Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Questioning (GLBTQ) Issues
Atlanta is one of one of top 10 cities in the country for the number of same-sex couples, and has one of the largest concentrations of GLBT populations in the Southeast. The city is known throughout the region for being an overall safe and accepting place to be a sexual minority.However, many GLBT individuals in Atlanta have moved here to find acceptance, and have experienced prejudice and discrimination in their previous residences. As youth in particular, sexual minorities are subjected on average to a higher level of verbal and physical harassment than are their heterosexual peers – often from multiple sources, including classmates, family members, and members of the community. As a result of this discrimination, sexual minority individuals often experience higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and anxiety than the heterosexual population. Each sub-group within the sexual minority population also experiences unique stressors, apart from the overall discrimination that faced by those who fall outside of society’s “norms” with regard to sexual and gender identity:
Gay males are often stereotyped as promiscuous, drug-abusing, and responsible for the initial spread of HIV/AIDS. Although stereotypes are fading with an increasing number of individuals' coming out, and an increasing presence of gay figures portrayed in the media, gay men are still subjected to the vast majority of hate crimes against sexual minorities, according to FBI statistics.
Lesbian women often confront dual discrimination, in the form of sexism as women and heterosexism as lesbians. Lesbian women can also face special issues around child care and family building, including creating a “family of choice” or “gay family” which may take the place of family or origin. Unique legal issues are also present if a lesbian couple chooses to have a child.
Bisexual individuals often experience discrimination from within both the straight and gay communities. Although recent literature has begun to point to the positive aspects of embracing a bisexual identity (freedom to define oneself, ability to develop intimate relationships with either gender), communities for bisexuals can often be difficult to find, with few heterosexual or gay and lesbian communities offering full belonging and acceptance.
Transgendered individuals are often the victims of confusion and prejudice on the part of even the most well-intentioned of counselors. The term “transgendered” has evolved to include cross-dressers, transsexuals and transgenderists, male-to-female transsexuals (MTF’s), female-to-male transsexuals (FTM’s), and two-spirit and intersex people – though not that all members of these groups would use the term to describe themselves. Transexuals are best described as individuals who believe their physical body does not represent their true sex. Not all transsexuals choose to have surgical modification, however. Requirements that a mental health professional “sign off” on sex reassignment surgery are also being called in question by clinicians and activists. Although any individual would benefit from counseling before serious surgery, research suggests that it is rare for those who have been approved for treatment to have regrets about the decision afterward.
Finally, there are those individuals who are “questioning” and are still coming to terms with their sexual identity. Although the process of accepting one’s sexual identity has been found to proceed through similar stages regardless of the individual, progress with coming to terms with one’s sexual minority status is not guaranteed. Some individuals are unable to accept themselves due to real and perceived expectations and discrimination from family members, religious figures, co-workers or classmates, and society in general.
Fortunately, the fields of counseling and psychology have been, for the most part, ahead of the curve in dealing with sexual minorities not as individuals with “mental disorders,” but as individuals with problems just like any individual, which may or may not be exacerbated by their sexual minority status. Counseling theories have begun to acknowledge that – just as with women and other minorities – previous discrimination can also have a dramatic impact on the current mental well-being of individuals.
If you are dealing with issues related to your sexual identity, or are just seeking a counseling environment that is welcoming and safe for all sexual minorities, feel free to call Will Mahan, LPC at 404-229-6177 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment.
Will Mahan, LPC