations from Dr. Nick Mulé (York University, Canada); Professor Peter Aggleton (University of New South Wales, Australia/UCL Institute of Education UK);  Dr. Tracey Sagar and Deb Jones (University of Swansea, UK) and Michael Häusermann (Dialogay, Geneva, Switzerland).

The theme over the two days will explore the intersectionalities of sexuality with the complexities of contemporary society, specifically in relation to social work research, education and practice. The aim of this conference is to explore the boundaries of these complexities by linking the intersectionalities of sexuality with social work practice, research and education. It seeks to explore those issues and topics within sexualities that are of interest to social work academics, students, practitioners and service users.

Sexual and Gender Diversity - North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit
Sexual and Gender Diversity – North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit

The sub themes of the conference are:

  • Migration and asylum
  • Trans* issues
  • Sex work
  • Religion and sexuality
  • Specific client/service user groups
  • Education, pedagogy and research
  • Polyamorous relationships
  • LGBT Inequalities

The social work profession has both a troubled and troubling history and role in contemporary societies. Multiple complexities and the intersectionality of these complexities can be seen in issues such as austerity and modern capitalism, neoliberalism, human rights, immigration, role of social workers, and the education and teaching of these complexities.

What has been less considered is the intersectionalities of sexuality with the complexities of contemporary society. The aim of this conference is to explore the transgressing of the boundaries of these complexities by linking the intersectionalities of sexuality. It seeks to explore those issues and topics within sexualities that are of interest to social work academics, students, practitioners and service users.

The Sexuality and Social Work Interest Group is an international network of academics, students, practitioners and service users that seeks to develop knowledge and practice innovations in the field of sexuality studies and social work. It seeks to encourage connections between members and interested organisations to enable further research and practice developments.

For further information, please go to the conference website.

Media Contact:

Monika Amann
Tel.: +41 62 957 20 13
E-Mail:

Why LGB rights are a Crucial Part of Feminist Values

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Identifying as non-straight, and identifying as a woman: they’re important political, personal and professional issues to think about. And, of course, we need to fight for the rights of both women and LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) individuals. But are they different things?

I’m going to argue that LGB issues and feminism are not only similar, but heavily overlapping. I’m also going to argue that to be effective feminists we should actively be involved in the issues of the LGB community rather than seeing it as something niche, or something separate. Whilst some of this article overlaps with problems faced by the trans* community, the focus here is exclusively on sexuality.

Firstly, gay men are often stereotyped as being weak, flouncy, verbal, and being a sexual threat to straight men. Men as a sexual threat has long been part of feminist rhetoric. Gay men are also imagined to wear bright colours, take care of their appearance, and enjoy dancing, glitter and musicals – all typically feminine traits. This is gender stereotyping (a feminist issue). Additionally, such femininity is considered a ‘step down’ because femininity is inferior to masculinity (a feminist issue).

The gay community also has noted problems with misogyny, which is a clear feminist issue. This can include: disgust at the concept of vaginas (which may be considered a trans* and woman’s issue), misogynoir (misogyny directed at black women), and dismissive references to female hormones. Rapper Azealia Banks also calls out misogynoir from gay men  – whilst such problems have also been placed as part of general society and the need for feminism more widely.

Lesbian women, contrary to gay men, are stereotyped for having short hair, being butch (or tricking straight men for not being butch enough), dressing in a masculine style, and being fat and hairy (relating to not being “feminine”, therefore not being attractive) and hating men. These are all feminist issues.

Another feminist issue is that lesbians are often left out of conversations about being “gay”, politically and otherwise. Marriage equality is often called gay marriage, for example, which erases women and non-binary sexualities although not everyone agrees with this distinction. Lesbians are often over-sexualised, which is a feminist issue. The relative societal status of a relationship that doesn’t include a man – having lower household income because both potential wage-earners are women – is also a feminist issue.

There are other links to heteronormativity and feminism, such as people asking gay men “which of you is the woman” and lesbian women “which of you is the man”. Feminism actively tries to counter prescribed gender roles of this fashion.

