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Paul Curtis and Michael Carrone

Interest Group Co-Leads

LGBTQ+ Interest Group: Taking Steps toward Inclusivity

February 12, 2020 | Practice Improvement | Comments
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Last month, more than 100 people attended the first virtual meeting of the LGBTQ+ Interest Group, where in a webinar, they learned more about the issues facing this population, insights into ongoing needs, and next steps regarding the Group and its growing community. We were overwhelmed by the excitement and energy of the participants, as well as the ideas shared. More impressive, though, was the breadth of communities represented in the meeting.

With LGBTQ+ as the moniker of our Group, there’s so much to unravel within that acronym. The “+” acknowledges that we embody diverse expressions of sexuality and gender within numerous communities, composed of individuals with different experiences and perspectives. With so much diversity, we strive for a system that accepts and includes all within our queer spectrum. We are getting closer, but we are not there yet.

Equal rights, social barriers to acceptance, community dynamics, and stigma still serve as a backdrop to the individual experience within the LGTBQ+ communities. We are disproportionately impacted by mental health and substance use conditions in this country and are more than twice as likely to experience a mental health condition than the general population. We are also at higher risk for substance misuse, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and being targeted as victims of violence.

Health disparities within the LGBTQ+ communities are compounded by cultural and socioeconomic factors and include identities that intersect with other marginalized groups. While preventing these disparities requires an advocacy agenda that unwinds social norms and stigma, changes repressive and outdated state and federal laws, and implements of health and social services that meet our needs. Despite tremendous evolution in the behavioral health field toward addressing the needs of LGBTQ+ individuals, families, and communities, many of us still experience negative attitudes, shame and discrimination from providers.

When we think about meeting the behavioral health needs of the nine million LGBTQ+ Americans, the first and best place to start is at home, in our own organizations. There are numerous resources available on how to make our organizations more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ population. The Human Rights Campaign has published Benchmarks of LGBTQ+ Inclusion as a guide to look internally at our own organizations and consider how we can better position ourselves to welcome members of the LGBTQ+ communities. Below are a few highlights on how we can all be inclusive at the organizational level:

  1. Non-discrimination – Ensure employment and persons-served policy and contracts include non-discrimination language around LGBTQ+ individuals (inclusive or “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”).
  2. Training for Staff – Give staff opportunities to develop cultural competency around LGBTQ+ individuals internally and in person-facing services. Provide staff resources, hang signage and provide training opportunities.
  3. Sending a Welcoming Message – Allowing individuals to indicate their gender pronouns or gender expression on an intake form, using gender neutral language, or hanging a sign that states “All Are Welcome” can send a big message of inclusion.
  4. Capacity Building – Allow space for LGBTQ+ employees to let their voice be heard and advocate for their community, or start a committee that reviews policies and workflows to ensure they are not intentionally alienating different communities.
  5. Leadership in the Field – Become a leader within your community on inclusivity and best practices. Make connections with other organizations who also want to be more inclusive and share best practices.

Building off this one example, we encourage everyone to send examples of other resources we can share with the LGBTQ+ Interest Group. Email your suggestions to Michael Carrone, Director of Practice Improvement. Interested in being part of our Group? Fill out our interest form!

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