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Advocating for the LGBTQIA+ Community
The cultural group we have chosen to advocate for is the LGBTQIA+ community, made up of persons of varying non-normative gender and sexual orientation identifications including but certainly not limited to: lesbian, gay, transgender, genderfluid, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, non-gender conforming, and asexual.
Identifying the Need
Evidence is clear that LGBTQIA+ identifying persons are part of a community that is wrongly marginalized and vulnerable, with the risk for adverse and damaging life experiences beginning at too young an age. Starting in adolescence, members of the LGBTQIA+ community are shown to experience higher rates of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation; exposure to violence in their own home – both emotional and physical – directed at them and/or others in the house; being victimized in damaging social interactions and overt violence amongst peers, which interactions and violence include bullying, social isolation, teen dating violence, physical assault and sexual assault; and experiencing overt and covert rejection and invalidation for their identities on individual, community, institutional and societal levels by having strict, unequal norms regarding gender and sexuality impressed upon them (Birkett, Espelage, & Koenig, 2009; Dank et al., 2014; Kann, Olsen, McManus, et al., 2016; Kosciw, Greytak, Bartkiewicz, Boesen, & Palmer, 2011; Kosciw, Greytak, Palmer, & Boesen, 2014).
As persons of the LGBTQIA+ community face mounting adversities – and higher risks for the same – that cause them to feel far less than safe in their own homes, neighborhoods, schools, and towns, it should be expected that they feel drawn toward seeking help from mental health professionals and adjacent organizations. However, the mental health profession is far from immune to the effects of social stigma and the resulting feelings of isolation and rejection experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community, with a consistent underrepresentation of LGBTQIA+ persons seeking and obtaining services being evident through decades of research (King, Semlyen, Killaspy, Nazareth, & Osborn, 2007).
Specific barriers to receiving counseling are a direct result of stigma and oppression, with one’s internalized negative perceptions of their identity determining how negatively they assume a mental health professional would appraise them were they to disclose their identity – meaning that they would, if experiencing such internalization, err on the side of choosing not to disclose their identity at all (Sengler & Ægisdóttir, 2015). Such a phenomenon is already present in LGBTQIA+ persons immediate relationships with family, friends, classmates, teachers and community members – the fact that it extends to counseling professionals therefore negates any perceived positive effects of even seeking out counseling. An additional barrier, especially for late adolescents on or near college campuses, is a major lack of acknowledgement that resources are both necessary and available – in a sample of just over 200 American colleges, no higher than 13 schools (about 6%) provided a compilation of LGBTQIA+ focused, welcoming or specific resources, and no more than 60 schools (about 30%) even mentioned such resources on their websites (Wright & McKinley, 2010).
Oppression and Discrimination by Way of Power and Privilege
It is not a coincidence or accidental happening that the LGBTQIA+ community experiences such societally inflicted and enforced damage. The adverse experiences and high rates of risk mentioned are a direct cause of oppression and discrimination – i.e. societal expectations of strict gender and sexuality norms and the resulting heterosexism, genderism, lifelong exposure to gender and sexuality stigma, phobias formed toward diverse sexual and gender orientations, and the further resulting social rejection, harassment and violence– which are a result of the power and privilege experienced by the majority: cisgender, gender conforming, heteronormative, heterosexual persons (Lorenzetti, Wells, Logie, & Callaghan, 2017). Overwhelming societal acceptance and overt preference for adherence to rigid, traditional norms for gender and sexuality have created space in our society where those in the majority not only allow, but even stoop to support, stigmatization in the form of blind or purposeful heterosexism, invalidation, rejection, marginalization, and isolation.
The results of such oppression are not experienced in isolation of each other but are intermingled and intensified by each other and, as a result, the LGBTQIA+ community is not only at risk for stigmatization and abuse by the majority, but also for experiencing and projecting internalized stigma within the LGBTQIA+ community (Edwards et al., 2015b; Edwards & Sylaska, 2013; Stiles-Shields & Carroll, 2015). It is clear that the need for services that are not only geared toward, but openly advertised as welcoming the LGBTQIA+ community into safety are needed. However, even when such services do exist, it is not always likely that LGBTQIA+ identifying persons will be willing to seek them out (King, Semlyen, Killaspy, Nazareth & Osborn, 2007; Sengler & Ægisdóttir, 2015). And, for those services that do exist, outreach is important to reach those who need services the most but are reasonably apprehensive of trusting anyone outside of their trusted circle.
Our Proposal: Goals, Intervention Strategies, Objectives and Evaluation
Our advocacy efforts are meant to reach the adolescent and late adolescent members of the LGBTQIA+ community, in order to meet our goal of providing validation, support and direction toward safe and trustworthy resources that will allow them to access services that they are entitled to feel safe and supported in seeking out. The intervention strategy we have identified is to collect resources and provide them to LGBTQIA+ clubs and alliances located in the Central New Jersey county High Schools surrounding TCNJ (Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, Somerset, Hunterdon, Union & Ocean counties) in order to 1) provide those attending and/or moving onto college campuses with direction on what campuses are best equipped as well as what off-campus organizations can provide support and 2) provide those not attending secondary education and either eventually or immediately entering the workforce with a sense of community and validation, in addition to local resources they are able to use despite not being students.
