Why U.S. Government Agencies Need Comprehensive Policies For Employees With Various Gender Identities

Sex and gender identities are becoming increasingly complex in America, creating new challenges for public administrative agencies. So far, the vast majority of U.S. federal agencies lack comprehensive transgender employee policies – which are currently in place for only nine of approximately 235 federal agencies (including sub-agencies).

Yet as the workforce evolves, federal employment policy must accommodate the needs of employees who do not fit traditional sex and gender categories – and particular attention needs to be paid to formulating policies specifying the responsibilities of employers when their employees undergo transitions meant to shift their anatomy or appearance to align with their gender identity.

What Should a Transgender Policy Include?

Employee policies specifically fashioned by agencies to deal with transgender issues should, at a minimum, cover matters that arise when employees undergo transition processes; restrooms and locker rooms; dress codes; and the use of proper names and pronouns. Many benefits come from transgender-specific employee policies. Such measures can educate supervisors and coworkers about what to expect when someone transitions in the workplace and, by providing protocols to follow, help supervisors and coworkers become more comfortable with and supportive of workplace transitions.

Transgender employees also benefit and gain a sense of security when specific policies are in place. Each federal agency should create its own internal set of transgender-relevant policies, to educate all employees and help transgender employees understand their rights and know where to go for assistance. More can be said about each of the major issues a good policy needs to address.

When Employees Go through Transitions

In the absence of a comprehensive transgender policy, most agencies are left unprepared when employees change their anatomy or appearance to align with their felt gender identity. An effective way to prepare for such processes is to spell out the agency’s workplace transition protocol. Without such an explicit plan, transgender employees who want to transition do not know where to go to begin the process or where they can find answers about what a transition might entail for an agency employee. Additionally, without a standard set of practices, agencies do not know what is required to change all applicable records. Confusion can leave transgender employees scrambling to deal with many different record changes. Submitting requests and medical records to many places can be unnecessarily cumbersome and intrusive.

Plans for Restrooms and Locker Rooms

One aspect of transgender employee policy that has garnered significant attention – and sometimes controversy – is the issue of who uses which restrooms and locker-rooms. A key example comes from North Carolina’s “House Bill 2” that banned individuals from using public restrooms that do not correspond to their biological sex assigned at birth. The United States Department of Justice declared this law in violation of Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013.

Openly transgender employees have, at times, been discouraged or outright or prohibited from using the restroom or locker room that correspond to their gender identities. Many federal employees use a locker room to change into their uniforms or when they enter the agency gym. Additionally, some jobs, like those in the Forest Service, necessitate the use of showers in the locker room. Existing open-shower floor plans in many facilities may not afford transgender individuals a sense of privacy and safety that everyone should have in their workplace. Inside particular workplaces, conflicts and awkward situations can often be headed off by spelling out clear guidelines for appropriate restroom and locker-room use by all employees, including transgender individuals.

Flexible Dress Codes

A comprehensive transgender policy could also resolve problems related to dress codes. Overall, transgender individuals should be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity; failure to do so could cause harm to their mental health. Obviously, this applies to employees who have gone through transitions. In addition, although dress code policies often assume that all individuals fall into a female-male binary; many individuals identify in non-binary ways.  Someone who identifies as gender neutral, for example, may not fit into sex-specific dress codes.

Because it is discriminatory for employers to force transgender people to conform to gender norms, an agency-specific transgender policy should articulate dress and grooming standards that allow employees to dress and groom in ways that are consistent with varied gender identities. The policy should state that no employee will be required to dress and groom in conformance with a particular sex or gender stereotype.

Respectful Use of Proper Names and Pronouns

Another concern to be addressed is the proper use of the name and pronoun corresponding to a transgender individual’s gender identity. After a person transitions, managers and coworkers often use the wrong name and pronoun. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found in 2013 that the intentional and repeated misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and pronoun could harm the employee and thus substantiate a claim of sex-based discrimination and harassment. A further issue is that agencies often have no policy about pronoun use for individuals who request designations other than the traditional “he,” “she,” “him,” or “her.”

