Category Archives: Mental Health

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn wrote in her suicide note that one of the ways her family rejected her was by forcing her to see “Christian therapists.”  These therapists told her that she was selfish and wrong, and should look to God for help. Soon after her suicide, a White House petition was started, calling for “Leelah’s Law,”  which would ban all forms of the cruel ex-transgender and ex-gay conversion therapies.

Recently, the White House responded to the petition in agreement that conversion therapy should be banned.  Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor, said, “The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”  She added, “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Jarrett believes that even with the best intentions, families can cause harm to their children who are LGBTQ. She said, “Countless families and guardians across the country proudly support their LGBTQ+ children. Too many LGBTQ+ youth, however, lack this support system, which can have devastating consequences. Negative family reactions to LGBTQ+ youth can be perceived as rejection by children, often contributing to serious health issues and inhibiting a child’s development and well-being. And when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth, some actions by family and caregivers can be harmful, despite even the best intentions.”

This year, Republican lawmakers have defeated several legislative bans that were pending in various states; some are still pending. Currently, only California, New Jersey, and Washington, DC have banned conversion therapy for minors. According to Jarrett, a national ban would require congressional action. But, she said: “We’re hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the action taken by the states will lead to broader action that the administration would support.”

Jarrett stated in an interview with the New York Times that Obama was incredibly moved by Alcorn’s story and added that it’s not a unique experience: “It’s not the story of one young person,” she said. “It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”


Mental Health’s Influence on HIV Prevention

The HIV epidemic has changed a lot within the past 20 years, and still yet, continued high risk behaviors have remained the same.  Contributing factors to these behaviors include a lack of power or oppression, marginalization, sexual abuse, sexual compulsivity, low self esteem, depression, and loneliness.  These are not issues that can be fixed quickly.  Addressing these issues requires effort and time and may extend beyond the capabilities of many HIV programs for prevention.

An important thing learned from HIV prevention research is one size doesn’t fit all. Programs require different components that address the various different needs of clients.  Increased access to syringes for people who inject drugs, and condoms to those who have sex are necessary to win the battle against HIV.  Skill building and increasing knowledge about HIV are good methods for prevention, but they don’t work for everyone.  For most, the obstacles related to behavior changes involves dealing with mental health problems.

What people experience and what they do have effects on their mental health. Substance abuse and use (even when the drugs are not abused), marginalization, poverty, and discrimination are all serious factors that can have a big impact on one’s mental health and can place some people at a higher risk for contracting an HIV infection.

Mental Health's Influence on HIV Prevention

Do Issues with Mental Health Affect HIV Risk?

Yes. When someone decides to engage in a risky drug or sexual act, it doesn’t always occur due a consciously made decision.  Instead, these decisions are sometimes based on an attempt to get satisfaction for another need related to a mental health condition. For example:

  • Low self-esteem: For many men who have sex with other men (MSM), internalized homophobia and low self-esteem can impact their risk of of contracting HIV.  Internalized homophobia is a feeling which results in a person having a lack of self-acceptance, feeling unhappy, or self-condemnation for being gay.  In one study, it showed that men who did test positive for HIV were the ones that were in fact the ones that experienced internalized homophobia.  These men seemed to spend less time with others who lived the same lifestyle, and they also showed less satisfaction in their relationships.
  • Male to female transgender persons, also known as MTFs, identify depression, rejection, feelings of isolation, and low self esteem as barriers to risk of HIV reduction.  Many MTFs state that they take part in unprotected sex because it verifies their identity and helps boost their self esteem.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder:  People who are diagnosed with PTSD seem to partake in high-risk sexual behaviors.  One study showed that 59% of the women who were HIV positive had full PTSD due to traumas, such as rape, assault, or witnessing a murder. Non-violent traumas including serious accidents, loss or children, or homelessness.  Still yet, these women were not being treated for PTSD.  A national study performed on veterans found that substance abusers who had PTSD were more than 12 times as likely to be HIV infected than those veterans who were not suffering from PTSD or substance abuse.
  • Depression and anxiety: Those suffering from depression and anxiety are more likely to take part in high- risk sexual activities, such as substance abuse, including injection drug use, prostitution and choosing a high-risk partner.  A study following city youths for over a several year time period found that the change in risk behaviors wasn’t associated with access to information, counseling or knowing someone had AIDS.