We have determined 5 specific objectives that will allow us to concretely meet this goal, and plan to commit 1-2 hours each week to working on these objectives. The objectives we have identified to meet our goal and successful apply our intervention strategies are as follows:
1) Within the counties we have chosen to advocate in, we will identify the faculty/staff and/or student leader of the school’s LGBTQIA+ club/organization/alliance as our future point of contact.
2) We will meet with TCNJ’s LGBTQIA+ alliance, PRISM, and seek consultation on the best resources (i.e. information for agencies & community organizations, colleges with established organizations, reading materials, etc.) to provide high school students who are soon to graduate.
3) We will design/create resources packets.
4) We will mail or e-mail the resource packets to the schools.
5) These resources packets will contain letters addressed to the club/organization/alliance, explaining or purpose in providing the resources, and asking them to respond via email to 1) confirm they received our resource packets, and 2) to provide their feedback, i.e. if they found anything to be missing, if we provided enough for all students involved, etc.).
The general evaluation of the impact of our efforts will be via the students’ email responses to our letters. Our quantitative evaluation of the impact will be based on the number of responses we response emails we receive confirming that our materials reached the students. Our qualitative evaluation will be based on the content of the students’ feedback responses.
Impact for the Future
We’ve also identified a “bonus” goal that we hope to achieve, though we are aware we may or may not in the time frame of this semester. While this goal is not part of this specific project due to time constraints, we are including it as it would be a direct result of this project.
Our goal is to also begin creating a sense of community throughout the state for the LGBTQIA+ community. When meeting with PRISM, we also plan to inquire about their interest in planning an advocacy workshop geared toward high school students, which would teach high school students how to advocate for themselves individually, from within a group, institutionally and systemically so as to better prepare them for experiences in college and the workforce, as well as create a stronger sense of solidarity and community. Should PRISM be interested in doing this, what we would hope is to, in response to the feedback from students, invite them to a half-day advocacy workshop hosted by PRISM at TCNJ . We would request the space in Room 111 in the School of Education, seek out local businesses that would donate refreshments (i.e. the on-campus Panera, Insomnia Cookies, etc.) for attendees, and prepare materials for them to take home with them. While this may take place months from the time the semester is over, it would be worth the additional time and effort in order to potentially create a safer place for the LGBTQIA+ community in this area.
- Birkett, M., Espelage, D. L., & Koenig, B. (2009). LGBT and questioning students in schools: The moderating effects of homophobic bullying and school climate on negative outcomes. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 38, 989–1000.
- Dank, M., Lachman, P., Zweig, J., & Yahner, J. (2014). Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 43(5), 846–857. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-013-9975-8
- Edwards, K. M., Sylaska, K. M., & Neal, A. M. (2015). Intimate partner violence among sexual minority populations: A critical review of the literature and agenda for future research. Psychology of Violence, 5(2), 112–121. https://ezproxy.tcnj.edu:2083/10.1037/a0038656.supp (Supplemental)
- Edwards, K., & Sylaska, K. (2013). The Perpetration of Intimate Partner Violence among LGBTQ College Youth: The Role of Minority Stress. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 42(11), 1721–1731. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-012-9880-6
- Kann, L., Olsen, E. O., McManus, T., et al. (2016). Sexual identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12—United States and Selected Sites, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports Surveillance Summary, 65(No. SS-9), 1– 202
- King, M., Semlyen, J., Killaspy, H., Nazareth, I., & Osborn, D. (2007). A systematic review of research on counselling and psychotherapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, BACP House, 15 St John’s Business Park, Lutterworth, Leicestershire, LE17 4HB.
- Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2011). The 2011 national school climate survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network.
- Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York, NY: Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network.
- Lorenzetti, L., Wells, L., Logie, C. H., & Callaghan, T. (2017). Understanding and preventing domestic violence in the lives of gender and sexually diverse persons. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 26(3), 175–185. https://doi.org/10.3138/cjhs.2016-0007
- Stiles-Shields, C., & Carroll, R. A. (2015). Same-Sex Domestic Violence: Prevalence, Unique Aspects, and Clinical Implications. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 41(6), 636–648. https://doi.org/10.1080/0092623X.2014.958792
- Sengler, E. S. & Ægisdóttir, S. (2015). Psychological Help-Seeking Attitudes and Intentions of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals: The Role of Sexual Minority Identity and Perceived Counselor Sexual Prejudice. Journal of Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 2(4), 482-491.
- Wright, P. J. & McKinley, C. J. (2010). Mental Health Resources for LGBT Collegians: A Content Analysis of College Counseling Center Web Sites. Journal of Homosexuality, 58(1), 138-147. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2011.533632
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