When coworkers refuse to use the correct pronoun for a transgender colleague it is disrespectful. The Office of Personnel Management should expand the definition of “transgender” to include gender non-binary employees and clearly communicate this definition to agencies. Transgender policies for each agency should include clear guidelines indicating that all employees – including transgender, non-binary, and other gender non-conforming employees – are entitled, both verbally and in writing, to be called by their preferred name and pronouns.

Read more in Nicole M. Elias, “Constructing and Implementing Transgender Policy for Public Administration” Administration and Society 49 no. 1, (2017): 20-47.

#WhenWeAllVote Wants You to Vote and Check Your Registration Status

The upcoming midterm election may be one of the most consequential elections ever for women and minorities. Record numbers of women, LGBTQ, and people of color are running for office in this election cycle.

According to the website blackwomeninpolitics.com, a record 397 black women are running for office in 2018. In places like Harris County, Texas the number of Latino candidates has gone up by more than 40% since the 2014 midterms. There is such an increase in LGBTQ candidates that it has been labeled the “Rainbow Wave.” While the diversity of candidates has gone up, there still remain many obstacles to voting.

In Florida, it’s estimated that “since the 2000 election, thousands of truly eligible voters have been removed from the state’s voter rolls, and many didn’t find out until election day,” according to Deborah Cupples a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of an Ohio law purging voter rolls. 

In places like New York and Alabama, there is no early voting, absentee voters must provide an explanation as to why they couldn’t vote in person, and there isn’t automatic voter registration. Further, it’s been documented that in places which require photo ID, like Alabama and Texas, it discourages minorities from voting.

When We All Vote is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization with the aim of registering voters and getting them to the poles in the face of such obstacles. The organization seeks to bring together “citizens, institutions, and organizations to spark a conversation about our rights and responsibilities in shaping our democracy.”

The organization’s co-chairs are a diverse collection of celebrities including, most prominently, Michelle Obama. She wants us to understand the importance of the upcoming midterms.

Other co-chairs include Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Faith Hill recently hosted a When We All Vote Event in Nashville.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “This is a high-stakes mission. You’ll be asked to do big things between now and November. We’ll arm you with the information you need — like candidate scorecards, registration deadlines, your polling locations, as well as ways to take action — so that you’re heard and counted. But you won’t be alone — millions of people across our country will line up side-by-side with us to take back our democracy and vote like our rights depend on it. Together is the only way we’ll win.”

Don’t let the proliferation of fake news create apathy and cynicism. It is possible to make a difference. So don’t sit this one out. Democracy only works When We All Vote.

Contact your local Supervisor of Elections to check your registration status and for poll locations.

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.

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.

LGBTQ+ Individuals at High Risk to Be Victims of Violence

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are at high risk for being victims of physical and sexual assault, harassment, bullying, and hate crimes, according to a new study by RTI International.

In a newly published report, funded by RTI, RTI researchers analyzed 20 years’ worth of published studies on violence and the LGBTQ+ community, which included 102 peer-reviewed papers as well as a few unpublished analyses and non-peer-reviewed papers. With The Henne Group, RTI also carried out a series of focus-group discussions with LGBTQ+ communities in San Francisco; New York City; Durham, North Carolina; and rural Wyoming.

“Our research indicates that LGBTQ+ people face significant danger in their daily lives – and that their victimization affects their education, safety, and health,” said Tasseli McKay, a social scientist at RTI and the study’s lead author.

The researchers found that in a range of studies with LGBTQ+ individuals, victimization experiences are clearly and consistently correlated with behavioral health conditions and suicidality, sexual risk-taking and HIV status, other long-term physical health issues, and decreased school involvement and achievement. Such effects are often sustained many years after a victimization event.

The focus groups touched on a variety of topics including bullying, hate crimes, harassment and violence.

A transgender participant in a focus group held in Durham, North Carolina said, “Once you’ve been read as being a trans person, you check out, they check out. For us it’s safety. For them, it’s discomfort. It’s a heightened stigmatization.”

Other key findings from the report include:

-Despite a public perception of greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in present-day society, disparities in victimization have remained the same or increased since the 1990s.

-Schools are a special concern. Many LGBTQ+ youth reported being afraid or feeling unsafe at school, and school-based victimization of LGBTQ+ youth was associated with decreased school attendance, poorer school performance, and steeply increased risk of suicide attempts.

