By Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC
For The Awakening Center’s #awakentoaction, we are celebrating LGBTQ Pride this month!
I was thinking back to the mid 1980s when I took a graduate school course “Abnormal Psychology.” The way the professor taught the course makes it my favorite class, to this day! As we worked our way thru all the various mental illness diagnoses, she taught us that every diagnosis was on a continuum, and we (the students in her class) were on the same continuum too. She wanted to eliminate “them” versus “us” mentality. Rather than “Those people who have Schizophrenia” we could feel empathy for our clients whose symptoms were more profound than what we ourselves experienced.
One day, the professor stopped the class and said, “I am supposed to teach you that homosexuality is a mental illness, but I refuse to do so!” She gave us an assignment. For the following week, we were supposed to pretend that we were gay and we had to hide this from everyone we knew. Some of us who were married, and since same sex marriage was not legal way back in 1984, we had to pretend that we were not allowed to marry our current partners. We were not allowed to hold our partner’s hand in public for fear of getting harassed or arrested. We were to remove pictures of our partners from our workplace, for fear of getting fired! We had to hide who we lived with for fear that we would be evicted from apartments or would not be allowed to purchase a house with our partner.
The next week, the class discussed what it was like to hide something fundamental about who you were deep inside. The reactions ranged from humiliation and shame, to rage and indignation. This experience has stayed with me to this day. And I was relieved that soon afterward homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
If we zoom to the current decade, many changes are in place. In many states (but not all), tt is no longer legal to discriminate against a person because of their sexual orientation in housing or employment. LGB individuals can now join the US military. It is legal for same sex couples to marry. Gay pride flags and banners wave in stores and windows throughout our city. The Gay Pride Parade just took place here in Chicago and has become a big summer event.
However this is not enough. We need to continue to move forward with progress in our society to the point that every person, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity, is treated with respect, worth, and dignity. Every person should be able to live their life without constant vigilance for harassment and persecution. Every religion of the world has a version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”; and I would love to see every person of every religion, or of no religion at all, live by this rule.
So how can we help make this change happen? It starts with ourselves. Those of us outside the LGBTQ community can become allies. A true ally actively combats anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while uplifting the voices of LGBT people. Allyship is more than broadly supporting LGBT people; it's an active, ongoing process of advocating for LGBT individuals (and other marginalized groups) without speaking for them or over them. (https://www.glsen.org/participate/programs/ally-week?gclid=CNW79eG90tQCFQ6taQod408Jiw )
Just as it takes courage for LGBT people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones. We live in a society where prejudice still exists and where discrimination is still far too common. Recognizing these facts and giving your support to that person will take your relationship to a higher level and is a small step toward a better and more accepting world. (http://www.hrc.org/blog/how-to-be-an-lgbt-ally )
Here are 10 Ways to Be an Ally & a Friend (from: https://www.glaad.org/resources/ally/2)
- Be a listener.
- Be open-minded.
- Be willing to talk.
- Be inclusive and invite LGBT friends to hang out with your friends and family.
- Don't assume that all your friends and co-workers are straight. Someone close to you could be looking for support in their coming-out process. Not making assumptions will give them the space they need.
- Anti-LGBT comments and jokes are harmful. Let your friends, family and co-workers know that you find them offensive.
- Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so.
- Defend your LGBT friends against discrimination.
- Believe that all people, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, should be treated with dignity and respect.
- If you see LGBT people being misrepresented in the media, contact us at www.glaad.org
It starts with me. And you! And if we tell two people, and they tell two people, and they tell two people, and so on and so on and so on…. Hopefully, we can help change the world to be a much more loving and accepting place for all!
Amy is proud to be a LGBTQ Ally!