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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.
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 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.
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:
- It is not a political discussion, it is a human rights discussion.
- There is a rich history rooted in transgender rights that must be considered when discussing these issues.
- 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.
Transgender bathroom bills
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.
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
- Transgender issues are not political, they are human rights issues
- There is a rich history behind transgender issues
- 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
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Are you always wondering what to watch right now? These are some of the best LGBTQ+ movies streaming on Amazon Prime and available for rent on Amazon right now, and for good reason. They range from LGBTQ historical settings to romance to LGBTQ+ pure camp.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Sook-hee is a pickpocket living in Japanese-occupied Korea and is hired by a con man to be the maid of heiress Lady Hideko and convince her to marry him. Hideko has been living under the tyranny of her uncle Kouzuki and desires to leave. While both women have reasons and ways to deceive each other, many plot twists will guide them to a path of satisfaction. This movie is an erotic, historical, psychological thriller, set beautifully in occupied Korea, that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It has won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 71st British Academy Film Festival and was directed by Park Chan-wook.
Duration: 144 minutes
Country: South Korea
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Mark is a gay activist living in the ‘80s when he notices that the police have stopped harassing LGBTQ+ people; the target has in fact changed, and now the police have moved on to miners’ strikes. Together with gay and lesbian friends, he arranges a bucket collection to help the miners at the London gay Pride. This movie has won the Queer Palm Award at Cannes in 2014; it has received a standing ovation as well. It is directed by Matthew Warchus and is based on a true story.
Duration: 120 minutes
Photo courtesy of Rai
Chiron lives in Liberty City, Miami, and is bullied by his schoolmates; he is found hiding one day by Juan, a drug dealer, who mentors him from then on. Chiron’s mother, Paula, is a drug addict, and often takes her frustration out on her child, assuming that she knows why he is bullied. It will be Juan to tell Chiron that being gay is nothing wrong, but as Chiron grows up he will have to face harder days than the ones in his childhood. This movie has won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay, becoming the first LGBTQ+, all-Black cast movie to win an Oscar. It is directed by Barry Jenkins.
Duration: 111 minutes
Country: United States
Viola di mare (Purple Sea)
Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime
Angela is a vivacious child in Sicily at the end of the 1800s; her father never wanted a daughter and tries to reform her through beating and controlling. But Angela is in love with Sara, and she will do whatever it takes to spend her life by the side of the woman she loves. This movie is heartbreaking at times, it sad and dramatic but also inspiring. It was nominated for two Nastro Argento Awards. The title refers to a type of fish, the Mediterranean rainbow wrasse, which is born female and turns male as it grows older. It is directed by Donatella Maiorca.
Duration: 105 minutes
But I Am a Cheerleader
But I'm a Cheerleader
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Megan is a high school senior cheerleader who is dating a boy named Jared when her parents and friends start suspecting she is a lesbian, with her being a vegetarian and interested in Melissa Etheridge. They stage an intervention calling ex-gay Mike, who works at a conversion therapy camp called True Directions, where Megan is taken and forced to confront her own sexual orientation. This movie is a camp statement, a funny take on a sad reality, and an invite to embrace oneself. It is directed by Jamie Babbit. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 85 minutes
Country: United States
Tell It to the Bees
Tell It to the Bees
Photo courtesy of the HotCorn
Lydia has an unsteady marriage and a young son when she becomes closer to the town’s doctor, Jean. Her son and Jean share an interest in common, which is beekeeping, and makes the move easier when Lydia starts staying at Jean’s. But they live in a Scottish village in the 1950s, and their bond is bound to be perceived wrongly. This movie is based on the book with the same title and stars Academy Award winner Anna Paquin. It is directed by Annabel Jankel. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 106 minutes
Photo courtesy of CarolFilm
Therese is an aspiring photographer, working as a sales clerk in Frankenberg's department store in Manhattan in the 1950s when she meets Carol, an older woman who is going through a divorce and is looking for a Christmas present for her child. The encounter leaves Therese with a pair of Carol’s gloves, which she intends to return, and an attraction towards this woman Therese cannot explain just yet. This movie is an LGBTQ+ cult film, nominated for six Academy Awards, and has been critically acclaimed over the years. It is directed by Todd Haynes. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 158 minutes
Country: United States
Photo courtesy of Youtube
Ben is a young bisexual man who doesn’t have a steady job or relationship; he is a hypochondriac that repeatedly goes through a set routine with his physician. When he meets Sam, he finally has the opportunity to share his trauma and feel understood. It was called by Indiewire 'A sexy and searching act of gay self-analysis'. It is directed by Matthew Fifer and Kieran Mulcare. It is available for rent on Amazon.
