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Recently, I attended an outstanding symposium at the Mark Taper Hall of Humanities on the USC campus. A bonus was seeing in person that beautiful white stone Trojan horse (with children crawling all over it) and the statue of Tommy Trojan. The event was sponsored by The Wall las memorias.

lgbtqi youth

Who Can Best Understand Our LGBTQI Youth? Rosemary Jenkins

For those unfamiliar with the acronym, LGBTQI means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning), and Inter-Sexual. The purpose of the conference was to make the public aware of the grave need to expand the numbers of counsellors who are trained to work with this segment of society. The particular emphasis was on the Latino community whose culture and language are often distinct and somewhat “alien” from the backgrounds of the typical therapist who is assigned to work with these clients.

One panelist spoke of the several times she attempted suicide until she finally received the help, compassion, and understanding she needed. Studies show that one in four women and one in six men from this group have been the object of physical attacks, let alone the recipient of mental abuse. This kind of abuse is not being thwarted as it should by those in leadership positions in our society. Reports of victims are frequently brushed aside or not mentioned at all in our media coverage (unless the outcome is so egregious that we simply can’t ignore it).

For many, especially for the undocumented in the Latino community, the insufficient access for help (particularly for those who also suffer from mental health illnesses) is a major barrier to achieving well-being.

Another attendee reported how she was forced to undergo an exorcism (so many Latinos are Catholic and exorcism is still an act carried out by some priests). Can you imagine what such an act has on the psyche of the victim? For many LGBTQI youth, there are life-long scars and negative consequences that forever alter their feelings of self-worth.

For many, especially for the undocumented in the Latino community, the insufficient access for help (particularly for those who also suffer from mental health illnesses) is a major barrier to achieving well-being.

Many Latinos are born into a way of thinking that being gay in the Latino community is simply unacceptable and even offensive. For too many therapists, working with such clients is similarly intolerable. It is because of such thinking, not only in the medical field but within the family and the broader community, that these young people can be driven into committing suicide (or trying to).

In fact, one gentleman in the audience spoke poignantly of the fact that he is a veteran and a Latino and gay and also susceptible to the feelings of low self-worth and depression that are found in so many of the LGBTQI community. When he sought help, he was assigned to a therapist (who probably needed therapy himself) who questioned him about his background. When the therapist learned that this young man was both gay and Latino, he had the audacity to state that his patient list was full and that this young man needed to find someone else for help!

The general lack of awareness within the greater community, therefore, has a profound effect on how these issues are addressed. LGBTQI people often find themselves as victims and, thus, need to be encouraged to become champions for themselves and advocates for others who also find themselves in this perplexing, demeaning, humiliating, self-doubting predicament.

So many of these young people (and older individuals) are filled with self-hate, having been looked upon far too often as freaks. It is only relatively recently that the transgender community has been introduced to the larger population through such movies as The Adventures of Priscilla; The Crying Game; Boys Don’t Cry; and Transamerica. The “introduction” of Caitlin Jenner and, much earlier, of the famous tennis player, Renée Richards, has likewise played a pivotal role. Despite the many attempts at creating familiarization, acceptance, and a comfort level, there are still varying degrees of approval and disapproval of LGBTQI members.

What is abhorrent, furthermore, is what appears to be increasing, overt, and seemingly acceptable acts of transphobia within large segments of the population. Think of the laws that are being considered or even passed into law in such states as North Carolina and Georgia. Consider the rallying point from Ted Cruz (who is running for President of all our American residents) that men should not be allowed to enter bathrooms where little girls can be found. So much is reminiscent of the Civil Rights days when there were separate bathrooms between Black and whites—fanning an illogical hatred then and that has no place now in 21st century society. The request for transgender people to be able to go to the bathroom of the sex with which they identify should not attract the controversy that it has. As I contemplate these circumstances, when I use a restroom, I don’t recall anyone not using a stall—everyone has privacy. The reality--transgender people are typical of everyone else in their need for privacy and dignity.

