When we look at gender identity we are talking about the ways we define and categorize our genders. That could be through the binary lens of male or female, a combination of both or neither one. Dictionary definition:
A person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex
When we say sexual orientation or even sexual identity we are referring to the way we categorize and define who we are attracted to romantically, sexually, emotionally or sometimes- not attracted at all. Can be defined as:
A person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; some examples are heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.
For someone on the outside, it’s tough to conceptualize the struggle of the LGBTQI+ population. It’s often when someone close to them or they themselves have an opportunity for such certain experience that it brings them closer to a sense of understanding. Often, they are left feeling uncertain, uncomfortable, and unable to see differently due to their inability to step outside of the engrained understanding of the world around them. This is especially true for parents of LGBTQI+ children, and it is not uncommon.
What is common are the research based facts from the Human Rights Campaign that outline the set back of the community showing that 25% of LGBTQ people abuse alcohol compared to 5-10% of the general population, 41% of transgender and gender nonconforming people have attempted suicide, whereas 1.6% of all people have tried to take their own lives. And what does this mean to us? Well, according to The Center for American Progress “The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principal driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges.” All these statistics are just an overview. When we add suicidality, depression and anxiety, as well as addiction- the suicide rates rise to more than 41%.
When we look at homophobia (dislike of or prejudice against homosexual people) and transphobia (intense dislike of or prejudice against transgender people) engraved in some societal perspectives, we see a common denominator behind the feelings of shame, rejection, hopelessness, and fear. Both phobias can be defined as prejudice, discrimination or violence against an LGBTQI+ identified person. This systemic oppression is not just external but can often become an internal struggle in the form of internalized oppression, both just as harmful to an LGBTQI+ person. This oppression can be easily seen in a survey by Human Rights Campaign that states “roughly 50 percent of LGBTQ Americans live in states where they’re at risk of being fired, denied housing, or refused service because of who they are.” To access the disadvantages based on gender identity and sexual orientation represented by each state, go to: www.lgbtmap.org and click on equality maps.
We ask ourselves, what does inclusion; recognition and an affirming response do for the LGBTQI+ person? These three actions produce less suicidality, less depression, less anxiety, and less dysphoria, which means stronger mental health which is the most important thing- for anyone. Stronger mental health means having the tools for a more successful recovery from addiction. Social cohesion and increased sense of security are a direct result of inclusion, especially inclusion offered by the family system. On the flip side, social exclusion and abuse only result in poor mental health, suicidality, self- harm, addiction, and feelings of not being safe, as pointed out by The National LGBTQI Health Alliance.
Despite the influx of information regarding the challenges and risks for lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) individuals, as well as rising information on trans individuals, we know far less about their strengths and resiliency, including the strength of families in supporting their children’s health and well-being. According to Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University this scarcity in reflection of strengths also affects the family. “There is a lack of information about how family involvement, especially parental and caregiver reaction directly contribute to reducing risk and evolving the LGBT person’s well-being.” “Victimization has long-term consequences for health and development, and impacts families as well as the targeted individuals. Early intervention can help families and caregivers build on strengths and use evidence-based materials to understand the impact of acceptance and rejection on their child’s well-being.” According to PFLAG, United States’ largest organization uniting families and allies with LGBTQ people, “LGBTQ youth who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence are three times more likely to use illegal drugs.” The bottom line is we have to recognize how rejection and acceptance can have an enormous impact on a LGBQI+ person’s well-being.
How can we increase family support?
For families that are not ready or are having difficulty accepting their loved ones, seeking help in the form of individual support, a support group, individual counseling or even family therapy could be a good start. Practitioners should try to meet the parents “where they are” in their process to help support and build an alliance with their LBGQI+ child. According to research by SAMHSA “few parents and caregivers have had opportunity to talk about their concerns and hopes for their LGBT child with a supportive, nonjudgmental professional.”
Jaki Neering, who is a primary therapist working with LGBTQI+ population in recovery describes when an individual experiences unconditional love, encouragement, and complete acceptance from family members, their sense of self may be more aligned with their highest good. On the other hand, when a person lacks support from family, and feels abandoned by their loved ones, feelings of guilt and shame tend to take over and shape their experiences. Sometimes, support will come from a healing community that is experiencing a similar journey before it comes from a family member. Just remember, when you or a family member needs support or education, just search online, call a professional, or another parent to start your process. It is important to remember that your healing process can help implement a supportive and affirming environment for your LGBTQI+ child or family member.
Alicja Majer is the Director of Operations at Inspire Recovery since 2015, an LGBTQIA+ specific substance abuse treatment facility. Alicja’s focus in on LGBTQIA+ Advocacy, Addiction Recovery, LGBTQIA+ rights and education as well serving as a board member on TranspireHELP http://transpirehelp.org (not- for-profit dedicated to raise funds for the LGBTQIA+ community in recovery).
Alicja Majer, MSW Intern, BSW, CRRA