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LGBTQ

SCOTUS Strikes Down DOMA & Passes on Prop 8

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Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
Director of Community Development

Today the United States Supreme Court handed down decisions on two same-sex marriage  cases.

In United States v. Windsor they ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.  DOMA, which went into law in 1996, defines marriage on the federal level as being between one man and one woman.  DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages despite couples having a valid marriage certificate.

Edith Windsor who was the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor brought the suit because she was sent an estate tax bill of more than $300,000 following the death of her long-term partner. Windsor and her partner had legally married in Canada shortly before her partner’s death. Had Windsor been married to a man she would not have had to pay an inheritance tax.

By striking down DOMA, same-sex couples who are legally married will now have that marriage recognized by the Federal government.  They will be able to do things most married couples take for granted like filing a joint federal tax return. It also means that married same-sex couples can now benefit from immigration laws that prevents a spouse who is not a US citizen from being deported.

You can read the court’s decision on United States v. Windsor here.

In the second marriage equality case, Hollingsworth v. Perry (aka the Prop 8 case), SCOTUS ruled that they did not have jurisdiction over the case. What this means is that the lower court’s ruling that struck down Proposition 8 will stand.  Same-sex couples in the state of California will once again be able to marry.

Back in 2008 California briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples following a ruling by the Supreme Court of California. That ruling found that under the equal protection clause same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry. A short five months later same-sex marriage was made illegal after Proposition 8 was passed by voters.

In California voters can amend the state constitution through ballot initiative.  Opponents of same-sex marriage out organized LGBT equality activist and the initiative passed with 52.1% of the vote (Wall Street Journal). It should be noted the lessons learned from this defeat has helped marriage equality advocates to win in other states. You can learn more about what went wrong in the battle to defeat Prop 8 here.

You can read the ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry here.

This was undoubtedly a historic and joyous day for the LGBT community. It is important to remember that as huge as this outcome is that we still have much work left to do.

Neither of these decisions orders every state to legalize same-sex marriage. So we still have to organize in those states to get marriage equality laws passed.  Then there is the issue of job discrimination.  In 29 states an employer can discriminate against an employee based on that employee’s sexual orientation. There are 33 states that do not have laws making it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity (Human Rights Campaign).

photo credit AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

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Rachel L. West is the Founder of the Political Social Worker, a blog dedicated to macro social work and politics. She holds a BA in History from SUNY Stony Brook and an MSW from Adelphi University. She is a community outreach and engagement specialist. Rachel resides in New York State, and she is available as a consultant and coach. You can find out more about Rachel at The Political Social Worker at (politicalsocialworker.org).

          
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LGBTQ

Delaware Legislature Sends Anti-“Conversion Therapy” Bill to Gov. Carney’s Desk

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Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, hailed the Delaware General Assembly’s passage of Senate Bill (SB) 65, legislation protecting LGBTQ youth in the state from the dangerous and discredited practice known as “conversion therapy.”

The legislation was sponsored by State Senator Harris McDowell and State Representative Debra Heffernan, and Governor John Carney is expected to sign it into law. Once signed, Delaware will join 13 other states and Washington, D.C. with laws or regulations protecting LGBTQ youth from the harmful practice.

“For young people across Delaware, this legislation provides vital and potentially lifesaving protections from the damaging, dangerous and discredited practice known as ‘conversion therapy,’” said HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride, a Delawarean. “While Delaware has made historic progress on LGBTQ equality, we can and must do more to protect LGBTQ youth from rejection, stigma, and harm. SB 65 is a critical and significant step in that direction. We thank the Delaware General Assembly for their support of this vital legislation and we look forward to Governor Carney signing it into law.”

“We thank those members of the General Assembly who voted to protect LGBTQ children against the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy, and especially prime sponsors Senator Harris McDowell and Representative Debra Heffernan and their legislative aides for their leadership,” said Equality Delaware’s Mark Purpura. “We look forward to Governor Carney signing the bill into law promptly.  We are also thankful to have had the opportunity to work together again with the HumanRights Campaign on this important issue. We need to keep the momentum going across the country to end this despicable practice once and for all.”

There is no credible evidence that conversion therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. To the contrary, research has clearly shown that these practices pose devastating health risks for LGBTQ young people such as depression, decreased self-esteem, substance abuse, homelessness, and even suicidal behavior. The harmful practice is condemned by every major medical and mental health organization, including the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and American Medical Association.