-Contradicting the common perception of hate-related victimization as being committed by strangers or acquaintances, LGBTQ+ people are often victimized by close family members, particularly their own parents and, for bisexual women, their male partners.

“We need more research to better understand what policies will provide LGBTQ+ youth with safer school and home environments, what resources provide LGBTQ+ people who are victims of violence the best support and how we can ultimately create a larger societal climate that doesn’t tolerate persistent, pervasive, lifelong victimization,” McKay said.

New Research Shows Split on How People Consider Transgender Rights Issues

Photo: AP

The Trump administration in late February withdrew Obama administration federal protections for transgender students that would allow them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity.

Transgender activists protested outside the White House. With two presidents essentially taking opposite stances on the issue within a year, it is obvious how polarizing transgender rights policies have become, said a University of Kansas researcher of partisanship and American politics.

“For as hotly contested as transgender rights are for some people, we don’t know a lot about how Americans think about this set of issues and what shapes those attitudes,” said Patrick Miller, a KU assistant professor of political science. “We don’t have a very rich understanding about how average people think about transgender rights.”

Miller was lead author of a new study measuring attitudes on transgender rights issues that found significant support for protection of general civil rights for transgender people — like equal access to military service, employment and housing non-discrimination laws. However, public opinion is more divided on policies that relate to the body and gender roles, such as people being able to choose which public restroom to use based on one’s gender identity or the ability to change one’s sex on a state-issued driver’s license.

“On traditional civil rights debates, people are more liberal on those issues when it comes to transgender people,” Miller said. “On policies that are more body-related, such as physical changes and physical presentation of gender, all of which are more specific to the transgender community, more Americans seem to differentiate those and can be more conservative on those questions. People don’t see all transgender rights questions equally.”

The journal Politics, Groups, and Identities recently published the study online. The article, “Transgender politics as body politics: effects of disgust sensitivity and authoritarianism on transgender rights attitudes,” includes Don Haider-Markel, chair and professor of the KU Department of Political Science, as a co-author, and the research team has completed a series of studies on transgender politics that will appear in a variety of journals this year.

Miller said regarding body-centric policy questions — such as questions about public restroom choice, or whether Medicare or health insurance companies should be required to pay for gender reassignment surgery or hormone therapy — those most opposed are people who report having a higher tendency to feel disgusted in general, though not specifically about transgender people. Also, more opposed are those who score higher on a psychological trait called “authoritarianism,” which represents a higher need for order or to see the world in black-and-white terms. These individuals may place greater value on conforming to traditional social norms.

The researchers found those traits outweighed factors such as partisanship, ideology, and demographics in shaping attitudes about transgender rights, he said.

The findings would make sense given that much of the controversy surrounding debates at the federal level and in state legislatures have centered around transgender rights policies such as public restrooms, identity on driver’s licenses, and coverage for medical procedures.

“For many Americans, when they think about transgender people, their mind is on the body and how that defines transgender people in some ways, and maybe how that makes them different in some ways,” Miller said.

The study could provide insight for transgender rights advocates. Oftentimes it is communicated that it is taboo or offensive to discuss issues surrounding the body and transgender people, such as how someone dresses or how someone is undergoing medical transformations to their body.

“Certainly, I understand people have the attitude that it is ‘none of your business’ or ‘why would you ask that?'” Miller said. “But I think the implication of our research is that the evidence points toward the body being a major consideration that people have. So, if you want to lead society in a more accepting direction on things like the bathroom debate, you might be doing yourself more harm than good to not engage with questions about the body and to shut down those questions and discussions.”

Researchers consider the transgender population to be around 0.5 percent of the American population, and it’s likely most people won’t have direct contact with a transgender person, he said. However, as mass media news coverage and depictions of characters in popular culture becomes more common, that could influence how people think about the minority group. That also could spur more people to become curious and ask more questions about the transgender community, spurring some of those conversations that might be seen as taboo, he said.

“That’s an area where engagement may be uncomfortable for some people,” Miller said, “but it could be beneficial if you want people to be more sympathetic and understanding of the experiences that transgender people have.”

