OUTvoices overlay navmenu

Discover Your City

As a mental health advocate, it's not only my profession but my passion to promote the importance of physical and psychological health. My long-term vision celebrates the diversity of our community and embraces inclusion, making the Valley a safe and welcoming place for all people. And nowhere is this more important than with the LGBTQIA+ community.

I grew up in a small rural town in northwest Pennsylvania. I was a small boy from a large Western European family that loved and promoted sports and all things rugged and outdoorsy. The boys were raised to be tough and not talk about our feelings. And, while I embraced and loved our family outings to fish, camp, and hunt, I also embraced cooking and the performance arts. In fact, I would spend many hours singing and dancing to the latest hits from Paula Abdul, Ace of Base, and Janet Jackson. 

Dr. William Marsh

Remember the Easy-Bake Oven? I coveted it and repeatedly asked for it for my 7th birthday. To my complete surprise, my parents finally broke down and agreed to purchase it for me. I felt sheer joy and unconditional love as we drove the 45-minutes to the closest toy store. My feelings quickly changed when I witnessed my parents remain complacent and complicit when the cashier said it was for “girls only,” and I was only allowed to buy the Creepy Crawler Oven. After reigning in my tears of disappointment, I still loved my new Creepy Crawler Oven; it just wasn't my dream gift. I imagine many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community have a similar story. 

Like so many in the LGBTQIA+ community, the journey that helped me become the proud gay man I am today wasn't always easy. As I grew up, I witnessed overt and covert hate. It came in the form of discrimination, abuse and assault, bullying, microaggressions or insults.

Well-intended guidance from adults in the form of shaming and directives that I should conceal my differences, stop exploring "alternative" interests, with constant reminders that homosexual thoughts and acts are sins. I can't recall how many times I heard things like, “hate the sin, not the sinner.” 

When inundated with these messages and grappling with my own internal experiences, I didn't feel like I had resources and an affirmative support system. Thank goodness for my Aunt Zephyr. She saw my “rainbow aura,” as she put it, and encouraged me to let it shine. She told me, “black sheep are needed; they are just as important as any other sheep… you can't change their wool, so why not celebrate what they are?” There is a theme in my life that I lean on, ‘always shine…no matter what is happening or where you are in life, keep shining, and you will find your way.’

There is strong evidence suggesting people in the LGBTQIA+ community are at a greater risk for experiencing mental health issues—especially depression and anxiety. Some studies have shown that LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. For transgender individuals, that rate is nearly four times. Our community has some of the highest suicide rates across the lifespan compared to heterosexuals. The gravity of this situation weighs heavy on our community.  Change must happen.

"Belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community can be powerful and healing." - Dr. William Marsh

Belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community can be powerful and healing but creating your family-of-choice is not always easy or simple. Some will self-isolate or engage in high-risk activities in order to feel a part of something…to feel something. When we want to find help or support, we often face some unique challenges. 

Our community often has to jump through additional hoops to access healthcare. There are high numbers of homeless non-heterosexual youth as well as unemployed/underemployed adults without adequate insurance coverage. Couple that with the stigma surrounding mental illness and the fear of seeing a professional who is not affirming or accepting  explains why many individuals make the disastrous decision not to reach out for help. This is unacceptable, and we must work together to change it.

The LGBTQIA+ community represents a wide range of individuals, each with different yet overlapping challenges. However, when looking for care, our community is often looked at in its entirety. This is problematic and can make searching for a healthcare provider feel like a monumental and challenging task.

There are many important factors to consider when looking for a mental health professional. Here are some thoughts to get you started…

What do you want in a mental health professional, and what's most important to you? 

Do you want a provider who shares specific parts of their identity with you? You may be able to glean this information from a website and profile. Suppose your reason for seeking help is not rooted in sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In that case, it may not be necessary for the provider to share specific parts of their identity or specialize in LGBTQIA+ issues. 

Referrals are important. Do your homework.

When I was young, my resource was the Internet, and I spent hours researching to uncover answers to my many questions. I encourage you to put the time in, too. 

These days most mental health professional directories have filters that allow you to search for mental health providers with a specialty or competency in working with LGBTQIA+ people. A good indicator of how familiar and comfortable the provider is with our community is their intake form. Look to see what gender identifiers they use and if there is other hetero-normative language. Once you identify a couple of options, please verify that the providers accept your insurance and list LGBTQIA+ competency in their profile. 

An important note, if you do not have insurance or have extremely high deductibles, you can always email or call to inquire if they have a “sliding scale” fee. This is a reduced rate that most therapists and agencies offer. 

Make the telephone call, and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Websites can only tell you so much. It's essential to make an initial call and discuss the provider's comfort and previous experience with LGBTQIA+ people. 

Providers expect and welcome questions. Try to be upfront about what you are looking for in an LGBTQIA+ competent provider. This is for YOU. It is not your job to educate providers about the basic concepts of LGBTQIA identities. It is a provider’s ethical duty to be competent. 