Connecticut, California, Nevada, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New York, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, and Hawaii all have laws or regulations protecting youth from this abusive practice. A growing number of municipalities have also enacted similar protections, including cities and counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, Florida, New York, Arizona, and Wisconsin. In addition, lawmakers in New Hampshire recently passed similar legislation which currently awaits the governor’s signature.

According to a recent report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, an estimated 20,000 LGBTQ minors in states without protections will be subjected to conversion therapy by a licensed healthcare professional if state lawmakers fail to act.

HRC has partnered with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and state equality groups across the nation to pass state legislation ending conversion therapy. More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found here.

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LGBTQ

Gay, Bisexual, Sexually Abused Male Inmates More Fearful of Prison Rape, More Open to Therapy

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There is nowhere to escape in what often is referred to as a “sexual jungle,” especially for the most vulnerable. However, “Zero tolerance” toward prison rape is now national policy thanks to the Prison Rape Elimination Act passed by the United States Congress in 2003. Although this law changed how Americans think about prison rape, few studies have examined how inmates perceive rape and if they feel safe in prison. Even less is known about how their perceptions influence whether or not they ask for mental health treatment while incarcerated.

The most recent National Inmate Survey of 2011-12 of 92,449 inmates age 18 or older shows that among non-heterosexual prison inmates, more than 12 percent reported sexual victimization by another inmate and almost 5.5 percent were victimized by a prison staff member within the past 12 months. In comparison, 1.2 percent of heterosexual prisoners were sexually victimized by an inmate and 2.1 percent were victimized by a prison staff member. These rates are even higher for those with mental illness. About one in 12 inmates with a mental disorder report at least one incident of sexual victimization by another inmate over a six-month period, compared to one in 33 male inmates without a mental disorder.

Using data from more than 400 male inmates housed in 23 maximum-security prisons across the U.S., researchers from Florida Atlantic University conducted a novel study to examine the factors related to fear of rape in prison and the likelihood of male inmates requesting mental health treatment while incarcerated. They focused specifically on prisoners at risk of being sexually victimized in prison: gay or bisexual inmates and those with a history of childhood sexual abuse.

A key finding from the study, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, is that sexual orientation and a history of childhood sexual abuse are significant predictors of male inmates fearing rape as a big threat in prison and voluntarily requesting mental health treatment. Findings from the study reveal that nearly 38 percent of gay and bisexual inmates and 37 percent of inmates with childhood sexual abuse fear rape as a big threat.

Compared with straight inmates, gay and bisexual inmates are approximately two times more likely to perceive rape as a threat and three times more likely to voluntarily request mental health treatment in prison. Inmates with a history of childhood sexual abuse are more than twice as likely to perceive rape as a threat and almost four times more likely to request mental health treatment than inmates who did not report a history of childhood sexual abuse. Notably, this finding is inconsistent with previous research that has shown that there is no significant relationship between childhood sexual abuse and feelings of safety among male inmates.

“The consequences of perceiving rape to be a threat in prison are vast and could contribute to violence among inmates as well as negative mental health ramifications such as increased fear, psychological distress, chronic anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide,” said Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk, Ph.D., co-author and an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

Inmates incarcerated for two to five years are nearly three times more likely to perceive that rape is a big threat compared with inmates incarcerated for less than two years. Inmates in prison longer than 18 years are nearly four times more likely to voluntarily request mental health treatment in prison. The researchers also found that Black inmates are twice as likely to seek mental health treatment in prison compared to White inmates.

“Knowing that gay and bisexual inmates and inmates with a history of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to fear rape and seek mental health treatment, prison staff can target outreach and treatment efforts for this vulnerable sub-population,” said Mina Ratkalkar, LCSW, MS, lead author and a licensed clinical social worker pursuing a Ph.D. who conducted the study while she was a graduate student at FAU. “Our study shows that these sub-groups of inmates are receptive to treatment, and our findings have implications for both practice and policy in the United States.”

The sample consisted of a nearly equal number of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Black inmates made up about half of the sample, with White inmates comprising about one-third of the sample. Nearly one-third of the sample had previously been in juvenile detention and about one-quarter were incarcerated for the first time in the adult criminal justice system at age 18 or younger.

About 16.4 percent of the sample identified as gay or bisexual. About one-fifth of the men (73) reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, and about one-third of the men reported having received mental health treatment outside of prison.

