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by Adam Maurer, LPC Intern, LMFT Associate, LGBT and couples therapist
A Peek At The Gay Agenda
After a wonderful pride week, we wanted to take a closer look at LGBT issues. We have a great deal to celebrate this year. Last June the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality is now the law of the land. Same gender loving folks are able to get hitched in every state, even those big square ones in the middle where birds drop from the sky because there is nothing for them to perch on for miles; I want to say Oklahansas? And while this is a momentous occasion, one that will be remembered for all of American history to follow, we still have a long way to go to bring equality to our nation.
It would be tempting to stop advocating for equality. In my own life, my marriage to a hot little biscuit ( also known as my husband) is now legal in Texas. The siren song of Netflix could easily entice us to cozy up on our couch with our pooch and enjoy each other. We both work for organizations that are LGBTQ+ affirming and most unsupportive fiends and family have long left us to our “sinful lifestyle.” (Side note: A sexual orientation is not a “lifestyle”, being a Jimmy Buffett “Parrot Head”, that is a lifestyle.) All in all, it would be comfortable for him and I to enjoy a quiet life far away from the daily injustices that continue in our queer community. And though it sounds wonderful, it wouldn’t be. There are too many people in my tribe suffering to be complacent, so let’s look at some of the areas where we still need to advocate for our community.
LGBTQ+ people in Texas, and many other states, lack protection from workplace discrimination. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s website:
There is no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination; there are no state laws in 29 states that explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, and in 32 states that do so based on gender identity. As a result, LGBT people face serious discrimination in employment, including being fired, being denied a promotion and experiencing harassment on the job.
This is a great burden for our tribe. For a moment, imagine how productive you might be in your workplace if you had to choose between constantly hiding a part of yourself, or living authentically all the while knowing that you’re risking your livelihood. And for people reading this who are thinking: “yeah, but I don’t tell my co-workers about the sex I have, why do LGBTQ+ people want to flaunt it,” please consider this: Every time you tell a story about what you did on the weekend with your spouse and kids, you are flaunting your sexuality. When you hang up the new Christmas photos of your family in your cubical, you are flaunting your sexuality. When you bring your wife or husband to the company picnic, you are flaunting your sexuality. Sexuality is about much more than sex, it is about relationships.
Gender identity has even less workplace protections in our country. The lack of protections for gender non-conforming individuals forces them to be invisible, risk harassment or worse, have no income. For a moment consider what gender you identify with, now think about what it might feel like to be told you must present as a gender other than yours while at work. Would it be uncomfortable, humiliating, unnatural? How easy would it be to close a deal at the office while caged in clothing that does not reflect a basic facet of who you are? What effect might that have on your self-worth? What would happen to your productivity at work? It does not take much imagination to begin to understand what gender non-conforming people face in many workplaces.
As long as people can be denied an income for simply being their professional selves in the workplace I cannot stop advocating for equality. There is a need for a federal law that classifies sexual orientation and gender identity as protected groups from discrimination in the workplace. We need the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This is only one area where we need to have a change happen. LGBTQ+ youth need our support as well.
LGBTQ+ Youth Homelessness
Being a young adult is tough. Teenagers try to develop their own identities and ways of interacting with the world while still being under the rules of their caregivers. Once a person turns eighteen years old in our society, that person is legally considered an adult and caregivers are no longer responsible for their needs. Many young adults continue to depend on their families (emotionally, financially) as they launch into college or a career. This is true for some LGBTQ+ youth, but unfortunately many queer youth are not able to remain with their caregivers because of their queer identity. LGBTQ+ youth are either forced out of their homes by families who are not accepting; or they run because of mental, physical, and/or emotional abuse they face in their home just for being themselves. The Williams Institute estimates that 40% of homeless youth identify as being a part of the LGBTQ+ community. (http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Durso-Gates-LGBT-Homeless-Youth-Survey-July-2012.pdf) Once a youth is on the streets, their world becomes about survival instead of thriving. Youth may turn to having survival sex, ie: sex work or offering sex for food and shelter as a way to remain alive. Survival sex puts people at risk of STIs, abuse, and a prison record. All things that make it difficult to launch into adulthood. At a time when most kids are learning and growing into a productive member of society these LGBTQ+ youth are fighting for their lives. It is easy to understand why my husband and I cannot shut ourselves into our comfortable world when people from our community are suffering. We need to figure out ways to help these youth deal with their situation in the moment, while providing a path for them to utilize their full potential. Luckily, Cindy Lauper, yes the famous singer from the 80’s and wrestling manager for Captain Lou Albano, has already started a non-profit called “From 40 To None,” (http://fortytonone.org)that focuses on this very issue. There is also The Ali Forney Center (http://www.aliforneycenter.org) which works to provide LGBTQ+ homeless youth services that allow them to have a safe space to finish the business of growing up. With some ground work already laid out in New York, there is a plan to help our queer youth here in Texas.
Workplace discrimination and LGBTQ+ youth homelessness are not issues that are neatly contained within one part of a person’s life. In therapy, I often help clients consider how marginalization impacts their whole functioning. How well might a child concentrate in school if he continual worries that his family will disown him if they find out he is gay? How much energy might a partner have to listen to her wife’s concerns about their children when she’s spent a great deal of energy passing as straight in her office? Part of being an effective therapist for the LGBTQ+ community is understanding what social issues they face, processing the impact of those issues on a client’s concerns, and advocating for social justice. So this Pride, I will not only hold my head up a little higher as I celebrate our recent victories, but I will connect with my tribe so we can continue the work we have ahead of us. Netflix will just have to wait as we advocate for those without a voice.
If you or someone you know is looking for an LGBT Therapist, do not hesitate to contact us to make a counseling appointment and we will be glad to connect you with one of our LGBT counselors! If you would like more information about what the process entails, you can read more about LGBT counseling.