Danielle King: A Champion for the Disabled and LBGTQA Youth

Danielle King: Master’s Degree Student at Rutgers School of Public Health

Danielle King’s deep concern for the well-being of others was nurtured back in elementary school as she cared for a blind and deaf classmate and was more clearly defined later when she came out as gay in middle school.

“It wasn’t cool to be gay,” she says. “My peers called me names and made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t understand why someone would want to hurt me.”

The challenges she faced in her youth made King stronger and motivated her to become an advocate for others.

Today, King, a former U.S. Marine, is nearing completion of a master’s degree at Rutgers School of Public Health and also making plans to help homeless LGBTQA teens and young adults.

She volunteers as assistant chair of community outreach for Disability Allies, an East Brunswick nonprofit that pairs young adults with disabilities with mentors. King’s advocacy for challenged individuals traces back to an elementary school program that paired handicapped students with non-disabled classmates during lunch.

It became a life-changing moment when she discovered that the girl next door was both blind and deaf and could use a friend. “I started taking her to the park after school and realized that disabled people needed involvement and interaction,” she says. She sought opportunities to work with the disabled community, such as teaching children with disabilities to swim.

At 18, she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years, including a one-year deployment to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst. “Serving as a Marine made me more confident,” she says. “I realized I could overcome any obstacle.”

When she entered the military, she formed a group of LGBTQ women and men near her base in North Carolina. “This was during the time of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which really put me in the closet,” she says. “I found many people had similar stories about coming out to their families at a young age. That’s when it hit me that we needed a voice.”

Her service completed, she enrolled in Middlesex Community College, where she learned about careers in public health. “I started taking classes and thought, ‘Oh, this is exactly what I want to do: Get into the grassroots of the issues that plague our community,” she recalls.

In 2014, she transferred to Rutgers to finish her degree in public health and became a health activist. Volunteering with the Health Outreach, Promotion and Education (H.O.P.E.) peer education program, she taught fellow students about substance abuse and encouraged them to pledge to be designated drivers. She continues her work in improving community health by working as a HIV counselor and tester at Hyacinth AIDS Foundation.

A 2016 internship at the Monmouth County Regional Health Commission assisting the registered environmental health specialist solidified King’s interest in another form of helping others – environmental advocacy. She thrived on helping to inspect landfills and ensuring residences were up to code. “I was hooked,” she says. “I realized the importance of regulation in taking care of the earth and personal health.”

She accompanied her supervisor to the New Jersey State House and testified on behalf of a proposed bill to raise the legal smoking age to 21. “I had worked with the health specialist on progressing the bill,” she says. “One of the legislators in opposition kept asserting that young people in the military should be able to smoke if they wanted to, so I offered to testify as a veteran who supported the bill. Even though it was vetoed, I still feel passionately that the smoking age should be raised.”

Her sights are now set on joining the CDC in Atlanta, where she hopes to establish a nonprofit joint venture with her wife, Jahari Shears, fulfilling a dream to support the LGBTQA community. Shears shares King’s excitement for improving communities; she will graduate with her bachelor’s of science degree in public health from Rutgers in May.

“We want to be the adults teenagers can look up to if they don’t have that support at home. We want to provide a place for them to go and assist them with enrolling in college or finding employment,” she says. “I want to share with them what I learned as a Marine: When you feel like you’re hitting a block, say ‘I’ve got this.’ It’ll give them the energy to keep pushing.”

Social Movements Rise From Need

After the election, I felt a sense of dread. This isn’t so much of a political statement as it is a sense that we just chose a colder and less compassionate way to deal with our nation’s citizens. What’s helping me pull out of this sense of disappointment is watching the human response. I remember hearing Mr. Rogers say, During a catastrophe, look to those who help. This is a way of pivoting our focus from tragic situations to the beauty of humans who come to the aid of the needy. And after the election, this is what I’ve been able to see.

People are standing up for injustice with more conviction and energy than before. People are banding together, creating movements and symbols to show that those who are marginalized will not be victimized, at least not without backlash. Protesters have been filling the streets across the country, showing that they will not be silent as their civil liberties are threatened. A safety pin campaign has arisen to show support for the vulnerable.

