Pride Month: Become an ally this June

June 29, 2021

A little more than 10 years ago, while working as a school-based mental health counselor in Bayhealth Wellness Centers, I began more actively supporting teens identifying on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.  A questionnaire is administered to adolescents in high schools through the CDC called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  In reviewing that year’s findings, I became very aware of the data concerning youth who identify as LGBTQ+. The risk factors were considerably higher in all areas for this marginalized population. I recall thinking to myself, “What kind of therapist am I if I ignore these statistics?”  I got to work, researching and educating myself more on properly supporting this community. Little did I realize how much it would make my heart and competencies grow. Later, a team of us counselors set out to create safe spaces in our schools for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.  I am so pleased to say nearly every high school and many middle schools in our state have existing clubs usually called Gender Sexuality Alliances.  

In recent years, this has developed into a specialty for me.  It has been my good fortune to continue to treat patients’ and/or their families’ mental health and coping with the stressors that present to the community.  The amount of acceptance offered by this community is staggering.  There is a letter for everyone, even though there is often criticism of the acronym, LGBTTQQIAAP (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, pansexual).  If you note there is an A - for Ally.  I am hard pressed to find evidence of many groups of persons who are that welcoming.  The A is very important.  Even someone who isn’t facing the same discrimination is celebrated.  That indeed is a great lesson alone.  Become an ally this June.  It has made all the difference for me personally and professionally.

The largest piece of advice I can give for those wanting to support LGBTQ+ persons is create a safe space.  Allow someone a moment to take their walls down. If you truly care, the patient can trust you more easily.  Also, it is important to use inclusive verbiage and not use phrases commonly used that create pain for this or any marginalized population. Become mindful of what it can feel like to not feel accepted, what great pain that can create. While it is important to know our limits and that we can harm patients if stretched too far past them, kindness is universal.  Another piece of advice I can offer is to explore bias, which naturally cultivates compassion.  If you are challenged it is important to explore your original and ongoing motivations to work in healthcare.  Did you want to only work with people that are like you, or did you answer a calling to care for anyone in pain and help prevent future pain by keeping patients healthy?  If healthcare is indeed an inner calling, then it is imperative to continue to educate ourselves, in order to assist us against individual and societal bias.  

The last piece of advice is to tutor yourself on the terminology and best practices.  I remember early in my career I was challenged in treating a patient who needed to undergo gender affirmation transition and surgery.  My skills were lacking 20 years ago, fresh out of grad school.  This patient was put in the uncomfortable place of teaching me before I could treat them.  Regretfully, I didn’t educate myself, as I look back.  That mistake doesn’t need to be made these days.  There is a wealth of information available.  Education combats ignorance; the rest often happens organically.  I encourage healthcare staff to go beyond general acceptance, kindness, and humaneness.  Use some of the links below for continued development of your knowledge.  

Su Chafin, NCC, LPCMH, is a family medicine residency behavioral health faculty/psychotherapist.
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