Under the LGBTQA* Rainbow: Why anyone who is gender- or sexually-diverse needs a therapist who is an
Note: I use LGBTQA* to refer to all individuals who identify as sexually- or gender-diverse, including asexual, 2-spirited, agender, and bigender individuals.
Here in North America, there is a dominating media and cultural presence that creates the impression that being heterosexual and cisgender is the norm, and that anyone who is doesn’t identify in this way is an “outsider” or “perverse.” This concept and the resulting discrimination is not new – we see evidence of this back to ancient Judaism1,2,3. Despite this, in recent decades, a strong LGBTQA* movement has begun to grow, and attitudes about difference are slowly changing. I was overwhelmed with excitement to attend the recent Pride festivities in Toronto, Ontario, noticing the massive number of people that filled the busiest downtown streets for the parade and street festival for days on end. The fronts of several major banks and other businesses were designed with rainbow flags, churches proclaimed their acceptance and welcoming of all people, no matter their sexuality or gender identities, and the crowd of observers and celebrators was diverse. Only two small signs were held opposing gay rights, and they couldn’t edge in to the crowd at all. This was a huge contrast to the first Pride parade I ever attended, in Calgary, Alberta in 2007. That parade, albeit just as excited and proud, was a far smaller group, along a far shorter distance, and was over within 30 minutes. To see how far public ideas about gender and sexual diversity have come in the past 10 years truly warms my heart.
Despite the slow movement towards equal rights for LGBTQA* people, discrimination persists. In fact, it seems to me that this discrimination runs so deep, that it is in fact buried deep within our unconscious, even those who are themselves gender- or sexually-diverse. I have struggled with this lack of personal awareness myself; despite my years of interest in advocacy and activism for LGBTQ* people, I found it difficult to accept my own identity in the face of what I had learned in a religious upbringing that I no longer followed. This is why it is imperative that LGBTQA* people access therapists that are loudly, proudly allied with everyone under the rainbow – that have explored their innermost minds to put aside their own deeply-entrenched biases. These therapists are the ones who are able to recognize how systemic and cultural factors influence the experiences, self-growth, and self-acceptance of LGBTQA* people, and are able to explore the experiences of their clients without bias.
So, how can you tell when you’re therapist has this knowledge or understanding? It is not enough for a therapist to simply state that they are LGBTQA* friendly. They need to have put thought into their own understanding and deep-seated beliefs about gender and sexuality. King and colleagues4 reported that, reviewing the literature on the effectiveness of therapy for LGBTQA* clients, therapists who came to the counselling relationship with a clear understanding of the challenges and unique needs LGBTQA* clients face were able to have better therapeutic relationships and outcomes. Furthermore, they found that clients who felt that their therapy was positive and affirmative found that the therapist regarded gender- and sexual-diversity positively, avoided prejudicial beliefs or statements, recognized the effects of institutional and internalized prejudice against LGBTQA* people, and were sensitive to lifestyle and culture. Most importantly, all clients, regardless of their gender or sexuality, should feel safe, connected, respected, understood, and heard by their therapist. Even if you identify as straight and cisgender, a therapist who understands how sexuality and gender influence your life and experiences is a great thing!
If you are looking to speak with a therapist, and outside of main urban centers where LGBTQA* counsellors often work, reach out to me and see if online/telephone therapy is right for you! Check out www.lauraturnbullcounselling.com for more information.
1 Davenport-Hines, R. (1990). Sex, death and punishment. Attitudes to sex and sexuality in Britain since the Renaissance. London: Collins.
2 Herek, G. M. (1984). Beyond ‘homophobia:’ A social psychological perspective on attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 10(1/2), 1-15.
3 Norton, R. (2002). A history of homophobia. Retrieved from http://richardmorton.co.uk/homopho1.htm
4 King, M., Semlyen, J., Killaspy, H., Nazareth, I., & Osborn, D. (2007). A systematic review of research on counselling and psychotherapy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Lichester, UK: BACP House