Bisexual individuals (including pansexuality and other non-binary labels) often face discrimination and distrust. Bisexual men are often considered partway to “coming out” as gay (because if you’re attracted to both men and women, why would you step down into a female role by getting into a relationship with a man?). Bisexual women can be framed as keen on threesomes, and portrayed as desiring to please men with their same-sex interactions. The social policing of sexuality is a feminist issue. Feminism combats sexuality policing because it’s nobody else’s business what consenting adults get up to. Additionally, bisexuality is often called a “phase”.

Someone being told their sexuality is a “phase” is a feminist issue. This also includes people who define as asexual, as such individuals often lose ownership of their own sexuality.

Going feminism-first, the sexuality of feminists is often called into question. This is homophobic in of itself (to be feminist woman, you hate men, and to hate men, you must be a lesbian). Some of the arguments levelled at lesbians are the same as those levelled at female feminists: you must have been abused in the past, you need to find a good man, what’s wrong with men and why do you hate them so much?

Feminist men are often accused of just wanting to “get laid” (gender stereotyping) or are assumed to be  “white knights” (a clear feminist issue). Occasionally, feminist men may be considered “whipped” (a strange term, which on the surface seems to mean gender power role-reversal). The latter point links into toxic concepts of masculinity and gender norms (the idea that treating women as equals creates a power imbalance). These are bread-and-butter ideas for feminists.

In conclusion, due to societal norms, gender and sexual orientation are often treated like similar things. This means that LGB issues are feminist issues. They stem from gender norms and expectations, gender roles (and what happens when you violate these), and permissible expression of sexuality. People’s sexual orientation is couched in a world that privileges men – particularly prescribed stereotypes of masculinity that include power, control, hyper-libidinous behaviour and aggression.

If we are to be effective in supporting people across the gender spectrum, and support people in a feminist way, we had better start caring about LGB issues. This isn’t about waving the intersectionality flag for show, and catering to “niche” groups who happen to fall into the feminism of the (predominantly white) middle class. When it comes to LGB discrimination gender, sex and sexuality overlap so much that to care about feminism is to care about LGB rights.

More Common Than Not: Sexual Violence Among LGBTQ Persons

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Photo Credit: Buzzfeed

In a first-of-its-kind national report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a comprehensive set of data on intimate partner violence, titled “The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.” This data provides insight into the prevalence of sexual violence, categorized by factors such as gender, sexual orientation, frequency and age at first victimization. The intent of such a report is to serve as a benchmark for prevention, education, and social service efforts at reducing sexual violence.

While reviewing the data, I was struck by the astronomical rates of sexual violence against individuals identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. According to the report, 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence, respectively. These numbers highlight the frightening reality of sexual violence facing individuals identifying as LGBT.

To help shine some light on what factors may be driving this data, I sat down with Alicia Allen, of Spectrum Recovery Solutions. Allen, a relationship counselor and sex researcher, answered some of the questions I had and offered her unique perspective on this staggering problem.

1. According to the study, the rates of sexual violence among individuals within the LGBT community are significantly higher than in the heterosexual community. What are your thoughts when you see these statistics?

I find it incredibly tragic when I hear about sexual violence against any individual, but especially against those who are marginalized by society because they don’t fit the mold. For me, these statistics show how we, as a society, have not done our part to protect all our members. While the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 was extended to include the LGBTQ community in helping those affected by domestic and sexual violence access resources, this is not enough. We have failed to create a safe space for those who have been assaulted and to provide adequate outreach and education to those who are at risk. We need to have these programs starting in the schools and going into the communities. Bottom line is that we are not providing protective factors or practicing harm reduction.

2. It is interesting to note that the rates of sexual violence among bisexual men and women are much higher than in gay men and lesbian women. What might be a reason for this?

This is a very important question that needs to be addressed. As for why this is, I have to say that we need further research before we can start speculating on causation. As the study shows, almost half of the bisexual women who responded experienced their first rape between 11 and 17 years old, as opposed to only 17.4% of the heterosexual women surveyed. Not only that, but both bisexual and heterosexual women reported that their perpetrators were exclusively male. So, people are taking those two statistics to try to say that women become bisexual because they were raped by a man. This simply is not true. Unfortunately, we as a society do not accept the natural fluidity of female sexuality over the lifespan. Regardless, we have no concrete answers as to why bisexuals are at the greatest risk for abuse. However, we do know what is needed is prevention and education. We need to be proactive to help combat intimate partner violence and sexual assault.