Duration: 93 minutes
Country: United States
Women and Sometimes Men
Women & Sometimes Men
Photo courtesy of Amazon
Sara calls off her engagement with a man when her feelings towards women become impossible to hide. She moves in with a friend and starts dating in the lesbian scene, trying to find a balance between what she’s always known and what her heart wants. This movie is campy and lighthearted. It is directed by Lesley Demetriades.
Duration: 87 minutes
Country: United States
To begin, a quick history lesson will keep you up to date with all the work transgender people have put forth in order to help Pride month happen in the first place. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights dates back further than one usually imagines but, in particular, is typically marked by the Stonewall Riots. Led by Marsha "Pay It No Mind" Johnson, a transgender woman of color who helped the New York activist scene for over 25 years, the Stonewall Riots began on June 28th, 1969 in New York. Alongside Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson led one of the most important queer liberations in history.
While the Riots remain a huge moment in history, many often forget those who played front-facing roles in it. Marsha was only 23 years old at the time but was a fearless, ferocious, brave leader who tackled injustice head-on in the riots. In addition to this, she was also co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a shelter for homeless transgender youth; she was a big activist for the BIPOC and LGBT+ community, and STAR was revolutionary in many ways, including being the first-ever LGBT+ shelter in North America which was also the first organization in the US to be run by a trans woman of color. Marsha's contributions toward the first Pride parade preceded it by an entire year- the first pride parades came a year after the stonewall riots to commemorate it. Her legacy will live on through her acts and is celebrated by members of the LGBT+ community alike every pride.
With that out of the way, being trans during pride month can hold a lot of meaning for a lot of people, especially given the incomparable history led by transgender women that helped to shape the LBGT+ community today. Pride itself has a long history rooted in defying gender normalities and cisgender, heteronormative ideals. That, in it itself, is a lot to be proud of- let alone each individual's transgender experience that brings more color to personal pride. It is something to celebrate, our own continuation, contribution, and resistance to oppression. For those who are out as transgender, gender non-conforming, genderqueer, nonbinary, or identify anywhere outside of the cisgender binary, just being yourself and expressing your gender identity is a way of celebrating this. And it is momentous to do so! However, of course, it's not the only way; going to pride parades, celebrating with friends, or having your own celebration is just as good, if not more fun. Going to pride marches, participating in pride events or activities, and any form of activism are great ways of acknowledging and indulging in the history that brought us here.
Reaching out for helpPhoto by Stormseeker on Unsplash
But, of course, there is always the other side of the coin because this can be extremely difficult for some due to past experiences or traumas. And for others, this is not an option because (and unfortunately, more often than not) coming out is not a safe, viable option due to age, location, and often the stiff political climate that makes transgender people stay hidden. So while there is a lot to celebrate and be proud of, we must also be prideful for those who are unable to be. Because in addition to the rich history of activism and change, there is still an extreme deficit and predisposition to suicide and murder. According to some of the most recent research, the transgender suicide rate is up to 43%, and once every three days, a transgender person is murdered, with transgender women of color being the most likely victims.
Efforts to calculate and track transgender murder rates are often hindered by laws and data collection, therefore reported numbers may not be the best representations. Alongside these statistics come very scary legislation, such as House Bill 151 and HF 184 that allow the 'inspection' of young girls' genitals in an effort to keep transgender girls from participating in sports. There are also bathroom bills, pronoun and name bills, and medical care acts that are trying to strip away our rights. The huge dark cloud of oppression still hangs heavily over many transgender people within the United States and is much worse elsewhere in the world.
But, these are all reasons to be more prideful as well. Trans people have historically risen above and fought to be themselves- and admit the oppression, we will continue to do so unapologetically. So despite all the sorrowfully realities we face, we must take them in stride and use them for our pride, We need to keep them in mind not just to remember the reality but to be able to say, "This is what we deal with and yet, we use it to fuel our pride." Because the reality is that we are all making history just by existing and that is something to celebrate. So take pride in everything and for everyone, especially for those who may not be able to themselves. Pride month is a time to celebrate ancestors, self-discovery, friendship, and much more, so if you are able to, do so!
Activism has always and will continue to be a huge part of pride until there is equity for every minority group. So consider using these resources to continue your activism of change towards trans rights and equality. You can do so by contacting your legislators regarding your local anti-trans legislature. Or if you are able, donate to funds that support transgender persons legally! And if you're unable to do either and are in need of support, here are a few resources that may help: The Trevor project; 1-866-488-7386 Trans Life Line; 1-877-565-8860.
Author's Note: It is important to not only recognize and acknowledge the deep-rooted history that transgender individuals had in creating equal opportunities and rights for the LGBTQ+ community but also recognize the deep-seated oppression that continues to plague the transgender community today, despite best efforts towards equality, justice, and freedom. When discussing Pride Month or any celebration of LGBTQ+ individuals, give credit where credit is due.
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