What can be done?

As you can clearly see, mental health conditions by far increase risky sexual behaviors.  In order to address mental health issues, it is important that a person visit an individual therapist or counselor, as well as a physician to be put on appropriate medication(s). It’s also important for such people to have access to structural and community level programs that address mental health needs and HIV.

Doctors Need to Initiate Communication with LGBTQ Patients

LGBTQ patients are faced with a variety of health obstacles.

Within the community are high rates of substance abuse and suicide. Men who have sex with men (MSM) make up the majority of new cases of HIV. In order to narrow and eventually close the health gaps between LGBTQ patients and those who are straight, doctors need to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity with their patients.

Dr. Harvey Makadon, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute in Boston said that few physicians talk to patients about sexual behavior, desires and issues of identity.

It’s important for doctors to speak up about sexual orientation and gender identity with patients. It’s a huge part of one’s life and certain issues need to be addressed that affect both mental and physical health. Doctors are potentially missing some of the big issues. Those in the transgender community are of particular concern. Statistics in the community are unsettling. Transgender individuals suffer high rates of poverty, crime and STDs. Almost one-third of transgender women have HIV. According to Makadon, that’s a rate 49 percent higher than other adults of reproductive age.

Doctors Need to Initiate Communication with LGBTQ Patients

Physicians who are not afraid to treat transgender patients hold the key to preventing significant medical issues. It’s tricky because not all MSM identify as gay and some transgender people may have trouble defining gender clearly, particularly those who are younger and. It’s important for people to become comfortable and get to know LGBTQ people. It will allow individuals to feel at ease in seeking care.

Health issues may start early; children and teens struggle with sexuality. LGBTQ teens have a higher suicide rate than straight teens—two to three times higher, in fact. There are also issues with regard to lack of support systems, as many of them have faced parental rejection. This often leads to homelessness, which leads to risky behaviors that include drug and alcohol abuse and sex work. Transgender and gay minorities face rates of HIV infection that are even higher.

Makadon says, “Most people who I’ve had this discussion with say that the duty to care for everybody has to outweigh personal values. For people who continue to feel too conflicted, they probably shouldn’t continue to be in a caring profession. That may sound harsh, but I do think it’s a reality that if we do provide healthcare that we have to provide healthcare for everybody.

What is Cisgender Privilege?

First, it’s helpful to know what the term “cisgender” means. This means that a person’s gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth and then a person’s gender matches the gender by which others perceive them. The term has been around for over 20 years and is used a lot in educational settings, particularly when discussing gender identity and expression in trans and queer communities.

Cisgender privilege shows how gender/sex alignment means being free from having to think about or address things that those who are not cisgender do quite frequently.

What is Cisgender Privilege?

The following are some examples of privileges you might have if you are cisgender:

  • You are not misgendered. People refer to you by the correct pronouns every day.
  • People do not ask you nosy questions about you are genitalia, what type of medical procedures you’ve had, and your real gender is not in question, or connected with the genitalia another assumes you have.
  • You are able to get into sex segregated facilities such as bathrooms and events that are in alignment with your gender identity without being questioned, refused, or at risk of harassment or even physical violence.
  • When you search for employment, housing, banks, go to vote or receive medical treatment, you don’t have to worry about your gender or what others perceive your gender to be.
  • In the unfortunate event that you are a victim of physical and/or sexual assault, you don’t have to fear being blamed because of your gender expression or identity and you don’t have to fear that the attacker will be allowed a reduced sentence due to what is called “trans panic defense.” Some in the law profession still believe this argument is viable and that it partially excuses violent assault or even homicide.

Cisgender privilege is incredibly wide-ranging. It’s a lot for the non-privileged person to have to deal with on a daily basis and leaves little else for them to think about. This includes those who were incorrectly sex-assigned at birth and those who make a choice to present as a different gender, as they are distinct from each other.