3. What role, if any, do factors such as discrimination, social norms, and policy play on the rates of violence against members of the LGBT community?

This is a really good question. As I stated before, society plays a large role. It’s a dialectical role. The LBGTQ community has gained momentous rights in the past couple of years through advocacy, education, and rallying of the public. However, there are still big pockets of our society that hold onto antiquated and inaccurate notions about sex, sexuality, and gender. We are still struggling with the “blame the victim” mentality. “She was dressed like a slut.” “What was he doing out that late at night in that guy’s apartment?” Things like that. Then there’s policy. In the same year where the US Supreme Court upheld marriage equality, they also shot down The Student Non-Discrimination Act that was created to protect LBGTQ children from bullies. The wonderful organization dedicated to advocating for the LGTBQ, Give A Damn Campaign, has reported that almost 90% of LGBTQ youth have experienced verbal and physical abuse AT SCHOOL. What message are we sending when we do not protect the most vulnerable among us, our children?

4. How can social workers and mental health professionals be more sensitive to the needs of LGBT clients who may have a history of sexual or physical violence?

With this study, we as clinicians know that the possibility of a trauma history is increased when working with our LGBTQ clients. The first thing we have to do as clinicians is understand our own value system. Do we hold even the most benign of prejudices? Then we need to use a systems perspective to look at how well informed we are of the environment of our clients. Do we know what our clients face on a day-to-day basis in their homes, workplaces, school, etc… And finally, and I cannot stress this enough, we need to have a trauma-informed practice. When we use the trauma informed approach to therapy, we appreciate how intrusive the trauma is on our clients’ lives and how it can be an obstacle to both physical and mental wellbeing. Having a trauma informed practice means integrating this knowledge into our policies and procedures. With this approach, we are saying that from first contact we will create a safe place for growth and healing for our clients.

5. Is there anything social workers and mental health professionals could be doing better to help reduce the rates of sexual violence among members of the LGBT community?

There are three things that we can start with:First, know the community. That means be aware of what the LGBTQ community experiences from both a macro and a micro level. Keep yourself educated on laws, practices, and policies that are discriminatory in nature. Know what resources are out there to help combat this. If there aren’t any or they are not enough…then get involved.

Second, educate the community on what bulling, intimate partner violence, and the bystander effect looks like in our everyday lives and strategies to combat these.

Finally, advocate. Advocate for equal protection. Advocate for effective and accessible resources. Advocate for change.

Pope Francis Visit to the US Aims to Highlight Poverty and Discrimination

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This month, on September 22nd, Pope Francis will arrive in America for his first ever visit which will begin in Washington, DC. Upon being greeted by President Obama, he will conduct a midday prayer with U.S. bishops at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral before attending the Junipero Serra Canonization Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis’ final day in Washington on September 24th will involve a speech to the Senate and House of Representatives as well as a visit to St Patrick’s Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Upon arriving in New York on September 25th, Pope Francis will visit the United Nations General-Assembly followed by a religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum. The Pope will also visit Our Lady Queen of Angels School as well as ride in a papal motorcade through Central Park followed by a mass in Madison Square Garden. The final destination of what is sure to be a busy trip is Philadelphia for the World Family Meeting.

He will attend mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, visit the Festival of Families at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Prayer vigil with World Meeting of Families. Earlier in the morning on the last day of Pope Francis’ trip, he will visit Curren-Fromhold Correctional Facility to meet with 100 inmates and their families.

The trip comes at a crucial time for the Catholic Church which has seen decreasing numbers for some time and has been accused of failing to prevent the sexual abuse of children. For every one person entering the Catholic Church, it has been estimated that around six are leaving. The US is home to more Christians than anywhere else in the world. However the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic has been decreasing for some time.