I know it might sound Pollyanna, but it is important to understand that big solutions come from big ideas and big ideas come from big opportunities. What Trump and his cabinet appointments provide is a big opportunity. This is particularly true, because he isn’t trying to sneak his destructive forces under the radar. He is boldly bragging about how he is appointing Scott Pruitt, the man who is suing the EPA, to lead it. He appointed the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, to be Secretary of State. His nominee for Secretary of Education wants to dismantle the school system. This knowledge allows us to move early and get out in front of the issues.

Social justice happens usually in opposition to oppression and not because people just wake up decide to do the right thing. This new president and his cabinet appointments are stirring the pot in such a way that our citizens are becoming more active and less apathetic. Even though I would never root for a tyrannical government in order to create an engaged citizenry, I am optimistic this action and reaction can become a catalyst for real, sustained and important change in our society.

The forces of dissent become particularly powerful when activated because those in need are often living in the margins of our society and lack representation. That is, until more and more of us identify as being in the margins. Then, un-advocated for groups can find some safety in numbers. Non-Muslims begin wearing safety pins showing that they won’t allow bullying. Staggering numbers of people in need of mental health care can come out of the shadows, particularly when they feel like they are not alone. The LGTBQ community can know they are not alone in the margins and they have strength and support in numbers.

These are the forces of society that create cohesion and move social justice forward. Because of  increasing awareness and activation, I am invigorated instead of depressed by the daily news of more cronies being tapped to fill cabinet positions and take our country backwards. We have a great challenge in front of us, and it will require great resolve.

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.

Love Wins in the Wake of the Orlando Shootings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HB2: Ignites A Civil War Over Bathrooms

LorettaLynchLS

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:

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.

LGBTQ Services for Youth

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Young People (YP) are specially categorized when it comes to health and social services, and there are specific qualifications and trainings that enhances practitioners’ skills and approaches when working with youth. The category itself brings up key issues regarding sensitive subjects and complex psychoemotional, cognitive and social situations and processes that young people will experience thought the youth course of life. However, a developing area of youth services, which still faces many challenges, is LGBTQ services.

It is quite common for those services not be communicated well to the potential service users if they exist. In other words, such options of support are not promoted fairly for the people who might find use for them. Even though health services are installed within institutions (e.g. colleges), the LGBTQ subject area is not “obvious” and therefore provides a miss the opportunity to engage with LGBTQ youth.

Perpetuated stereotypes in our society tend to define which services young people can access. It is not unusually for youth to desire social belong among self-socially-accepted groups absent diverse environment. Most importantly, peer groups or family dynamics often become a critical reason why youths may not use such services due to the stigma and discrimination they might experience.

As long as young people feel intimidated by such potential outcomes, LGBTQ youth will continue to face dismal outcomes as relates to homelessness and suicide. According to an article in the Huffington Post on US statistics,

On a national level, the suicide risk for gay and lesbian youth is far higher than for straight young people, according to a 2011 study by the Massachusetts-based Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The study also found that gays and lesbians between the ages of 15 and 24 are up to three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and up to seven times more likely to report having attempted suicide than their straight counterparts. Read More

More action is needed in creating and maintaining better policies and programs to produce an environment where young people may express themselves on a non-judgmental ground. There is lack of sources and information regarding integrated support services with educational institutions, which are the main socialization environments for young people teenagehood to early adulthood. This alone should be a primary motivator to increase protective factors and reduce risks in young people lives during the early stages.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t3vfQIJ-zk

Domestic Violence Services for Same Sex Couples

In late June of 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States of America made history by legalizing marriage equality for all people within its borders. Even though it is a great moment in history, it may also highlight the challenges and barriers LGBTQ couples and families face in seeking treatment and services for domestic violence.

Domestic violence, also termed intimate partner violence, can be an all too real and very dangerous circumstance of dating and marriage for some individuals. The possible dangers do not change just because it is a same-sex relationship or marriage.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-18-at-2.08.31-PMThere are many domestic violence and women’s centers across America that mainly help heterosexual women and their children escape violent family situations. Many of these centers state they also help heterosexual men in abusive situations and would help LGBTQ individuals seeking services if requested.

However, some of these centers do not openly advertise their help for heterosexual men and LGBTQ individuals, and they may be protected from having to provide services to LGBTQ individuals due to religious freedoms laws being passed in various states around the country.

