LGBTQIA+ people frequently face discrimination in their schools, workplaces, and even at home. Microaggressions, harassment, and hate-motivated violence impact LGBTQ+ people directly and through the fear that violence toward our community can cause. Discrimination and other issues that impact the queer community create safety concerns. LGBTQ+ people are at an increased risk for:
- Depression and suicide
- Harassment and bullying
- Intimate partner violence
- Sexual assault
- Substance use
You can help to increase safety for the LGBTQ+ people you work with! Learning more about us, creating safe spaces, and being a responsible ally are all important ways to combat homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia.
Learn About Issues Important to LGBTQ+ People
Staying up-to-date with LGBTQ+ related news, checking out LGBTQ+ podcasts and blogs, and learning more about the different ways that homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia impact queer people can help you to be more helpful to your LGBTQ+ clients. Some online resources will be included at the end of this article to help get you started.
Be a Safe Practitioner
It is important for queer clients to feel safe in your workplace. If we feel unsafe, it will be more difficult for us to feel comfortable opening up to you. A good way to signal that you are a safe person is to have a small pride flag or safe space sticker in your office. Here are some other steps you can take:
- Check your forms. Take a look at your forms. How do you ask about gender and sexuality? People are diverse, and check boxes can’t usually include all of us. If you feel that you must use check boxes, make sure there are options for trans and nonbinary people and a fill-in-the-blank so that everyone can be included.
- Ask about pronouns. Find out how your clients like to be referred to, and do your best to stick to that! Most people will be glad you asked. If a client is confused or upset by the question, explain that you ask it so that everyone can feel safe and welcome in your space. Sometimes, using pronouns other than “he” or “she” can feel daunting, but you will be surprised by how quickly you’ll become accustomed to using other pronouns. Mistakes happen, but try your best and correct yourself if you use the wrong pronouns.
- Let the client take the lead. Everyone has different words that they use to describe themselves, and they may or may not feel comfortable with you referring to them that way. Sometimes, LGBTQ+ people may prefer terms that have historically been considered discriminatory. The best way to find out why your client prefers certain terms or whether you should or shouldn’t say them is to ask!
- What about the bathrooms? Does your office have separate bathrooms marked for “men” and “women?” Making sure that at least one bathroom in your office is not gender designated will help all of your clients to feel safer.
- Take some extra time to talk about safety planning and coping skills. Your queer clients may have specific safety concerns. Taking some extra time to assess your clients’ habitual practices and interpersonal relationships can help them to be safer. Queer people are at an increased risk for interpersonal violence and conflict or loss of contact with their family of origin. Identifying healthy and unhealthy relationships can help to guide discussions on safety planning and coping skills. Many LGBTQ+ people are part of a chosen family that they lean on for support, and your client may be struggling to find their chosen family. Substance use is also more common for LGBTQ+ people, so make sure that if your client is using substances, they are doing so safely.
- Know resources. Keep an up-to-date list of resources for LGBTQ+ clients. Good things to include are health clinics that offer STI/HIV testing, support groups for LGBTQ+ people, and even safe spaces for them to socialize. Some restaurants, bars, coffee shops, or bookstores in your area may have signage to indicate that they are queer-friendly or queer-specific. Unfortunately, gay bars can be unsafe places for many of us, so do your best to discern which spots are welcoming to all.
Be a Responsible Ally
Take time to examine your own beliefs, biases, and privilege around homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia. Make sure that the language that you use is as inclusive as possible. Ask about “partners” instead of “husbands” or “wives,” wait until you know someone’s pronouns before using “sir” or “ma’am,” and make sure that the terms you use to refer to different people and concepts in the queer community are accurate and not offensive. Finally, make sure that you are confronting discrimination when you see it.
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