It is thought that this is because the values of the Catholic Church are not in line with contemporary society. An example of this has been seen recently as the Supreme Court of the United States made a monumental decision that the constitution should contain a right to same-sex marriage. This comes just a few months after Ireland, where 83.6% of the population is Catholic, had an overwhelming “yes” vote to same-sex marriage showing a huge leap towards equality in an increasingly contemporary society.

Whilst it is amazing that society is changing to become more equal, will religion keep up with this change? Whilst the Catholic Church has previously not supported same-sex marriage, Pope Francis is known for having more forgiving views. His statement towards the LGBT community has been received as being non-judgemental and an equality driven approach.

Additionally, Pope Francis adopts use of social media and is making vital steps towards bridging the growing gap between religion and society. A study showed that people who defined themselves as agnostic or atheist actually viewed Pope Francis in a positive regard showing that his attitudes to discrimination stretch beyond the religion and apply to even those who do not follow it.

Although his visit could be seen as an attempt for Pope Francis to change the dwindling numbers in the Catholic Church, it is thought to be an attempt to encourage people to take a more active approach to minimising poverty and discrimination. Eradicating discrimination could be an appealing message considering the racial and social tensions which are prominent in the US.

As beneficial as it would be for Pope Francis’ visit to increase the numbers joining the Catholic Church, it would be as beneficial if he
encouraged more people to become involved in Catholic charities and advocating for the poor. This comes at a time when the globe is witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, which stresses an importance on eradicating discrimination and helping those in poverty.

Pope Francis announced that he will open the Vatican to refugee families and the Roman Catholic Church has expressed hope that others will do the same showing his commitment to helping the poor and encouraging universal solidarity.

Many believe the US visit will help to engage and promote society in coming together to change the systems that create poverty. This message will help provide hope to those in poverty and those living in slums, in which Pope Francis has visited in Paraguay. Hopefully, his message will pave the way for the Catholic Church to follow. Pope Francis’ focus on poverty is necessary as more than 3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, which prevent people from living a healthy lifestyle that we all have the right to.

Furthermore, approximately 750 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, a necessity we frequently take for granted. This visit presents an exciting event for the US, but it is also a reminder to help those who are marginalized and oppressed within society.

Whereas this message will hopefully help encourage people to join the Catholic Church, it will also promote a sense of commitment to eradicating discrimination and poverty. His approach to equality and discrimination has changed the way people not only view the Catholic Church and the Pope, but how they respond to social issues.

3 Things to Know When Working With LGBT Clients

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that all couples, regardless of gender, have a constitutional right to marry the person they love. After the ruling was announced, states across the nation were forced to drop their bans on same-sex marriage allowing loving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender couples the right to marry.

The ruling marks a significant advancement for the rights of LGBT individuals, who have faced a long history of discrimination and oppression. While the ruling is a monumental victory for the rights of LGBT Americans, our LGBT brothers and sisters face challenges that extend far beyond the right to marriage.

lgbtqhomeless1_400_393_90When working with individuals in the LGBT community, we must acknowledge the ways in which societal and social influence, oppression, and discrimination impact these clients as well as the communities we serve. As social workers, we have an obligation to be culturally competent and sensitive to the unique needs of our clients.

To do so effectively, we must first understand some of the significant psychosocial stressors that may impact members of the LGBT community.

Discriminatory Policy

While LGBT individuals now have the right to marry the person they love, only 22 states in the nation protect the LGBT community from employment discrimination. This means that in over half of our nation’s states, a person could be denied employment or fired from their job for identifying as LGBT. For LGBT individuals working in these states, such policies can prevent individuals from feeling comfortable in the workplace for fear of being fired. Uncertain job stability coupled with the stress of hiding one’s identity in the workplace can lead to a variety of negative effects, such as low job satisfaction or even depression and anxiety.

Knowing the policies of your state and how these policies impact the LGBT community can help you better assess the role discrimination may be playing in the lives of your LGBT client(s). Having a good understanding of these policies also allows you to engage in meaningful conversation with clients, the community, and other stakeholders about how to best facilitate change to such policies.

