By Daniel H. Gillison, Jr.
The LGBTQI community has had a long history of persevering through discrimination and injustice. For years, the American legal system criminalized “homosexual behavior.” And within the mental health sphere, being gay was actually classified as a mental health disorder in the DSM until 1973 and in the ICD until 1992.
When people think about LGBTQI Pride Month, they often think about rainbows and parades. But before the rainbow, the most well-known symbol to represent this community was the pink triangle, used by Nazis to signify that they were the “lowest of the low.” And the first Pride event was a protest, not a party — June commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, when New York City police raided a local gay bar and the people inside chose to fight back.
For too long, instead of being accepted and affirmed, members of the LGBTQI community have been pathologized and forced to bear cruel and harmful practices such as conversion therapy. And while we’ve certainly made progress, this historical context continues to shape the experiences of LGBTQI individuals today. And the struggle for true equity, inclusion, justice, and culturally competent care is ongoing.
LGBTQI people remain one of the most targeted communities by perpetrators of hate crimes in the country — with a record-number of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals murdered in 2020, and at least 29 fatally shot or killed by other violent means already in 2021. The LGBTQI population is also at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness, suicidal ideation, and various mental health conditions. Yet they remain underrepresented in our research and, more often than not, unable to access the resources that they need.
All of these experiences create significant challenges for the mental, physical, and emotional health of the LGBTQI population. And while not all of us may identify as a part of this community, all of us have a responsibility to help. Here are a few ways we can start:
1. Create Safe Communities
Having a sense of safety and belonging is one of our most basic needs. Unfortunately, almost half of all LGBTQI adults have experienced rejection from a family member or a close friend. One of the most important things you can do for people in the LGBTQI community is create cultures in your workplaces, friendships, and families that offer empathy and support.
What that looks like in practice can mean normalizing the use of pronouns when you introduce yourself, intentionally using inclusive terminology, and respecting people’s confidentiality if they share aspects of their identity with you (or respecting their boundaries if they don’t).
2. Recognize Multifaceted Identities
Everyone’s journey is different. And even within the LGBTQI community, people come from all races, ages, religions, nationalities, socio-economic statuses and abilities. It’s important to recognize that disadvantages can be exacerbated for those who identify with multiple groups that have been historically marginalized. And ultimately, it’s best not to make assumptions about anyone else’s individual experience.
3. Keep Listening & Learning
Gender and sexuality are not black and white. And when it comes to the best way to talk about and describe our experiences with gender and sexuality, we are all still learning and growing. That’s why it’s critically important that we continue to approach conversations with cultural humility and make a deliberate effort to keep listening and learning as much as we can.
While the month of June may be ending this week, our commitment to celebrating and supporting the LGBTQI community cannot. We must continue to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of all people, no matter where they come from, who they are attracted to, or how they identify.
LGBTQI individuals deserve love, hope, and acceptance at all times of the year — even if it’s inconvenient, even if it’s unpopular, and even if it’s not always glitter and rainbows.
LGBTQI Mental Health Resources:
Daniel H. Gillison, Jr. is the chief executive officer of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Prior to his work at NAMI, he served as executive director of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation (APAF) in addition to several other leadership roles at various large corporations such as Xerox, Nextel, and Sprint. He is passionate about making inclusive, culturally competent mental health resources available to all people, spending time with his family, and of course playing tennis. You can follow him on Twitter at @DanGillison.
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