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LGBTQ

It’s National Coming Out Day

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Today is National Coming Out Day which is a day of raising awareness and destigmatization for the LGBTQ community.

Texting is the preferred method of communication for young people.

Proof you have great friends who also will throw you a party.

Great Advice, don’t feel pressured to do anything or be afraid to show your true self…Write your own story!

Happy Coming Out Day!

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LGBTQ

Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans

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Transgender people make up a small percentage of active-duty U.S. military personnel, but their experience in the service may yield long-term, positive effects on their mental health and quality of life.

A study from the University of Washington finds that among transgender older adults, those who had served in the military reported fewer symptoms of depression and greater mental health-related quality of life. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

The paper is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how a range of demographic factors, life events and medical conditions are associated with health and quality of life.

Estimated numbers of U.S. military personnel who are transgender vary widely, but range between one-tenth and three-quarters of 1 percent of the roughly 2 million active-duty and reserve forces. A study from UCLA estimates about 134,000 transgender veterans in the United States.

The new paper, by researchers from the UW School of Social Work, explores how military service affects transgender people because previous data indicated that, among LGBT people over age 50, those who identified as transgender were more likely to be veterans than lesbians, gay men or bisexuals.

Reports have indicated that transgender individuals serve in the military at higher rates than people in the general population. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey of 28,000 individuals, 15 percent said they had served, compared to about 9 percent of the U.S. population overall. And yet, little is known about how military service influences the well-being of transgender veterans later in life.

Other studies have shown that transgender veterans suffer higher rates of depression than other veterans. UW researchers were somewhat surprised, then, to learn that the transgender veterans they surveyed tended to have better mental health than transgender people who hadn’t served, said lead author Charles Hoy-Ellis, a former UW doctoral student who is now an assistant professor at the University of Utah College of Social Work.

The traditionally masculine culture of the U.S. military would seem to be a potentially difficult environment for someone who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, he said.

But military service creates its own kind of identity, the authors said, because it presents often dangerous and traumatic challenges; overcoming those challenges builds resilience. And that’s where the identity as a transgender person enters the picture.

“Many people develop an identity as a military person — that it’s not just something they did but something that they are,” said Hoy-Ellis. “If transgender people, who are among the most marginalized, can successfully navigate a military career, with so many of the dynamics around gender in the general population and in the military, then that experience can contribute to a type of identity cohesiveness.”

The internalizing of negative stereotypes, such as those around sexual orientation, is considered a risk factor for poor mental health, added co-author Hyun-Jun Kim, a UW research scientist in the School of Social Work. Military service could be the opposite — a protective factor.

“Often when people think of the transgender population, they focus on the risk factors, but it’s equally important to focus on the protective factors and nourish those resources. In this case, what aspects of military service contribute to being a protective factor?” Kim said.

Researchers said they were somewhat limited by the size of their study sample: Out of the 2,450 people ages 50 to 100 who were surveyed for Aging with Pride, 183 identified as transgender. Of those nearly one-fourth, or 43, had served in the military. Of those who had served, 57 percent identified as female. People of color made up 29 percent of the transgender veterans in the study.

But as awareness grows about gender-identity issues, there is an opportunity to address support services for transgender veterans at the federal level and in the community, Hoy-Ellis said.

“This is a population that has served the country very proudly, and it’s important that we recognize that service,” he said. “Learning what we can about transgender older adults with military service may help us develop and implement policies and programs for people who are serving today.”

Other co-authors were Chengshi Shiu, Kathleen Sullivan, Allison Sturges and Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, all in the UW School of Social Work. Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.

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Justice

Exploring the Traumatic Impact of Criminalizing Policies on Black Women and Girls

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Black Youth Project 100 with Freedom Side in New York City August 2014. (Photo: Caleb-Michael Files)

The truth is, “black girls and women are still some of the most vulnerable members of society, thereby putting us more at risk for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Black teen girls, in a given year, are more likely to attempt suicide and become trafficked at younger ages than their racial counterparts. Additionally, black girls are at a significantly higher risk for sexual abuse, physical abuse, and child neglect.