In 2005, The Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services shared a study by Stephen Owens and Tod Burke on intimate partner violence of same-sex couples. The criteria for this study was use of physical force, withholding financial gain, psychological (name calling, manipulation, threats), and engagement in forced and unwanted sexual activity. For more specific examples of abuse, you can check out the LGBT Relationship Violence Power and Control Wheel. The study group contained sixty-six individuals (50% of each gender) of which 56% had admitted to experiencing one or more forms of intimate partner violence.

The prevalence of domestic violence in a sample of 33 men and 33 women currently or previously in same-sex relationships was assessed. Data were collected through a mail survey in the state of Virginia. Of 1000 surveys sent out 66 usable ones were returned (response rate = 6.6%). Analysis indicated that 34 had experienced some form of domestic violence, but significant differences between male and female respondents were not detected. When data from this same-sex sample were compared with those of the heterosexual sample of the National Violence Against Women Survey, intimate partner assault may be more prevalent against gay men than against heterosexual men, but there was no significant difference between lesbians and heterosexual females. Read More

Federal non-discrimination laws and policies aim to prevent agencies from denying or failing to provide services to individuals in a  protected class such as race, gender, religion, etc.  However, LGBTQ individuals have not yet been given federal nondiscrimination protection which has been relegated to state or local bodies to extend protection.

Even though a domestic abuse center claims they will help LGBTQ individuals who are in abusive relationships, there really is no guarantee they will help without a non-discrimination clause against discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Adding these two areas to any and all non-discrimination policies will give LGBTQ individuals the added security they need when seeking services instead of fearing discrimination based on who they love.

Marriage equality is still controversial, and it will take time for some people to get used to the expanded definition of marriage, but nothing should be offensive about another person needing help. Just as everyone should be entitled to marry the person they love, everyone should be entitled to help when they need it.

Oklahoma Restaurant Owner Refuses to Serve Minorities, Gays, & Disabled Customers

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

In Enid, Oklahoma, outrage has spurred over claims that a restaurant owner refuses to serve those with disabilities, African Americans, Latinos, and those who are LGBTQ.  Gary James, the man behind the controversy, has proclaimed that he has the right to deny service how he sees fit.

James is the owner of Gary’s Chicaros, a restaurant and bar that has been in business for over four decades.  James’ establishment has acquired a reputation due to his views about certain groups, and his discriminatory practices against members within those groups.

Person Holding Knife & ForkMatt Gard was a patron at James’ restaurant for years, and was well aware of James’ views about certain groups.  Gard had ignored James’ antics until he found himself a victim of his bigotry.  Gard stated that he was recently denied service at the restaurant because he is a person with a disability.

James claims that Gard caused a scene, which is why he is no longer welcomed at his establishment.  Gard shared his experience on a Facebook page where over 140 people had left comments about James’ discriminatory conduct.

I wanted to share a few statements James provided for an interview on KFOR-TV News Channel 4 in Oklahoma City.  From his statements, James stands steadfastly behind his actions, and is unapologetic about his views:

I’ve been in business 44 years.  I think I can spot a freak or a “f-word.”  [Offensive gay slur]

I don’t deal with these people walking down the street with no jobs on welfare.

If I reached over there and slapped the s**t out of you, you should be offended.  But to call someone a “c-word” [offensive racial slur] or someone call me a bigot, that doesn’t bother me.

I really don’t want gays around.  Any man that would compromise his own body would compromise anything.

Well if you work, you own a business, pay your taxes, you’re more than welcome here.  If you’re on welfare, stay at home and spend my money, there.

(Excerpts from KFOR-TV’s interview with Gary James.)

Learning about this story perturbed me not because a person with a disability was discriminated against, but the mere fact that Matt Gard, and countless others, had failed to challenge James’ offensive practices for years.  It upset me that Gard finally took a stand when he was targeted by James.  Regardless of your racial, ability, gender, or orientation background, when one person or group is targeted, we are ALL affected by the ills of hatred and discrimination.

