Monday, February 6, 2012

In the News: LGBT Issues in Counseling

It is becoming increasingly more difficult to avoid the topic of homosexuality and gay families in our schools.  As gay people and gay families with children become more visible in the mainstream media (take the award winning television show, Modern Family, for example) and as the bullying of students based on sexual orientation or gender identity continues to remain at the forefront of the national consciousness, school systems are beginning to consider how to address the topic.

As such, there was an in-depth article this weekend in the Washington Post that discussed how area school systems are beginning to implement curriculum that discusses homosexuality as well as gay families:
"Highly publicized teen suicides tied to anti-gay bullying have galvanized administrators to introduce tolerance and safety programs. These days, many openly gay and gay-friendly teenagers are bringing same-gender dates to the prom, putting on gay-themed school plays and creating gay-straight alliances. In elementary schools, a growing number of openly gay — and legally married — parents are also pushing for change. They want their families to be reflected in classroom discussions and on back-to school-night bulletin boards." (source: www.washingtonpost.com)
There are parents who are concerned about the topic coming up with students, especially in elementary school, out of a fear of "hypersexualizing" their children.  However, discussing gay relationships and gay families is no more about sex than discussing heterosexual relationships and heterosexual families.  In an increasingly more diverse and open society, school systems will need to look to address how best to serve gay students, gay parents, and their entire school communities to create a culture of inclusiveness, acceptance, and safety for all.  These kinds of initiatives start from the top down.  In a previous blog post I wrote about how teachers are ready and feel comfortable bringing this topic up within their schools--they feel they need additional support from school boards as well as central office staff in order to develop appropriate curriculum and set guidelines.

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Next, we have a story about Scott Lively, an anti-gay activist who also presides over a ministry in California.  He had the following to say about GLSEN and Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs):


Basically, he is stating that GLSEN and GSAs are out to recruit children to the homosexual lifestyle and that:
"...many of these kids, when you see the kids that get wrapped up in this, they're the misfits, for the most part, they're the kids that don't have friends in other places, they're chubby or they have a bunch of acne or they're socially awkward and then the Gay-Straight Alliance Club reaches out to these kids and brings them in and then they start adopting a gay identity." (source: www.rightwingwatch.org)
As a GSA co-sponsor, I can say with certainty that there is not a recruiting aspect in any way associated with the club.  In fact, one of the basic tenants of GSAs is that these groups be student-led and student-driven--the adults are meant to be supports as well as resources if the groups plan events or have questions about policies relating to student organizations/fundraisers/events.  They are not supposed to use the groups for their own agendas, the same as for any faculty sponsor of a school organization.  Secondly, GSAs have a wide diversity in their make-ups with students from all different cultures, backgrounds, and sexual orientations.  Are there lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth in GSAs?  Yes, but there are also many straight allies whose sexual orientation remains constant throughout their participation with the organization.  GSAs are built upon principles of openness and acceptance of all students.

Most importantly, these groups continue to serve as a support for students of all backgrounds, but especially for those who identify as LGBTQ.
"Having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including: hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns and a greater sense of belonging to the school community." (source: www.glsen.org)
Given the current focus in our nation on bullying as well as the number of teen suicides attributed in part to harassment and bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation (including another one this past week), these student clubs can help to connect students to each other for support, identify accepting faculty sponsors, and give them a meaningful connection to their school, all of which have been identified as markers for stronger levels of academic success.

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Finally, this New York Times article continues the conversation on whether it is ethical to dismiss counselors-in-training from graduate counseling programs if they refuse to work with LGBTQ clients for personal religious reasons.  I posted this article on Twitter (@CnslrDarrell) and have had excellent points made on both sides.  For consideration:
  • Counselors are ethically bound to refer clients who are out of their scope of practice.  Would this qualify?
  • Is the role of the counselor to affirm someone's actions or beliefs, or is it to facilitate the client being able to make whatever changes are necessary to achieve a "normal" level of functioning?
  • Would it be acceptable to refer clients of other races because a counselor was not comfortable with him/her?  Is a homosexual client any different?
  • How can you really screen completely for any issue that many go against your own personal beliefs and values?  As the article discusses, what a client walks in with as the presenting issue may not ultimately be what comes out after 5 or 6 sessions.  
  • What about school counselors? You cannot typically refer your students and must ethically assist them with whatever needs may arise.  This includes students with gay parents and who themselves identify as LGBTQ. (source: www.nytimes.com)
I believe it comes down to a few things--harm to the client, for one.  A colleague on Twitter asked the question, "Is it more harmful to refer the client immediately, thus having them face rejection, or is it more harmful to have them work with a therapist who believes them to be 'wrong'?"  Harm either way, I believe.  Still, I wonder what many counselors believe when they enter the profession.  In an increasingly more diverse society, it is very unlikely that you are always going to be able to work with the "perfect" client who shares in your same beliefs and convictions.  It seems to me that the ethical mandates to develop strong multicultural skills (LGBTQ people are a culture) as well as the emphasis by CACREP to incorporate multiculturalism into almost every aspect of a program would dictate that counselors be prepared and willing to work with a wide swath of people.  Clients are going to make choices or live lifestyles that you may not agree with or would choose yourself.  I ultimately believe it is not our role to judge, but rather to help clients work towards goals that allow them to return to a high quality of life.   

2 comments:

  1. Great post. Our high school just recently chartered their LGBTQ group. There's only one gay kid in there, the rest are straight. Why? The straight kids were tired of seeing the bullying that was happening on a daily basis, so they did something about it.

    PS, please allow comments from a name/url profile!

    Rick
    http://counselor.rickscheibner.net

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    Replies
    1. That's wonderful to hear about your GSA! There are many resources through GLSEN to help the students plan events and network with other like-minded groups. "No Name Calling Week" has been highly successful at schools across the country and there are plenty of ideas and materials already available--no one should feel like they have to reinvent the wheel.

      I just changed my comments settings to accomodate anyone--hopefully that takes care of things.

      Regards,
      Darrell

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