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Why does it seem that America is often behind progressive notions and actions of other countries in the modern world? If we continue to claim that we are the “best” country in the world, we need to act like it and be role models for others, not lagging behind because of the backward thinking foisted upon us by the ignorant, dispassionate, fearful thinking of certain conspicuous “leaders” who have enveloped themselves in regressive contemplations.

It is clear that there is still a stigma connected with the LGBTQI community. The sense of shame is often an integral part of how the LGBTQI person feels. Similarly, the parents, relatives, and friends of the family are afraid that if it is known that a family member is part of this “minority” group, the family members will become objects of ridicule by those in the surrounding community, causing them to feel a sense of embarrassment, disgrace, and even anger—feelings which can keep them from accepting the reality (instead of denying it) of the self-identity of their “loved one” and from getting the kind of help that all involved need.

Beyond the family, our schools are overall not doing an adequate job either. Though there are laws that ban and punish any acts of bias, prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination against LGBTQI students (and even staff members), too often, reported actions are ignored or downplayed and are not handled in appropriate ways to make the victims feel safe and secure. As a teacher myself, I have witnessed students afraid to leave my classroom at nutrition or lunch time for fear of the bullying they undoubtedly would encounter (and when I had reported such concerns, I had often been rebuffed and hence frustrated by the occasional indifference by which those problems were handled).

Because we live in a hetero-normative culture, we need to educate people that there is a community of people whose uniqueness needs to be recognized and addressed in a positive and embracing way.

It is clear that we need to nurture this youthful and misunderstood community, and one way to do this is to encourage greater numbers of LGBTQI young people to pursue career paths as therapists dedicated to working with this segment of society—experts that can interact in a way that can provide the connection that their clients desire and need. It is, therefore, requisite that trust be built between therapist and client.

Therapists, if properly trained, can recognize the hole that has formed inside their clients that both client and therapist must learn how to fill. For the client, a sense of equanimity should be formed within their souls. It would be fruitful for a sense of spirituality to be engendered as well. It might also be helpful for clients to achieve a relationship between themselves and their Higher Being and to understand that what has often been thrown at them from the Holy Scriptures has been egregiously misinterpreted through ignorance and lack of education—scriptures whose realities demand that interpretations be based upon the veracities of their contents and not upon deliberate distortions. Additionally, a coming to terms that some people in their lives will never change, no matter how much effort is put into trying, would be very productive.

Therapists must help clients understand that they must recognize their own truths, to be who they are and not forced by others to become something they are not. All of us need more role models that demonstrate the goodness innate in every being—straight or otherwise. The life and death of Prince certainly reminds us that our uniqueness is important to develop and to use to the benefit of ourselves and of all those around us.

There currently are a multitude of resources and organizations dedicated to helping LGBTQI clients. Yet there has been a dearth of outreach to make people in need aware of what is available. Every time we lose someone [who has committed suicide or has turned to drugs or alcohol or even prostitution (people who have been thrown out of their homes, become homeless, and need to support themselves in any way they can)] because they are trying to assuage that dreadful feeling of misery, we lose a person who otherwise might have become a mover-and- shaker and contributor to making our world a better place—a mantra that I employ as often as I can.

See below for some of those resources about which I have written:

  • The Wall las memorias, sponsor of this symposium. LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis was one of the keynote speakers. She is an avid supporter of this organization and has introduced a motion to allocate $350,000 to refurbish the actual Wall found in Lincoln Park
  • LA County is currently hiring multi-lingual Spanish speakers with diverse backgrounds who would be a perfect fit for working with the LGBTQI community (700 social workers were just hired)
  • The Disparities Project
  • There are a number of scholarly articles that pertain to academic barriers to Latino LGBTQI students
  • There is a 12-week summer program on the UCLA campus called Dream Summer during which LGBTQI youth can interact with a variety of professors
  •  There is also a 9-month program called Health Ambassadors

Rosemary Jenkins