Violence

Individuals within the LGBT community are at a significantly higher risk for violence. Though individuals identifying as LGBT account for only 3.8% of the U.S. population, they are the victims in 21% of reported hate crimes. Sexual violence is also a very real threat to those in the LGBT community. According to a startling report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 46.4% of lesbian women, 74.9% of bisexual women, 40.2% of gay men, and 47.4% of bisexual men report being victims of sexual violence.

As social workers, it’s not uncommon for clients to seek our help in working through issues related to sexual or physical violence and intimate partner violence. Because of the high rates of these occurrences within the LGBT community, assessing clients for a history of sexual and physical violence as well as domestic violence are critical components of a thorough assessment. Using treatment approaches that take into account the experiences of the LGBT community will enhance the therapeutic milieu for your clients and help foster healing.

Mental Health

Individuals identifying with the LGBT community have significantly higher rates of mental health conditions, substance use disorders, and suicide attempts. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) , LGBT men and women have a 2.5 times higher rate of mental illness or substance abuse than the heterosexual population. The types of mental health conditions impacting this population also differ. Gay and bisexual men are more likely to experience major depression and panic disorder than heterosexual men. Lesbian and bisexual women are more than 3 times as likely to experience generalized anxiety disorder.

In addition, the CDC reports that LGBT youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, with as many as 25% of transgendered youth attempting suicide. This is often due, in part, to the higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence, and social isolation experienced within this population.

Social workers need to be aware of the disparities in mental health and substance use disorders among the LGBT population so that proper assessment and intervention can take place. Ongoing screening for suicidal ideation or behavior is also of significance, especially for LGBT youth.

As the largest providers of mental health services in the nation, social workers frequently work with individuals across the various spectrums of diversity. This requires us to be skilled in understanding how discrimination, oppression, and public policy all play roles in the lives of our clients. While this may not always be easy, by tapping into your inherent skills as a social worker you can be a champion for your LGBT clients. If you feel overwhelmed by these complexities or find it difficult to understand issues surrounding the LGBT population, start by being a genuine, accepting presence for all your clients. After all, it’s all about love, isn’t it?

LGBTI Children Have the Right to Safety and Equality

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children are often victims of bullying and violence in schools, at home and via social media. This has a serious effect on their well-being and prevents openness about their personal identity. Like all children, LGBTI [i] children are entitled to enjoy human rights and require a safe environment in order to participate fully in society.

Responses to bullying

According to a survey carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), at least 60%  of LGBT respondents had personally experienced negative comments or conduct at school because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 80% had witnessed negative comments or conduct as a result of a schoolmate being perceived as LGBT. Given the frequency of negative behaviour directed at LGBT students, it is not surprising that the survey also found that two out of three LGBT children hid their LGBT identity while at school.

gay_childThis situation is unacceptable. It puts a heavy burden on LGBTI children, many of whom are at high risk of suicidal behaviour. According to an Irish study, over half of LGBT respondents aged 25 or younger had given serious consideration to ending their lives.

It is clear that bullying affects LGBTI children’s educational achievement and impedes their right to education without discrimination, in addition to their right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

School should be a safe environment for all students. The European Court of Human Rights has made it clear that homophobic speech in educational settings is not protected by the European Convention’s guarantees of free expression. Confronting homophobic and transphobic intimidation requires continuous and focused attention from schools and educational authorities. UNESCO and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Youth and Student Organisation (IGLYO) have provided detailed guidance on effective responses. Ireland has introduced legal requirements and a mandatory policy for addressing homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools, along with a concrete action plan.

Right to information

Children have the right to receive factual information about sexuality and gender diversity. Anti-bullying efforts should be supported by education on equality, gender and sexuality. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education has highlighted children’s right to comprehensive sexual education without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is necessary to question stereotypes about gender and sexuality in schools. The European Committee of Social Rights has found a violation of the European Social Charter with reference to teaching materials which were “manifestly biased, discriminatory and demeaning, notably in how persons of non-heterosexual orientation are described and depicted”.

The protection of children is sometimes evoked as an argument to block the availability of information about LGBTI people to children. The Venice Commission has stressed that such arguments fail to pass the essential necessity and proportionality tests required by the European Court. There is no evidence that dissemination of information advocating a positive attitude towards LGBTI people would adversely affect children. Rather, it is in the best interests of children to be informed about sexuality and gender diversity.