Remember, you are seeking a person that is going to help you improve your mental health. By stating your needs and asking the right questions, you can find someone who can respect your identity(ies) throughout your treatment.

And finally…don't give up. You are important. Finding the right provider who values you for who you are may take time. In the end, it will be worth it.

About the author

Dr. William Marsh is a Clinical Director and a primary supervisor for the APA accredited clinical psychology internship program with Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. With all areas of his work, he incorporates his passion for fostering positive interpersonal dynamics that help others identify, support, and reach their goals and dreams. More information about programs and services available at www.sbhservices.org.

How to talk about transgender issues

So how do we talk about transgender issues (even if you're not transgender)? There are three main things to remember when discussing transgender issues today, so before getting into the meat and potatoes of it all, let's keep these things in mind:

  1. It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
  2. There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
  3. Humanization should always be at the forefront of the conversation.

Before going into any conversation, no matter who it's with, try to keep these things in mind before you say something that may be inappropriate, misguided, or just plain wrong. Even those with the best intentions can mess up; remember that it is always ok to admit when you do not know something or when you are wrong. That being said, let's get into it.

sign with a 'friendly for all genders' image showing a person in a wheelchair, and a person with half a dress and pants on.

Transgender bathroom bills

commons.wikimedia.org

So whether you choose to become a transgender activist or if you just want to be a better ally, this easy talking point will generally keep you in line and on the safe side of conversations while still putting forth the effort to encourage and better represent transgender rights.

Easy, all-around approach: This will work for almost all transgender issues and expand on the previous three rules; firstly, trans issues are not a debate. When discussing with someone, do not indulge in hypotheticals and always remember that transgender people are the exact same as anyone else, with the exact same feelings. Keeping this in mind, let's use the bathroom bill as an example. When discussing this issue, one should humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation. How does one employ this, though? Here is an example of how the conversation may go.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restroom, they will rape my daughters.

So this statement is clearly based on reactionary conversation perpetuated by anti-transgender ideals. This means that the person probably has a misconception of the history and oppression of transgender people. They also show concern for their family, which is a step towards humanization, despite the misconception. Here would be an appropriate response that helps to humanize, de-politicize, and normalize the conversation.

Person 2: I don't want men in the women's restroom, either, which is why we need to make sure people who identify as women are using the women's restroom. There has never been a documented case where a transgender person has raped either a man or woman in a public restroom. And by forcing people to use a restroom that does not match their gender identity, it is promoting violence, as there is a strong history of physical violence against transgender people.

By only saying about three sentences, you are able to do the previous steps while discussing the issue in a civil manner without opening it up to debate. The key to this is to keep it short and sweet, stating both the truth and an ally's stance to support the transgender community. It's critical to make sure that what you say is backed with confidence, though, which is why this second approach is more encouraged as it gives the person speaking more confidence in their opinion.

gif of a man in a suit talking about number 1. Number 1 GIF by PragerU Giphy

The second approach: backed by facts and history, is the exact same as before, but this approach leaves the other person with more questions about their stance and gives them something to consider. Before going into this approach, however, it is important to keep in mind that you are not debating the existence of trans people, nor are you trying to change someone's mind. That is not the goal; the goal is simply to get your opinion across in a way that honors both the trans community and their ideas. Let's take the same example as before but add the new sentiments.

Person 1: I don't want men in the women's restrooms, they will rape my daughters.

Person 2: There has never been a documented case of a transgender person raping anyone in a public restroom, and the only published cases of such were proven to be false. Further, when people say things like this, they are perpetuating violence against transgender people, which has historically (and still does) oppressed and insight further physical violence against them. And honestly, the most common reason there is this stance is because the person typically does not know a trans person and may not even know a person who does know a trans person. But the truth is, they probably do. The probability is more likely that the transgender people around them are just not comfortable enough in the environment to come out and speak up about their gender identity. And yes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but it is quite sad that some people's opinion does not invite civil discussion but instead incites violence.

This approach is more confrontational, which requires more confidence when using it in a conversation, but it still holds true to all of the previous rules and sentiments. It adds truth based on history, which is an important aspect of trans rights as it reminds people of where we were/ where we are currently with human rights. These ideas can be transferred to most all trans issues and will honor the transgender movement and your allyship. The last thing to keep in mind is the person or reason you are standing up for/with trans rights. The passion -the compassion will shine through in conversation if you keep your reasoning close to heart. Whether it is because of a transgender friend, family member, or just because of your moral values, if you put your emotions into your reasoning, it will create more compelling statements, especially if the statement is well versed with the facts.

Tips to Remember When Discussing Transgender Issues

  1. Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
  2. There is a rich history behind transgender issues
  3. Humanize transgender people through our words and ideas and don't forget to include:
    • 3(b). The facts
    • 3(c).The confidence
    • 3(d). The inspiration behind the support for transgender rights

10 LGBTQ+ Movies on Amazon Prime You Need to Watch

OUTvoices may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime

LGBTQ+ Movies on Amazon Prime


Keep reading Show less

Transgender Sign in Pride Parade



Keep reading Show less