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PRIDE Month 2022: Supporting Our LGBTQIA+ Clients & Colleagues
As many of you know, June is PRIDE month across the US. PRIDE is a time to come together and support our LGBTQIA+ communities in various ways.
Historically and culturally, the LGBTQIA+ community has experienced persecution and ongoing bias. For some individuals, like our clients, the nuance of their cultural heritage, religious affiliations, and the migration process, alongside identifying as LGBTQIA+, can create a significant mental health challenge in their lives.
PRIDE Month & Mental Health: What to Know
The World Health Organization defines mental health as:
“A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her potential can cope with the normal stresses of life can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
LGBTQIA+ individuals face increased mental health stress than people who fit within more normative sexual and gender identity categories – and it can be worse for those immigrants who are navigating multiple life stressors.
LGBTQIA+ immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees have often faced trauma and/or persecution in their country of origin based on their sexual identity, including isolated or repeated physical, mental, emotional, and/or sexual violence; this is usually the reason they seek international protection.
Because of homophobia and transphobia (usually reflected in state laws and interpersonal relationships), they are often discriminated against, stigmatized, and alienated from friends and family. They may face barriers to accessing safe spaces, social support, and other professional services that support mental health and wellness. The Minority Stress Model describes a state of chronic psychological strain resulting from stigma, expectations of rejection and discrimination, decisions about identity disclosure, and the internalization of homophobia.
The mental health of LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers and refugees relies on a sense of belonging, appropriate coping strategies, and the availability and accessibility of services in their new country of residence, among other factors.
3 Ways to Support Our LGBTQIA+ Clients
The mental health challenges of many LGBTQIA+ immigrants reflect their experience of high levels of stress and isolation in their countries of origin, trying to establish a life in their new country and/or communities, and the visa process itself.
Acknowledging and understanding the complex set of internal and external experiences that contribute to their mental health can help us conduct their assessments. Here are three ways to help do that:
- Create a supportive environment.
Supportive environments are critical to helping clients feel safe and overcome any initial reservations about disclosing their complete identity and its impact on their mental health. LGBTQIA+ immigrants need access to legal, health, and social service professionals who have experience handling their issues and asylum and settlement issues.
It’s worth keeping in mind that some LGBTQIA+ migrants who are so used to keeping their identity hidden may react negatively to overtly queer spaces and forego services for this reason, so caution and sensitivity are required.
- Invest in cultural competency training and translators.
There are cultural differences in how people experience and express stress and illness. Many new immigrants may not understand the role of an immigration evaluation professional, and they may be concerned about the stigma that can often surround seeking treatment.
Cultural competency training can help you in your role to better understand various cultural differences and how to work with them in supportive ways. There are many different ways to go about this, including free resources online. It’s also important to note that quality translators can help you better connect and communicate with clients, helping to put them at ease so you can work together for better outcomes.
- Help promote resiliency.
Many immigrants may not be ready to address their mental health issues until they have better personal and financial security and stability, which can hinge on their visa status. Uncertainty is a significant driver of stress – it may exacerbate underlying mental health issues.
Many clients demonstrate exceptional resilience in these challenges, but we can help support this. Whether by doing the above, allowing others to connect safely, or ensuring we have the appropriate resources and referral support network information ready for those who may need it.
If you want to learn more about the mental health journeys of clients who identify as LGBTQIA+, I recommend reading my interview with Luis Cornejo, LMFT, the founder of PsychoSocial – a multimedia platform that highlights issues impacting the LGBTQ, POC, and other disenfranchised groups.
3 Ways to Be an Ally to Our LGBTQIA+ Colleagues
It’s not just our clients; we should show our allyship for this PRIDE months – we can also show up for our colleagues and others in our professional networks.
Here are three ways to do that:
- Hold yourself accountable.
With a sensitive topic, assumptions can be problematic, and it’s easy to say things that can be misinterpreted. For example, statements like, “I don’t get trans people,” could cause someone to mean you don’t care and aren’t willing to learn when you might simply mean you genuinely don’t understand the trans perspective and their challenges.
Unpack where your gaps are and any bias, assumptions, or stereotypes you might hold (even if they’re not ‘negative’ per se, assumptions and stereotypes can be harmful). Invest in your education, and don’t be afraid to own up when you’re unsure or unclear. Don’t always expect others to be available or able to help you learn, and make sure you seek out multiple ways to hold yourself and your own professional and personal knowledge accountable.
- Hold others accountable.
Other people in your work or shared spaces may make comments or hold views, biases, or ideas about the LGBT community, mental health, and immigrants. It’s part of our role as supportive allies to correct and hold others accountable for these views if they’re incorrect or damaging.
We can all do our bit to educate others in safe ways. This isn’t about ‘calling out’ others when they get it wrong (no one learns anything from this behavior) but openly asking why someone might think the way they do or hold a particular bias. When we create and hold space for safe conversations and dialogues, we keep others accountable and start the process of changing outdated thinking.
- Think of ‘ally’ as an action – not a label.
It’s easy to say we’re an ally and harder to think what this looks like in practice. It might be worth holding a team meeting (or taking some time to reflect on your own if you don’t work with a team) to explore what the actions of being an ally look like.
Think about how this looks both within the workplace, proactively with your clients, and even in the broader community; what actions could you take to keep promoting positive allyship and letting others know you provide a safe, inclusive workplace and services for LGBTQIA+ clients?
Above all, PRIDE month is a chance to celebrate and share in the joy that the richness of our diverse and unique communities brings. For some of our clients, this might be the first time they’ve experienced a celebration of their identity in this way, so remember to make time to share and hear stories from others.
Our communities have come a long way, and while there’s still a way to go, I think we will keep seeing positive changes if we all stick together.
To help you throughout this PRIDE month, I’ve collated a few resources I’ve personally found hugely beneficial:
I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.
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