Family and homelessness

Many LGBTI children experience prejudice and violence within their own families. The acceptance of LGBTI children is still difficult for many parents and other family members. The FRA survey found out that 35 per cent of young adults were not open about being LGBT within their family.  In Montenegro, I visited a shelter and a social centre for LGBTI persons where I met young people who had been rejected by their families and forced to leave their homes. The NGO running the facility was engaged in mediating between the families and LGBTI persons, and had achieved family reconciliation in some cases.

When they are forced to leave their families, young LGBTI people are at high risk of becoming homeless. Research from the UK suggests that up to 25% of homeless youth are LGBT. The current economic crisis makes it even harder for homeless young people to find a job and shelter. When LGBTI youth cannot rely on the support of their families, the result can be long-term marginalisation with a high cost to individual health and well-being. The Albert Kennedy Trust in the UK runs both temporary shelters and more permanent accommodation options for young LGBTI persons along with social and vocational support. Municipal and state-funded services for homeless people should also strive to welcome homeless LGBTI youth.

Right to self-determination

Trans and intersex children encounter specific obstacles when exercising their right to self-determination. As minors, trans adolescents can find it difficult to access trans-specific health and support services while intersex children are often subjected to irreversible “normalising” treatments soon after birth without their consent. The legal recognition of trans and intersex children’s sex or gender remains a huge hurdle in most countries. Children are rights-holders and they must be listened to in decision-making that concerns them. Sex or gender assigning treatment should be based on fully informed consent.

LGBTI children share many common problems. In their “Vision for 2020, trans and intersex youth in Finland gave high priority to the right to grow up in a safe environment, as well as the right to information. They also stressed “the right to a legally secured life as an equal member of society” and called for inclusive equal treatment legislation.

Empowerment and protection

This vision for the future should be today’s reality. Governments already have a duty to empower and protect LGBTI children. Respect for children’s views and the protection of the best interests of the child are clearly laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Human rights apply equally to LGBTI children without discrimination.

LGBTI children should be able to exercise their participatory rights in all areas of life. Access to information is a basic condition enabling participation and decision-making. At the same time, LGBTI children must be protected from violence and bullying at home, in schools, on the internet, in sports and in public spaces. Child protection services, children’s ombudspersons and the police should make particular efforts to include LGBTI children in their outreach. Governments need to take systematic action to improve the safety and equality of LGBTI children.


[i] This Human Rights Comment is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) children under 18 years of age. The acronym “LGBT” is used when reference is made to research which does not explicitly include intersex people.

Intimate Partner Violence: Power and Control in Same Sex Relationships

Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner
Glory Johnson and Brittney Griner

Over the last few months, we have watched the soap opera called the “Brittney and Glory Show” play out in the media. Once a story about a same-sex couple openly celebrating their love for life, basketball and each other, it has quickly turned into what appears to be a turbulent relationship.

As someone who loves the sport of basketball and actually appreciates the idea of people being comfortable with their self and who they love, it honestly pains me to watch WNBA stars Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury and Glory Johnson of the Tulsa Shock fall apart before our very eyes.

The question is, what makes the “Brittney and Glory Show” so interesting to the media?  Besides the reality of how social media and sensationalized journalism become overly involved in sharing the private lives of celebrities, it’s the drama that violence brings to their otherwise normal relationship.

The truth is that until the domestic violence arrest of both Brittney and Glory, we knew nothing more than they were engaged to be married. So, let me tell you straight, I will not attempt to make assumptions about their relationships by trying to guess who did what or who is guilty of what crime, but I will take this opportunity to shed light on a real issue in intimate partner and same-sex relationships.

Brittney and Glory are not alone in same-sex partner experiencing intimate-partner violence. A study done by the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center reports that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced physical violence throughout their lifetimes and transgendered persons had an incidence of 34.6 percent.

