Pride beyond the month of june, being an ally to the lgbtqiap+ community
When I first learned of this, I struggled because I thought to myself “Would it be better to ignore the community altogether?”, “Should there not be a Pride Month?”, or “What is the right way to support those who identify LGBTQIAP+?” I don’t know the answers to all these questions but I do think it’s important to find ways to support those in the community throughout the entire year.
One of the most basic ways to convey respect for LGBTQIAP+ individuals is to educate yourself. A simple way to do this is to learn what each of the letters in the LGBTQIAP+ acronym mean. The first few letters are generally well-known to most people but there has recently been an expansion of the acronym to be more inclusive to all members within the community. This can cause confusion for anyone not actively a part of the community. Per the BBC News article “We Know What LGBT means but Here’s What LGBTQQIAAP Stands For” (2015) the following terms are defined as such:
L=Lesbian (a woman who is attracted to other women)G=Gay (a man who is attracted to other men)B=Bisexual (a person who is attracted to both men and women)T=Transgender (an individual whose gender identify is different than the one assigned at birth)Q=Queer (originally used as a hate term, some people want to reclaim the work, while others find it offensive. It can be a political statement, suggest that someone doesn’t want to identify with “binaries” or that they don’t want to label themselves only by their sexual activity.)Q=Questioning (a person who is still exploring their sexuality or gender identity)I=Intersex (a person whose body is not definitively male or female)A=Allies (a person who identifies as straight but supports people in the LGBTQQIAAP community.A=Asexual (a person who is not attracted in a sexual way to people of any gender)P=Pansexual (a person whose sexual attraction is not based up gender and may themselves be fluid when it comes to gender or sexual identity)
Knowing the proper terms and definitions helps to convey that you respect the individuals who comprise the community and have taken the time to educate yourself. This simple act of knowing the terms means that those in the community don’t have to explain it to you, which they have to do often.
Another way to show a respect and desire to support those in the community is to consistently use the correct pronouns when referring to someone who is transgender. Transgender means that someone’s gender identity does not match the gender assigned at birth. Those who identify as transgender may struggle with accepting their true gender as they’ve spent their lives being referred to as either he/him or she/her. Once a person comes out as their true gender, this can be a time of both relief and of crisis. While there has been more openness around sexuality in recent years, gender identity is still a newer concept for most people. Gen Z individuals are really paving the way for appropriate gender expression. This means that those outside of the community or of an older generation may not necessarily understand what is means to be transgender.
Additionally, it’s not only the transgender individual that may struggle with their identify as it’s completely normal for parents to struggle with the loss of their perceived son or daughter to another gender. Those who identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth will most likely change their pronouns to ones that more accurately identify them. They will oftentimes change their name to one that fits better with their gender or to a gender neutral name. One simple way to support transgender individuals is to use the appropriate pronouns and to use the name they’ve identified they wish to be called. To purposely say the incorrect pronouns is known as misgendering. Also, those who are transgender often refer to their name given at birth as their “dead name.” It can be highly offensive and damaging to misgender or purposely call someone by their “dead name.”
As a professional who works with LGBTQIAP+ individuals, I want my office to convey that I am a safe person to talk with about sexuality and gender. It can be difficult for someone coming to therapy to know whether their therapist is an ally and whether they are safe to discuss their identity. One way that therapists, and other professionals, can non-verbally convey this to their clients is by having LGBTQIAP+ decoration in their offices. There are flags, stickers, signs, etc that can be purchased and put in one’s office to identify that this is an LGBTQIAP+ safe environment. Intake forms can be made to be inclusive and ask the prospective client what gender they identify with and their sexual orientation. And in talking with individuals it’s important to use inclusive language and not language that is heteronormative. Heteronormative language is that which assumes or promotes heterorsexuality as a preferred or normal sexual orientation. In a conversation this might look like speaking to a male-identifying individual and assuming that he has a wife/girlfriend or speaking with a female-identifying individual and assuming she has a husband/boyfriend. It is important until you know someone’s sexuality and gender identification to use terms like “partner” or to ask how someone identifies if they’re willing to share.
There is so much more to be said about this topic and those that are better equipped to speak about it. It is important though to remember that LGBTQIAP+ is not a mental health issue. Those in the community do not have a mental illness because of their sexuality or gender identity. However, those in the community do struggle with mental health issues, including suicidality at a higher rate than their cis gender, heterosexual peers. In fact, according to The Trevor Project Website “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people age 10-24 and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth are at a significantly increased risk”, and “LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers.” It is important to note that this is likely due to the discrimination and lack of acceptance they face. It is also important to know how to support someone struggling with mental health issues who also happens to be part of the LGBTQIAP+ community. There are specific organizations dedicated to providing support, education and advocacy for those in the community. The ones provided at the end of this article include the Trevor Project aimed at helping reduce suicide risk among LGBTQIAP+ youth, PFLAG which stands for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and GLAAD which stands for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
The Trevor Project- www.thetrevorproject.orgPFLAG-https://pflag.orgGLAAD- www.glaad.org
Colleen Blake, LCPC Ext. 321