Don’t be mistaken, many gay, bisexual, and lesbian folks have cisgender privilege. For example, it’s very possible for a gay man to be gender-conforming. The fact he presents physically as a man means that he won’t be challenged when attempting to use male designated facilities or attend events for men. On the other hand, if a heterosexual man was sex-assigned female at birth, he may face his life being challenged or harassed for not being “man enough.”

If you recognize yourself as cisgender, perhaps you’ll understand privileges you’ve previously taken for granted and try to help those you know who are gender non-conforming or transgender.

Eating Disorders a Significant Problem in the LGBT Community

Numerous findings from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) have been gathered about eating disorders in the LGBT population.

Unfortunately, eating disorders are a problem with individuals in general. In the US, 20 million women are affected and 10 million men. In the LGBT community, a reported 15 percent of gay and bisexual men reported having some type of eating disorder in their life compared to 4.6 percent of heterosexual men. A survey showed that gay men were seven times more likely to binge and 12 times more likely to purge than heterosexual men. In the LGBT adolescent group, gay and bisexual individuals were much more likely to have gone on a fast, vomited or purged in another way, than heterosexuals reported.

Eating Disorders a Significant Problem in the LGBT Community

According to the research, lesbian women appeared to be the most satisfied with their bodies overall, but they, along with bisexual females, were at more of a binge-eating risk than heterosexual women, at approximately twice the rate. Lesbian and bisexual girls were also shown to have higher rates of laxative use and purging, or vomiting than heterosexual girls. No matter their sex, those identifying as LGBTQ were more likely to have disordered eating habits or an eating disorder than their heterosexual peers. It was not unusual for LGBT teens to have disordered eating habits when they were as young as 12.

There are some issues that may explain this big difference in eating disorders in the LGBT population, with teens in particular, including:

  • Internalization of negative thoughts and messages about gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation
  • Fears about rejection and coming out
  • Having previous traumatic experiences related to sexual orientation
  • Past experiences with discrimination or bullying

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions associated with eating disorders. For example, many people don’t think they affect men or they believe eating disorders to be lifestyle choices, not illnesses. It’s important to spread awareness of the actual truth.  There is help available and everyone should feel safe seeking treatment.

The Need for Senior LGBTQ Housing Communities

Where are all the Baby Boomers? Everywhere, of course! In the U.S., approximately one-fifth of the population will be 65 or older by 2030. This will affect elder care profoundly in decades to come. This, of course, includes LGBTQ boomers–who will have unique support and housing needs.

Fortunately,  many more are coming out as LGBTQ allies, in support of gay rights, particularly regarding equal rights to marriage. Though, many LGBTQ Boomers are grateful, they remember a more bleak time, when they could be arrested, rejected, and violated (physically and emotionally) for being themselves. This hasn’t all disappeared, of course.  Discrimination is still rampant. This is why it’s of particular importance to focus on the housing and/or employment discrimination that LGBTQ elders will only become more susceptible to in the decades ahead.

The Need for Senior LGBTQ Housing Communities

Recently, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE) announced a gathering of notable affordable-housing advocates, developers and organizations in the LGBTQ community to form a “national, comprehensive LGBT elder housing strategy.”  Their objective is to ensure LGBTQ seniors will be able to live affordably, with their rights protected and with a sense of community. These groups represent affordable-housing strategists, developers and federal-level commitment through HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and include, HELP USA, the Los Angeles LGBT CenterEnterprise Community Partners , and Equal Rights Center out of DC.

This strategy will, in part, be guiding cities to plan LGBTQ housing that is affordable. There are some communities (some also in progress) in the U.S. already, such as Spirit on Lake in Minneapolis, Openhouse in San Francisco, Center on Halsted in Chicago, and Triangle Square in West Hollywood. The latter was one of the first affordable housing communities planned to meet the needs of LGBTQ elders. One-third of the 104 units in Triangle Square are set aside for those at risk for becoming homeless or are living with HIV/AIDS.

Kathleen Sullivan, director of senior services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which provides services to Triangle Square, says, “Not having the burden of keeping a secret about who you are is transformative.” Many in the LGBTQ community are not able to truly be themselves until they’re in these communities, in their 70’s and 80’s. 

