Summit to bring together mental health professionals

Melissa Gordon was working at a domestic violence shelter for women when she first saw the problem facing the GLBT community.

Late in the night, a transgender man who was born a woman entered the shelter seeking help. He had been beaten by his girlfriend and, since he was still anatomically female, sought solace at the shelter.

"Why do we have a man here?" arose a comment from one of Gordon's co-workers.

"Women don't hit that hard anyway," another worker later told the victim and sent him back to his violent partner. Gordon couldn't believe what she had seen.

The counselors wouldn't have dismissed a straight woman back into a violent, heterosexual relationship so carelessly, she said.

"That kind of reaction can be very damaging and doesn't empower the victim the way it should," Gordon said.

A lack of understanding or perhaps the worker's own personal beliefs had effected the victim's treatment and raised a frightening question in Gordon's mind; How common is this problem?

A problem realized

You may go to them for help when battling addiction or mental illness or to find refuge from an abusive partner.

They are practitioners trained in the field of social work. But, according to Gordon, if you're GLBT you may not get the treatment you deserve.

That's why she has organized the GLBT Mental Health Summit at UT on April 17.

Gordan, a graduate student in University of Tennessee's School of Social Work, has worked in the field for nearly nine years and is an intern with National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) Tennessee, a grassroots, self-help organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with mental illness.

"Being a lesbian, I see how people can still be homophobic in 2009 even in the social service field," Gordon said.

The event will bring together students in the university's social work program, licensed therapists and psychologists from Middle Tennessee and people who have experienced bias from social service workers to raise awareness of the damage that can be caused by cultural insensitivity.

The breakdown

Steven Davidson, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said many academic programs are missing the mark when it comes to preparing students to properly work with the GLBT community.

"In many academic programs there still isn’t very much education on GLBT culture," Davidson said. "Someone can come out of a graduate program and be properly trained on mental health issues, but not have the cultural sensitive to work with GLBT pop. Universities are not taking that extra step to say, 'This is what you need to do to be sensitive to each culture and minority out there.'"

Gordon hopes the Mental Health Summit will fill that gap and bring the importance of cultural sensitivity to the attention of participating professionals and students.

"After witnessing the ways LGBT populations were treated by social service populations, I wanted to use my internship at NAMI to increase positive outcomes for LGBT populations seeking mental health treatment," Gordon said. "The cultural competence agenda should go beyond race and gender."

Whether seeking help for substance abuse, refuge from violence or an evaluation of mental health, sexuality often becomes an overriding factor for social workers and practitioners working with GLBT people, Gordon said.

"It (sexuality) can either become the sole focus or it goes completely ignored," Gordon said, but neither option is sufficient for providing quality care. "It should be a part of a person's recovery plan, but not the sole focus."

When it comes to mental illness, Gordon said some practitioners try to treat a person's sexuality rather than the illness they initially sought help for.

Some of them recommend their patients undergo so-called 'reparative' therapy to help them overcome their sexuality. Gordan said such treatment can be damaging to a patient and counter-productive to satisfying their overall mental health needs.

Speakers throughout the day will address other areas in which cultural insensitivity can be the most harmful including; "When Personal Values Conflict with Professional Ethics” with Paula Foster, LCSW, Director of Therapeutic Support at Nashville Cares; and "Addressing Substance Abuse Issues in Psychotherapy with LGBT Clients" with Davidson.

Davidson said most recovery programs for substance abusers are spiritually based and family oriented. That can cause GLBT people to feel unwelcome or as if they must change their personal beliefs to be successful in the program.

"You want to refer a GLBT client to a treatment program or provider who will be culturally sensitive and who isn’t going to have a rigid interpretation of spirituality," Davidson said. "Treatment centers have to acknowledge that GLBT people have a family of choice and it may not be a biological or legal family."

He said success rates are higher for individuals who are treated fairly and inclusively in culturally sensitive programs.

Davidson said all major mental health organizations, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), state in their code of ethics that treatment should not vary by patient based on sexual orientation. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services produced a best practice guideline titled “Providers Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for LGBT Individuals.”

But, none of that is beneficial if a practitioner's negative personal views on the GLBT community affect their work.

"I know which treatment centers I’d refer to and the ones I would not," Davidson said. "Those of us who work with GLBT folks on a frequent basis know what the resources are. Some programs are better equipped to serve GLBT folks than others."

A philanthropic flare

This isn't the first time Gordon has turned her own adversity into a philanthropic endeavor. After suffering severe brain trauma in a car accident, it took Gordon months to recover. She had to learn to walk and talk again. By the time she was out of the hospital, her bills had piled up and a mountain of hospital debt had amassed.

Gordon applied for food stamps. Her friends held fundraisers for her. Now at 29 years old, she's back on her feet but a mountain of medical bills and a bruised credit record still loom in the back of her mind. Drawing on her own experience to help others, Gordon organized the Brain Injury Fund of Tennessee to offer financial assistance to other survivors of severe brain trauma.

"If I didn’t have the brain injury, I wouldn’t know the difficulty in receiving Social Security Disability Income and dealing with the debt," Gordon said. "Not to be cliché, but everything happens for a reason."

To become a sponsor of the GLBT Mental Health Summit, contact Melissa Gordon at

Keep readingShow less
WhistlePig + Alfa Romeo F1

SHOREHAM, VT (September 13, 2023) — WhistlePig Whiskey, the leaders in independent craft whiskey, and Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake are waving the checkered flag on a legend-worthy release that’s taking whiskey to G-Force levels. The Limited Edition PiggyBack Legends Series: Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake Barrel is a high Rye Whiskey selected by the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake drivers, with barrels trialed in their wind tunnel to ensure a thrilling taste in every sip.

The third iteration in WhistlePig’s Single Barrel PiggyBack Legends Series, the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake Barrel is bottled at 96.77 proof, a nod to Valtteri Bottas’ racing number, 77, and the precision of racing. Inspired by Zhou Guanyu, the first Chinese F1 driver, this Rye Whiskey is finished with lychee and oolong tea. Herbal and floral notes of the oolong tea complement the herbaceous notes of WhistlePig’s signature PiggyBack 100% Rye, rounded out with a juicy tropical fruit finish and a touch of spice.

Keep readingShow less
by Spectrum Medical Care Center

Nurse Practitioner Ari Kravitz

When I started medical transition at 20 years old, it was very difficult to get the care I needed for hormone replacement therapy because there are very few providers trained in starting hormones for trans people, even though it’s very similar to the hormones that we prescribe to women in menopause or cisgender men with low testosterone.

I hope more providers get trained in LGBTQ+ healthcare, so they can support patients along their individual gender journey, and provide the info needed to make informed decisions about their body. I’ve personally seen my trans patients find hope and experience a better quality of life through hormone replacement therapy.

Keep readingShow less

Descanso Resort swimming pool and lounge area

Descanso Resort, Palm Springs' premier destination for gay men, just received Tripadvisor's highest honor, a Travelers' Choice "Best of the Best" award for 2023. Based on guests' reviews and ratings, fewer than 1% of Tripadvisor's 8 million listings around the world receive the coveted "Best of the Best" designation. Descanso ranked 12th in the top 25 small inns and hotels category in the United States. Quite an accomplishment!

Open less than two years, Descanso Resort offers gay men a relaxing and luxurious boutique hotel experience just minutes away from Palm Springs' buzziest restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping. Descanso has quickly established itself as a top destination for sophisticated gay travelers, earning hundreds of 5-star guest reviews and consistently ranking in Trapadvisor's top positions alongside brother properties Santiago Resort and Twin Palms Resort.

Keep readingShow less