In fact, the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence report, from 2013, one of the first ever to on abuse by sexual orientation found that the lifetime incidence of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner was 43.8 percent for lesbians, 61.1 percent for bisexual women, and 35 percent for heterosexual women, while it was 26 percent for gay men, 37.3 percent for bisexual men, and 29 percent for heterosexual men.  These statistics are horrifying and deserve some attention.

Let’s face it, Brittney and Glory do not exist in a vacuum; this societal myth that only straight women get abused, that men are never victimized, and that women never abuse lead to a continued silence by many in abusive relationships. To put it plainly, domestic violence is not just a straight woman’s issue; the discussion must include all types of relationships, including LGBTQ.

What do you need to remember about Domestic Violence in a LGBTQ relationship? The abuse is about control not just violence; therefore, you would look for the same strategies to gain power and control, as you would in a heterosexual relationship. Remember, abuse can be physical, sexual or emotional abuse, financial control, isolation and more. For more specific examples check out the LGBT Relationship Violence Power and Control Wheel.

If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse you are not alone.

THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE at 1-800-799-7233

THE NATIONAL SEXUAL ASSAULT HOTLINE AT 1-800-656-4673

THE NATIONAL TEEN DATING ABUSE HOTLINE AT 1-866-331-9474

Incorporating Homophobia into the Definition of Elder Abuse

Although many older adults receive necessary support from family, friends, and external agencies, some older adults experience exploitation and abuse. Since there is no universal definition for abuse against older individuals, a broader definition refers to elder abuse and neglect as, “any action or inaction by any person, which causes harm to the older or vulnerable person”.

Abuse of older adults includes physical abuse, psychosocial abuse, financial abuse, neglect (active or passive), institutional abuse and domestic violence. Research indicates that family members instigate much abuse against older individuals. Thus, as a result, many abused older adults suffer in silence, making it extremely challenging to estimate and eliminate abuse cases against older adults.

older lesbian coupleEvery year, approximately 4 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse. Additionally, for every case of elder abuse and neglect reported, researchers estimate that as many as 23 cases are unreported. The quality of life for older adults who experience abuse is significantly altered.

They often experience decreased functional and financial status as well as increased dependency, poor self-rated health, feelings of helplessness and isolation and psychological stress. Older individuals who have been abused also have a lower life expectancy than those who have not been abused even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Shari Brotman, Bill Ryan and Robert Cormier from the McGill School of Social Work wrote an article exploring the experience and realities of gay and lesbian seniors and their families in accessing a broad range of health and social services in the community. It recommends that older lesbian and gay individuals would benefit from homophobia being included in the definition of elder abuse. Also, the article articulates the definition of elder abuse should be expanded to include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation. Individuals often experience intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or shame as a result of identifying as an older lesbian and gay individual, and this discrimination is heightened in elderly individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Lesbian and gay individuals, especially lesbian and gay seniors, have a long history of discrimination and marginalization as a result of identifying as a lesbian or gay individual. Incorporating homophobia into the definition of elder abuse would greatly benefit older adults as it would help them to be further integrated in society instead valued based on their sexual orientation. It would also introduce freedom of harassment and/or reduce injury when sexual orientation is seen as a right.

Although there is a need to include homophobia in the definition of elder abuse, there currently is not a well-developed universal definition of elder abuse. Stigma is embedded within identifying as a lesbian and gay individual but also with being an aging individual.

Therefore, before this policy change can occur, a universal definition of elder abuse should be developed. Policy makers should also consider incorporating ageism as well as oppression against LGBTTQ seniors in the definition of elder abuse as well.

NASW is Failing LGBT Americans

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The year 2014 was filled with significant momentum towards a more equal nation for individuals identifying as LGBT. After dozens of federal court rulings striking down gay marriage bans as unconstitutional, marriage equality became the law in 19 additional states. In a matter of months, more states ushered in marriage equality than in the entire history of the nation. By the end of 2014, a total of 35 states and the District of Columbia were all allowing same-sex individuals to marry the partner they love.

