The month of June is Pride month — a time for the LGBTQ+ community and allies to come together to celebrate and embrace identity. For families and caregivers, your support and acceptance of your loved one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or gender expression can directly impact their mental wellness. Family support and acceptance is critical to the personal safety, health, and wellbeing of all LGBTQ+ people. In supporting your loved ones, it is important to know the history behind Pride month, and have an understanding of ways you can show your support.
History of Pride
For most people outside of the LGBTQ+ community, Pride is seen as a rainbow parade full of glitter and colorful celebration. However, Pride represents much more than this. Pride celebrates dignity, equality, connection, self-affirmation, and increased visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. Moreover, there is a significant history behind the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community. The catalyst for Pride was actually a riot — the 1969 Stonewall riots, also known as the Stonewall uprising.
To fully understand what Pride represents, it is important to understand how it began. June 28, 1969 marks the start of the Stonewall riots in which the police raided Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in New York city. Long frustrated by police brutality and harassment, patrons of Stonewall Inn fought back. This ignited protests through the streets of New York. To provide context — for openly gay and transgender people, it was basically illegal to even exist, as a majority of states had laws specifically targeting gay men.
Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) pathologized homosexuality as a mental illness up until 1973. This contributed to the stigmatization and discrimination of gay people. The Stonewall uprising sparked the formation of LGBTQ political activism and was pivotal for the gay liberation movement. The Stonewall riots were vital in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality and led to the first Pride Parade a year later in 1970.
Pride in Present Day
Pride has a rich history in both pain and celebration. While Pride can be a time of festive celebration, considering the history, it can also be emotionally charged. Pride highlights confronting the ongoing discrimination and systemic oppression that continues to impact the LGBTQ+ community. Due to many factors, including a lack of access to treatment, harassment and family rejection, denial of civil and human rights, and high levels of stigma and discrimination, LGBTQ+ people experience greater risk for mental health conditions and suicidality.
How To Support LGBTQ+ People In Your Life
Social support, specifically from families, has been found to be a significant protective factor for LGBTQ+ individuals. Family support has been linked with increased well-being across a number of domains, including lower suicidality, distress, depression, hopelessness, and substance use. Family acceptance has been associated with higher self-esteem and physical and mental health. Thus, family support is vital in the overall wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people. The following are ways to support your LGBTQ+ loved ones.
It is not your loved one’s job to educate you. Take it upon yourself to do your own work in understanding them and the issues important to them. There are an abundance of resources available online, in books, documentaries, and through LGBTQ+ organizations. Keep a curious and ever-learning mindset for continued growth. Showing a genuine effort in learning is one of the most important things you can do to support your loved one.
Along with educating yourself, don’t be afraid to ask questions. With that being said, be mindful of your intentions. Asking intrusive questions is inappropriate, but questions for clarification or true understanding can be acceptable.
Coming Out is a Choice, Not An Expectation
Coming out can be a liberating, but an extremely scary and personal process. There is fear of a potential negative response, or not knowing if support will follow. If someone comes out to you, know that person feels you are important to them. Be ready to listen — this is not a time to provide advice.
It is each person’s decision on who they want to come out to, when they want to come out, or if they want to come out at all. Sometimes a person may decide they do not feel safe coming out to certain people, even family or friends. This is their decision, not yours. Outing someone without their permission is extremely disrespectful and damaging. A person may have their own reasons that you do not understand for not feeling comfortable coming out, and that is okay.
Use Correct Pronouns and Names
To normalize the use of pronouns for all gender identities, offer yours upon first meeting. This may sound something like “Hi, my name is Amanda, and my pronouns are she/her”. This helps alleviate some of the stress of being misgendered. Remember, pronouns are not a preference, so you should never refer to them as “preferred” pronouns. If you make a mistake and misgender someone, politely apologize and correct yourself. Don’t make a big deal about it but make a true effort to use the correct pronouns in the future. Continued use of the wrong pronouns can be invalidating and hurtful. It can be helpful to practice on your own using the correct pronouns in a sentence, and to work toward shifting your understanding of gender.
Additionally, it is important to use the correct name. For transgender, non-binary, or gender expansive people, using their deadname can be potentially hurtful and damaging.
Validate Their Experiences
Chances are, if you are heterosexual and/or cisgender, you will not have the same experiences as your LGBTQ+ loved ones. Although it may be difficult for you to understand or relate, it is vital that you validate and listen to your loved one’s experiences. Often, LGBTQ+ people face discrimination and injustices. This is your chance to listen and support them.
Mental Health in the LGBTQ Community
Due to the additional barriers and discrimination the LGBTQ community faces, individuals in the community face mental health illness and risks at higher rates. For instance:
- LGB adults are more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition.
- Transgender individuals are nearly four times as likely as cisgender individuals to experience a mental health condition.
- LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth (CDC).
- LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
Mental Health Providers as LGBTQ+ Allies
One of the major issues LGBTQ people face is inadequate mental health care. While we often group LGBTQ+ populations as a single umbrella term, it is important to remember that each identity is different with their own experiences, unique challenges, and needs. Mental health providers should treat each individual patient uniquely to their needs, rather than a collection of risk factors.
Being an ally is more than adding a rainbow Facebook frame to your profile picture during Pride Month. An ally is someone who has a desire to learn, understand and supports LGBTQ+ people both publicly and privately. For a mental health provider, this can be attending workshops, trainings, and continuing education on working with LGBTQ+ populations.
Our patients should never be our teachers. It is our responsibility to learn and educate ourselves on ways to provide a safe and affirming environment and care. Ultimately, we need to work toward improved access to and quality of mental health care for the LGBTQ+ community. It is up to us to remove the barriers and become strong allies. Take the opportunity to support you LGBTQ+ loved ones during Pride this year. Take a moment to celebrate their bravery and resilience. Support them, and most of all, love them. All people need to live and be loved as we are.
To learn more about our providers who have experience with LGBTQ+ issues, reach out to Covenant Family Solutions. If you are interested in learning more about our self-guided mental health courses, visit our courses page.