When we chose to ignore or remain silent in the face of bigotry, our inaction sends the message that the offender has our support. The failure to take proactive measures does not just occur in small towns like Enid, they occur throughout our nation.  We cannot continue to support individuals or businesses who openly offend one or several groups of people.  It is our responsibility to report such incidences and refuse to spend our money at those establishments; those kind of acts speak volumes, and cannot be ignored by the violators.

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of Pimphop.)

The Story of LGBTQIA: What Do All These Letters Really Mean

Genderbread-2.1

LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQIA…..In previous articles, I have used several of these acronyms, and  I want to use this article as a way to clarify what they all mean. I know sometimes the alphabet soup can be a bit confusing, but hopefully this will break it down for you. Let’s go!

Lesbian: A female-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another female-identified person.

Gay: A male-identified person who is attracted romantically, physically, or emotionally to another male-identified person.

Bisexual: Individuals who are attracted to both men and women romantically, physically, or emotionally.

Transgender: Individuals whose biological sex is different than the gender with which they identify. Sometimes the term “born in the wrong body” is used, however, this depends on the individual’s preference.

Transsexual: Transsexual individuals have physically altered their body in order to better match their gender identity. It is a term that refers to biology, not to identity necessarily, and it is indicative of a change in one’s physiology.

Queer: queer is an all-inclusive term referencing lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transpeople, and intersex persons.

*It was previously a derogatory term in the 1980s, however, it has currently been reclaimed when referring to the LGBTQIA community. Queer attempts to reject the idea that the labels of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are able to explain any one person’s identity.

Intersex: Someone whose physical sex characteristics are not categorized as exclusively male or exclusively female.

Asexual: A person who is not attracted to anyone or does not have a sexual orientation.

Ally: A person who does not identify as LGBTQIA but supports the rights and safety of those who do.

In my previous article ENDA, I spoke briefly about the differences between sexual orientation and gender. I find the Ginger Bread Person to be a very useful tool to provide interventions and education to both clients and individuals in the community. The following link is an additional resource that will help clarify any additional questions you may have regarding gender and sexuality. Here is a preview:

Love the Genderbread Person? Then you’re going to love the book I wrote. It’s called The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender, and it’s a couple hundred pages of awesome – Sam Killermann

Download Genderbread PDF

North Carolina LGBTQ Blogger Signs Off

A jolt was sent through the LGBT blogosphere when the groundbreaking lesbian blogger, Pam Spaulding, “blogmistress” of Pam’s House Blend, announced this week that after 9 years she is closing down her blog on July 1. One of the first LGBT political blogs to rapidly rise in the early years of political bloggers, Spaulding had become a must-read for political junkies and LGBT people across the country, offering her perspective as a black lesbian living in North Carolina, far beyond the big cities in the North and West Coast that dominate LGBT politics.

Initially blogging in 2004 due to frustration of the state of politics under President George W. Bush Pam became ranked in the top 50 progressive political blogs. Michael Rogers, editor and publisher of gay blog PageOneQ.com (now Raw Story Media) noted:

“Pam is certainly the most important lesbian blogger in America. She’s a lesbian in a gay blogging world that is overwhelmingly gay men. She’s a blogger as a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated world and she’s of color and the internet is so skewed to the privileged.” Read More…

pamshouseblend
Courtesy PamsHouseBlend

Over the years Pam has acquired several milestones and awards…

  • Performed the first-ever live-blogging events for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s annual dinner in May 2006 and the National Black Justice Coalition’s Second Annual Black Church Summit in March 2007.
  • Landed exclusive interviews with the first openly gay man to run for the U.S. Senate, Jim Neal, as well as the only out lesbian serving in Congress, Tammy Baldwin.
  • In 2006 received Distinguished Achievement Award from The Monette-Horwitz Trust for making significant contributions toward the eradication of homophobia.
  • Named one of Huffington Post’s Ultimate Game Changers in Politics in 2009
  • Provided commentary on CNN during the 2008 presidential election cycle
  • Honored with the 2009 Women’s Media Center Award for Online Journalism
  • Received the 2009 Courage Award from the New York City Anti-Violence Project “for the significant contributions you have made to raising awareness about anti-violence work.
  • In 2009 selected as one of the OUT 100 for the year.
  • 2010, named one of TheGrio’s 15 LGBT leaders of tomorrow
  • 2010: held the first-ever candidate liveblogs on LGBT issues with all the Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina.
  • 2011: GLAAD Media Awards: Nominated for the inaugural Best Blog prize
  • Honored in 2012 by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network for Black History Month: Black Heroes of the LGBT Movement
  • In 2012 honored with the Bob Page Equality Champion Award by the Equality NC Foundation for online and offline work against Amendment One, the ballot initiative that bans legal recognition of same-sex couples.