The momentum for change was welcomed by President Obama and the Administration, who changed policies and enacted protections to ensure that married same-sex couples could file taxes jointly, receive Social Security and Veteran’s Administration benefits from their spouse, and take advantage of the nearly 1,200 federal protections and benefits of marriage. The President also issued an Executive Order protecting all 14 million federal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

With this new law, the President advanced the most significant protections for LGBT individuals in the history of our nation. To help craft these protections, the President worked hand-in-hand with major civil rights groups such as the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union, and many others. Groups advocating on behalf of LGBT Americans were offered an unprecedented seat at the table, helping to shape significant civil rights protections for millions of Americans. Noticeably absent from these efforts was the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

The NASW is the national organization that represents the profession of social work, a profession founded on the core mission of advancing social justice and ending discrimination. Embedded throughout the NASW’s Code of Ethics is a clearly outlined ethical responsibility for all social workers to actively engage in social change efforts. In fact, the first two guiding ethical principles of the profession are to “help people in need and to address social problems” and to “challenge social injustice.” But is the NASW practicing what they preach? Have they been on the forefront by fighting for rights of LGBT individuals? Have they led the public discourse on the matter? Have they rallied social workers together to fight for advancement of LGBT rights?

Not in the least. In my opinion, they’ve done something much worse: they’ve remained silent. With all of the advancements in the rights of LGBT individuals last year, there were no statements released by NASW commending any of them. I combed every Facebook post made by NASW in 2014, not a single one of them pertained to LGBT Americans. When I asked the Florida chapter to release a statement on the state becoming the latest to allow same-sex marriages, I was directed to this statement by NASW released 11 years ago. An 11 year old statement is what we call advocacy? Is this how our profession fights for the rights of all people? While the President was passing the first and only anti-discrimination law in our nation’s history, the NASW called out of work. While countless federal courts struck down discriminatory bans on gay rights, NASW was taking a vacation. When asked to release a statement, NASW was on lunch break.

My point in writing this article is simple: it’s time for NASW to get back to work. Social injustices continue to be common place for individuals identifying as LGBT. Opponents continue to fight for laws aimed at disenfranchising and discriminating against individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity. There’s still a lot of work to be done. The rights of individuals and the advancement of our society depend on the hard work and relentless voices of strong advocates. There is no reason NASW couldn’t be the strongest social advocacy organization in the nation, if it so chose.

Equal rights for LGBT Americans can and will be achieved in my lifetime. As a social worker, I’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all individuals as part of my core commitment to the profession. The question is: will NASW be joining me?

NASW Florida released the following statement on Facebook: “NASW-FL congratulates the couples getting married today as we celebrate Florida becoming the 36th state to achieve marriage equality!”

*Update:

Valarie Arendt, member of NASW-NC, posted a response on Facebook stating,

This is 100% not true. NASW has published 9 articles in 2014 alone on LGBTQ issues and the importance of social work support for this community. Just because NASW didn’t use Facebook to communicate their efforts doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The author of this article should have done his research before making such claims.

Valerie, thank you for your comment. I did review the website that you linked to in your comment prior to writing the article. The website lists 2 resources for the year 2014 (“Paying an Unfair Price ” and “A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming”). The first article was “sponsored by NASW” and the later is a document from SAMHSA that was “endorsed by NASW”. If you can send me a link with the 9 articles released in 2014 I will review them and edit my article if needed. I spent quite a bit of time on NASW’s website researching this issue.

The main take-away from my article is not that NASW has never broached LGBT issues, it’s their deafening silence and failure to rally social workers into action when the issue reached a critical turning point over the last year. That’s why I combed their Facebook posts and press releases for the last year. I was looking for statements of support for LGBT advancements, statements condoning discriminatory policies, or calls to action for the social work community. None of which happened.

Endorsing articles is great, but my article is saying that they aren’t doing enough to advocate and promote social change for the LGBT population. In contrast, the APA was constantly engaging their professional community and actively seeking opportunities to advance social justice for the LGBT population. They also don’t hide their many resources on an obscure part of their website. They embrace the work they’re doing with the LGBT populations. Social workers are agents of change.

Editor’s note: The National Association of Social Workers has a national office with chapters in each state as well as US Territories. There have been several amicus briefs (friend of the court filings) on behalf of same sex individuals in various states.

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