In addition, a minority of health care providers have training or experience that focuses on treating LGBTQ seniors. Older transgender people need their specific health care requirements considered and older LGBTQ people may shy away from seeking proper cancer screening and gynecological care. Of critical importance is the consideration that HIV infections are on the rise in the senior population, in general, and this will be one of the first generations growing into old age with HIV/AIDS. These communities will be a giant, needed step forward, for the overall health and well being of LGBTQ seniors.

LGBT Youth Experience More Cyber Bullying

LGBT youth face significant difficulties with discrimination, harassment and lack of family support.

It also happens that they face more harassment online–a place where many youth go to feel as if they’re more part of a community, receive support, medical information, and other opportunities . One study by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that LGBT youth faced cyber bullying three times more than non-LGBT youth. The study points out that those living in more rural areas experience even higher levels of harassment online and shows that 42 percent of LGBT youth face a higher level of online bullying, compared to 15 percent of those who are straight/cisgender. Part of the study resulted in findings that show LGBT youth were twice as likely to report bullying through text messages.

This study, called “Out Online: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Youth on the Internet”, included results from a national survey which included 5,680 middle and high school students, grades 6-12. It was found that lower grade point average and self-esteem, and a higher chance of depression were linked to youth affected by bullying.

LGBT Youth Experience More Cyber Bullying

Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN’s Executive Director said, “LGBT youth continue to face extraordinary obstacles in their day-to-day lives whether at school or online, but the Internet can be a valuable source of information and support when they have no one or nowhere else left to turn to. As social media evolve, so must our efforts to serve LGBT youth to ensure their safety, health and well-being.”

It is important for LGBT youth to have access to resources available on the Internet that they either would not be able to find elsewhere, or that they don’t feel comfortable seeking offline.  For example, this study shows that LGBT youth (particularly those who are transgender) are twice as likely to look up medical information online than their straight/cisgender peers. It is vital that LGBT youth know they have a safe place to be themselves online, especially if they don’t feel that support elsewhere.

6 Damaging Myths about Non-Binary People

The biggest myth about non-binary people is that they’re non-existent.  What does it mean to be non-binary?  Non-binary gender identities cannot be fit into the male/female, accepted binary. It’s more simple to imagine an entire spectrum of gender and know that everyone fits somewhere on it and they don’t always necessarily remain in the exact same place. Yet, let’s remember that “male” and “female” do not begin and end this spectrum.  “Genderqueer” (GQ) is another word some use instead of non-binary.  There are plenty of harmful stereotypes about non-binary folks out there.  Here are six common ones that need debunking:

It’s just a fad
It is not an option to choose between male and female for gender identity for a non-binary person.  It’s not a game that anyone’s playing for attention…it’s very real.  Gender expression (the type of clothes you might choose to wear, for example) is not the same as gender identity. This is where a lot of people seem to get confused and think of non-binary people as if they’re folks trying to fit in with a trend.

Non-binary people are just confused
Confusion is natural for a lot of people and there’s nothing wrong with being confused.  It is part of the process of many trans people.  However, the fact that someone is non-binary doesn’t mean they’re confused.  It just means that they’re not male or female…or they are genderless (agender).

This is a new concept
The fact that non-binary folks haven’t received much recognition in the US until recently doesn’t mean it’s a new concept. There are  many cultures in the world who use words for genders that aren’t “male” or “female”.

6 Damaging Myths about Non-Binary People

Non-binary people want to destroy gender
Just because non-binary people want more options than “male” and “female” for gender doesn’t mean they’re trying to destroy gender.  This assumption doesn’t observe the fact that many non-binary people do have genders.

Non-binary is the same as intersex
Of course, this is untrue.  Being non-binary means you have a gender identity that doesn’t fit into the male or female genders.  When one is intersex, it means they’re born with a physical sex that isn’t classified as male or female.

Trans oppression is not experienced by non-binary people
Non-binary people experience more discrimination and violence in some circumstances, as they would have negativity coming from both cisgender and binary transgender communities.  This means less of a support system for non-binary folks as well as fewer safe places.  You can become a better ally to non-binary people by insisting on including them whenever the topic of gender arises.  You can be a part of the change that needs to happen in order for everyone to realize they matter just as much as anyone else.

