Justice and the LGBTQ Youth
“The Justice Project is committed to seeking justice for children who do not have a home through no fault of their own. Like the LGBTQ youth described below, LGBTQ foster youth find it difficult to live freely within their own gender identity and sexual orientation. When adults cannot accept youth for who they are, it opens a pipeline from home to homelessness.” – Noah benShea, Executive Director – The Justice Project
Interview with Moira Savage, M.A., Psychotherapist
1) What drew you to working with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning/Queer (LGBTQ) community, and specifically the Transgender community?
I have always been fascinated by gender and sexuality. There are few things more fundamental to our identity than our gender and those whom we love or happen to be attracted to. Beyond my personal interest, I’m also drawn to working within this community because I see a need for more LGBTQ-informed clinicians. As with any specific population, it’s critical to truly understand the context of LGBTQ clients’ lives, the unique challenges they face, and the intersection between these challenges and their overall health; you can be a wonderful and compassionate therapist, but without this understanding, you cannot provide culturally competent care. I’m particularly drawn to working within the transgender community because the “T” in LGBTQ is often lost, misunderstood, or ignored by our society. I feel passionate about providing good and compassionate care to people who happen to identify as trans or whose gender identity might not have a label.
2) What issues should therapists be aware of when working with an LGBTQ client?
Statistics within the LGBTQ population are often unreliable due to underreporting, but it’s clear that, due to internalized discrimination, individuals who identify as LGBTQ are at higher risk of mental health issues than the general population. The statistics around LGBTQ youth are particularly striking: LGB youth are four times as likely, and questioning youth three times as likely, to attempt suicide as their straight peers, while almost half of trans youth have seriously thought about ending their lives and 25% report an actual suicide attempt. That said, when working with LGBTQ clients, we need to remember that their gender or sexual identity is just one part of their identity and might not be a source of distress, or the reason why they’ve come to therapy. We should not assume too much – every client has their own story, and it’s up to them to tell us about their unique experience. It’s also important to understand that the LGBTQ community comprises multiple distinct groups, each of which faces its own challenges in our society. By working together with our clients, we can put these issues into context and treat them accordingly.
3) What injustices do you see impacting the LGBTQ community?
The entire LGBTQ community faces injustice on a daily basis. The movement around equal rights has come a long way, but there’s still much work to be done, especially on behalf of the trans population, which is often neglected by this movement and excluded by organizations and greater communities. The common injustices within the LGBTQ population are too many to list, but a few that I see over and over again in my work are teens being kicked out of their homes; harassment; discrimination by healthcare workers and authority figures; and, most notably, acts of physical and sexual violence. It’s worth noting that for those who are both LGBTQ and a member of another oppressed group, the harm they experience is compounded on multiple levels – the rates of violence against trans women, and particularly against trans women of color, are truly staggering.
4) What specific injustices do you see impacting LGBTQ youth?
Sadly, kids aren’t spared any of the injustices that adults face, but additionally there is now a true epidemic of homelessness among LGBTQ youth, which further perpetuates many more injustices as they struggle to survive. Only 7% of the general youth population identify as LGBTQ, yet approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. The number one reason youth experience homelessness is family rejection – these kids are getting kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. On the streets, they face a greater risk of victimization, unsafe sexual practices, substance abuse, and a variety of mental and physical health issues. Once in the vicious cycle of homelessness and, all too often, criminalization, it can seem nearly impossible to get out. Fortunately there are some great organizations working to end this epidemic, but allies and supporters still need to do more.
5) What is the solution to this injustice?
In an ideal world, we could work with each individual and their family in an effort to promote acceptance. That’s impossible, unfortunately, so we instead need to promote a shift in the way our society views and relates to the LGBTQ community more broadly – we can do this in part through improved education about gender and sexual identity in schools, companies, and community groups. Supporters should also be working with politicians and government agencies to ensure that funding and resources are available and reaching the appropriate programs. There should also be state-mandated training for healthcare providers and authority figures (like teachers and police officers).
6) Do you see progress happening?
Yes. In the last decade alone, and particularly in the past couple of years, we’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress! From media and entertainment to the movement around marriage equality, we’re seeing more positive representations and acceptance of the LGBTQ community all the time. A new nationwide poll shows that 65% of individuals aged 18-34 support federal, comprehensive LGBTQ nondiscrimination legislation. We just saw Laverne Cox on the cover of TIME; shows like Orange is the New Black and Transparent have fantastic ratings; and the response to Bruce Jenner coming out was mostly positive. It’s all about visibility—with visibility comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance.
Moira Savage, M.A., Psychotherapist