By Chelsea Henderson, MA, LPCC, NCC

First of all, we want to say Happy Pride Month to all those who identify within the LGBTQ+ community or have yet to figure out where they fit on the spectrum of gender and/or sexual identity. We see you and we are here for you. We acknowledge this pride month may be extra difficult for the community as we don’t get to celebrate in crowds. The San Luis Behavioral Health Group has been in existence for over 50 years and is committed to provided quality services and support for historically underserved and underrepresented communities. Research suggests that LGBTQ+ individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. LGBTQ+ adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. LGBTQ+ community are at a higher risk than the general population for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts High school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers. 48% of all transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the past 12 months, compared to 4% of the overall US population. Acceptance by our immediate social groups and of one’s sexual orientation and gender identity affects the mental health and personal safety of LGBTQ+ individuals.

This year marks 51 years since the original Stonewall riots and the fight for equal rights and social justice are heating up again. Thus this is an important time to know how to be an ally in the LGBTQ+ community and advocate for those voices that are silenced or quieted.

Before we talk about advocacy, it’s important as an ally to educate yourself on the terms involving the LGBTQ+ community. It can be overwhelming at times with the many different sexual and gender identities, so let’s start at what LGBTQ+ stands for.

The first letters you hopefully already have some knowledge on what they mean: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, and Queer or Questioning. The last letter, “Q”, depends on the person, as not all folk will be comfortable with being called queer. The “+” symbol is meant to be inclusive of those genders and identities that aren’t given a letter. In other words, the “LGB” is meant to be representative of sexualities and “T” of the gender identities; folks will sometimes use queer for be representative of all identities, but again not everyone will feel comfortable with that term, so please ask before using it on a case by case basic due to the word’s historical negative use. Again, please ask before using the word “queer”. Also note that we want to use more of these terms as an adjective instead of a label, i.e. using phrases like “he identifies as gay” instead of “that gay guy”.

In addition to having knowledge of the terms used in the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to know the difference between sexual and gender identities. The best way to visualize this is what “The SafeZone Project” calls the genderbread man. Basically, gender identity is who we know ourselves to be psychologically and how we align/don’t align with the options for gender. Attraction is how we feel drawn to other people, most often linked with our gender; this category is often referred to as sexual orientation. “Sex” is referring to anatomical sex, what we are born with and our physical makeup of our bodies. “Expression” refers to the whole person and how one presents through actions, clothing,

demeanor, and socially. Basically saying Identity ≠ Expression ≠ Sex, and Gender ≠ Sexual Orientation.

Now, let’s talk about support. How do I best support my friends or family that may not have “come out” to me or are scared to? The best thing to do is continue to educate yourself and bring supportive speech into everyday conversations. This includes standing your ground on pronouns (if you know them, use them), correcting and rephrasing common mistakes like “fireman” to “firefighter” and moving towards more inclusive language like using “folks” and “everyone” when speaking to a group.

Once someone feels safe to speak to you about identifying with one or multiple terms regarding LGBTQ+, there are some “do’s” and “don’t” with this process. First of all, recognize that “coming out” is a sign of trust and addressing this by thanking them in some way, as simple as “I love and support you no matter what” or “Thank you for trusting me enough with this part of you, this must have been scary to bring up”. Check in with the person one who else they have “come out” to, making sure they are safe and you are keeping them safe after the conversation with the information. Remember that their sexuality and gender identity are just one piece of what makes them the person you know. The most important thing you can do for your friend is to ask them how to best support them and ask questions about their process in coming to this point. Also good things to have on hand are crisis lines, if the person who is talking to you is feeling overwhelmed and requires professional intervention and offering to stay with them while speak to a crisis professional.

Finally in terms of advocacy, there are many ways to support the greater LGBTQ+ community. Local, we can try our best to vote for changes for our communities, joining a LGBTQ+ social group, joining and engaging in a local pride festival, and supporting LGBTQ+ families the best you can. On a state or national level we can vote for leadership who are allies or who are in support of legislation for more inclusive changes (healthcare, housing, adoption, etc). There are many advocacy groups that you can donate to or share movement on your social media of choice. In our SLV communities there is an ally in the San Luis Valley Behavioral Health Group, if you are experiencing behavioral distress and you need to talk to someone do not hesitate to reach out. We have trained compassionate staff ready to help.

If you are experiencing a crisis, please call 719-589-3671 or call the crisis hotline 1 (844) 493-TALK (8255). For after business hours assistance, please call 911 or the crisis hotline 1 (844) 493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to receive mental health crisis support. The Trevor Project Support Line 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Translife Line 877-565-8860.

Citied below are some good articles to educate yourself more about being an ally.

Comprehensive* List of LGBTQ+ Related Vocabulary Definitions : https://www.slvbhg.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Comprehensive-list-of-terms-LGBTQ.pdf

Supporting Trans and Nonbinary Youth: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Guide-to-Being-an-Ally-to-Transgender-and-Nonbinary-Youth.pdf

Supporting Black LGBTQ+ Youth: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Supporting-Black-LGBTQ-Youth-Mental-Health.pdf

Name Change Forms and Microgrants: https://www.translifeline.org/resources

GLAAD Resource List: https://www.glaad.org/resourcelist

CDC Site for Allies and LGBTQ+ folks: https://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm

Human Rights Campaign Ally Resources: https://www.hrc.org/resources/topic/allies