Common Myths about Lesbians Debunked

Are you a lesbian tired of hearing myths about who you are and what you do?

Or, are you just curious and want to dig beneath the surface for some truth? Either way, it’s important to clear up some common misconceptions every once in awhile. Some of them can be quite damaging. Let’s look at some of the more frequent myths:

Lesbians are man-haters
This isn’t true at all. In fact, there are lesbians who love men.  They have long-term friendships with men and might have a man who’s a best friend to them. It’s confusing that this myth is popular at all because it doesn’t make logical sense.

Butch lesbians really want to be men
It’s true that we all express ourselves in different ways and sometimes it happens that women wear clothing or their hair in styles that are more traditionally masculine. It does not follow that women want to be another gender. Those looking to change their sex are transsexual. Sometimes clothing style has little to do with expression and more to do with comfort.

You must sleep with a woman before you know you’re a lesbian
If heterosexuals can know they’re attracted to someone else before sex, the same applies to lesbians, or anyone else for that matter.

If you’re a lesbian this means you’re attracted to all women
Bogus. This is a myth where anyone’s concerned. Apply it to yourself. Are you attracted to everyone of a specific group?

Being a lesbian is a choice
There have been numerous types of therapies attempting to get people to “become” straight that are not only ineffective, but downright damaging. Studies have shown that sexual orientation isn’t chosen and that it’s an inborn trait.

Lesbians relationships are about sex
Not true. Lesbian relationships are often multi-faceted, involving families and emotional connections as well as sex.

Lesbians just haven’t found ‘the right man’
If anything, many lesbians haven’t found the right woman yet.  Just as in any type of relationship, it takes some time to find the right partner. Lesbians aren’t interested in finding the right man because they’re attracted to women. It seems simple enough, but a lot of people find that difficult to swallow.

You know a lesbian when you see her
You might, in fact, have a decent intuition or “gaydar”, but this is not something that can be measured in any definite way just by looking at someone.

One partner plays “the man” in a lesbian relationship
Sometimes the dynamics of a same sex relationship make it seem easier to assume that male/female roles are being played, but it’s not the case.  There are a lot of different kinds of lesbian relationships, butch/femme being one, but that doesn’t mean that one person is pretending to be a man.

Lesbians can’t be religious or spiritual
There are some churches that are accepting of all humans, and spirituality is a subjective experience. Unfortunately, there are some denominations that would think lesbians are living in sin.


Saying Goodbye to Lesbian Bed Death

Sometimes when a couple has been together for a long time, sex isn’t the main priority for them, or one person in the relationship isn’t as into it.  Regarding lesbian relationships, this has been called “Lesbian Bed Death” (LBD).

Just like any other type of couple, a lesbian couple might find that they’re not as passionate as they were when they first met.  Even though this a common occurrence for those who’ve been together long-term, it is a hot topic in the LGBT community.  This issue can be worked on if both partners in the relationship are willing to give it a shot. Read on for some ideas you can use to spice up your sex life and put LBD behind you.

Reintroduce romance to the relationship
It’s easy enough to take your partner for granted when you’ve been together for awhile. You’re both most likely very busy, juggling work and family life. See what happens when you start to surprise your partner with tickets to a movie they want to see or some flowers. Whatever you know will make them smile.

Spend some time on your own
Have your own life and social circle. Maybe take up a new hobby or join a group with similar interests. A little time away from each other now and then will make you appreciate each other more.

Saying Goodbye to Lesbian Bed Death

Go ahead and have sex
There’s always an excuse to not have time for something that seems like a luxury. Sex is an important part of an intimate relationship. Make it a priority and set aside time for quick, but passionate lovemaking during a break at work, or go on a mini vacation to a hotel, even near home.

Show affection toward each other
When you’re not being loving and affectionate (touching, cuddling, kissing, etc.), you might as well be housemates.  Long-term relationships need love and attention. Remember why you were so excited about your partner in the first place and go from there.