The cause is not forgotten, a new channel debuts on FireDogLake.com(FDL), Justice For All, that will take on many of the same issues covered by PamsHouseBlend. Pam is still interactive online and can be reached on facebook, twitter, and google plus.

Listen below as Pam explains why she has chosen to close her blog:

https://soundcloud.com/siriusxmentertainment/signorile-pams-house-blend

A How To on Health Care for LGBTQ

The United State’s system of health care continues its progression in providing all-inclusive services since the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Monday, July 1st, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued an official policy announcement declaring same-sex partners be given equal visitation rights at long-term care facilities regardless of their marital status. This new guidance policy applies to all long-term care health facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding to include nursing homes and hospice facilities.

How does this affect agencies and staff?

Now that medical facilities are encouraged to be more inclusive of LGBTQ individuals and families, agencies are encouraged to evaluate existing programs and services as well as staff support.

A useful tool that can be used by agencies is the Health Equality Index (HEI) developed by the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GALMA). The HEI measures the effectiveness of services provided to LGBTQ individuals.

2012 Health Equality Index Leader
Courtesy Human Rights Campaign

The HEI tests for the “core four”

  1. Patient Non-Discrimination
  2. Equal Visitation
  3. Employment Non-Discrimination
  4. Training in LGBT Patient-Centered Care

Responses to these questions are returned to the participating agencies in a comprehensive document for their use in service planning.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius describes the HEI as “an important tool for making sure LGBT individuals and families are treated with the same respect and care in these situations as anyone else.  It shines a light on what our country’s health institutions are doing to better serve LGBT patients.  And it’s very encouraging to see more institutions being recognized as “Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality.” Read More…

Participating organizations reap several benefits including free online training for staff at all levels,a customized needs assessment for planning, as well as featured status in the HEI report as Equality Leaders.

Registration is free and open to all healthcare organizations in the U.S. with ten or more employees, whether inpatient or outpatient, network or individual facility.

The following are some Suggestions for Medical Staff interacting with LGBTQ Patients:

  • Assumptions: Do not assume the sexual identity or orientation of your patient please ask in a proper manner.
  • Education: Learning about LGBTQ sexuality and sexual practices will allow healthcare providers to better assess patients’ support.
  • Language: Be aware of the language used as well as cultural nuances of the LGBTQ population, including celebrations of the community such as gay pride, symbols that are representative such as rainbow flags and pink triangles and terms like butch, femme, dyke, and queer.
  • Communication: Properly educate patients about the effect of illnesses and medical treatments on sexuality.
  • Compassion: Provide sensitive and compassionate service, if uncomfortable with learning about a patient’s sexuality be honest and let a patient know.
  • Respect: Be respectful of a patient and the information they are sharing, this includes confronting coworkers of inappropriate comments.

Federal Benefits after DOMA

On Friday June 28, 2013, a memorandum was issued from the United States Office of Personnel Management(OPM) in response to the repeal of DOMA . This memorandum simply highlights federal employee benefits that are now available to married gay and lesbian couples.

medium_8612879161These now include changes to:

  • Health insurance(FEHB):
  • Life insurance (FEGLI)
  • Dental and Vision(FEDVIP)
  • Longterm Care Insurance (FLTCIP)
  • Retirement
  • Flexible Spending Accounts

According to the OPM, employees and annuitants will have 60 days from June 26, 2013 until August 26, 2013, to make immediate changes to their insurance  enrollments.

Those seeking retirement benefits will have two years from the date of the Supreme Court’s decision to tell the OPM of their marriage which now qualifies for recognition and elect any changes to their retirement benefits based on their recognized marital status.

View OSP memorandum by Elain Kaplan:

[gview file=”http://www.govexec.com/media/gbc/docs/pdfs_edit/062813e2.pdf”]

 

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