Stressors that occur during black and brown children girlhood, such as loss, grief, substance abuse, mental illness, exposure to violence and parental incarceration are identified as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). A tool to “assess the cumulative effect of trauma on a person’s life”, ACEs identifies household dysfunction by exploring childhood experiences through a series of questions. At the conclusion, the response totals are utilized to assess the likelihood of risk factors for negative physical, mental and behavioral health outcomes (i.e. – asthma, early experimentation with drugs, suicidal ideation).

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence indicates that more than 60 percent of children from birth to 17 years experience victimization and 38 percent witness violence sometime during childhood. While our recent focus has centered on the black and brown #missingDCgirls, who are disproportionately pushed out of the educational system, the community needs the conversation expanded in order to continue to coalition build and support efforts for black and brown girls affected by many of the issues that girls face, within their families, schools, and communities.

Faced with significant trauma and limited coping skills, many girls engage in behaviors that impede healthy socio-emotional development and positive overall well being. Cutting, drug experimentation, poor diet, violent outbursts, social isolation and displays of depressive emotions are just some of the behaviors that precede unaddressed stress and hopelessness, particularly in black and brown girls’ lives.

Restricted by geographic location, lack of resources, lack of knowledge of supportive services, healthcare access barriers due to age and parental rights and adolescents are left with no options. It is the foundation for a perfect storm hopeless feelings and stress.

Exploring the Impact of Criminalizing Policies on African American Women and Girls

In September 2015, scholars, community members, activist, and advocates gathered for a roundtable to discuss the impact of incarceration and mandatory minimums on survivors. With goals that focus on black women and girls, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault highlighted criminalizing policies, mandatory minimums, and challenges in reform initiatives.

The summary report highlighting the US Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women key points and recommendations from the roundtable was issued in January 2017. The report captures these critical issues at “the intersection of multiple aspects of a person’s identity (i.e., gender, race).” When examining the “impacts of increasing incarceration and criminalization,” public health issues faced by black women and girls, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, mental illness, disability and chronic health ailments are often an afterthought. While acknowledging, the roundtable did not further discuss the impacts due to expression or exploration of sexual orientation.

“…participants noted that efforts to end violence require a deeper analysis of the intersecting factors that shape an individual’s identity. For example, it is important to take into consideration the additional barriers and risks experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) girls and women. Participants also highlighted the need to take into account the particular challenges and exploitation of transgender women and girls.”

The criminalization black women and girls face due to the inability to cope, runaway status, nonreporting of parental abandonment and all “the ways in which conditions and experiences related to domestic violence and sexual assault intersect with girls’ experiences in the child welfare and social services systems.” This an area of inquiry for further research and development of culturally relevant and trauma informed programming. As evidenced by the short and long term effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the correlations to pathways involving hyper-regulation and criminalizing trauma are the opposite approach to rehabilitation.

Critical race and black feminist theory are the foundations of my clinical and sociological perspective when presenting bio-psycho-socio-emotional histories. Social workers in clinical roles such as substance abuse and mental health are trained to not only “acknowledge, be supportive and discuss the problem” but also help the client navigate institutions and systems.

As an effective therapist, it’s imperative to not pathologize behaviors but to also understand individuals, communities, and organizations within the context of the social and cultural climate.

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Culture

Transgender TV Characters Have the Power to Shape Audience Attitudes

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transgender teen

Watching transgender characters on fictional TV shows has the power to influence attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues, according to new research from USC Annenberg. Just published in the peer-reviewed journal Sex Roles, the research further highlights the ways political ideology shapes viewer responses to transgender depictions in entertainment.

The researchers surveyed 488 regular viewers of the USA Network series Royal Pains, of whom 391 saw a June 2015 episode featuring a portrayal of a transgender teen, played by transgender activist Nicole Maines. Those who saw this episode had more positive attitudes toward both transgender people and related policies, such as students using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. The fictional Royal Pains storyline was more influential than news events; exposure to transgender issues in the news and Caitlyn Jenner’s transition (which was unfolding at the time of the research) had no effect on attitudes.

Beyond the impact of the Royal Pains episode, the study is the first to demonstrate the effect of cumulative exposure to transgender portrayals, across multiple shows. The more shows featuring transgender characters (such as Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Orange is the New Black) that viewers saw, the more transgender-supportive their attitudes. Viewing two or more transgender storylines reduced the association between viewers’ political ideology and their attitudes toward transgender people by half.

According to Traci Gillig, a doctoral candidate at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the lead author on the study, “While media visibility of transgender people reached new levels in recent years, little has been known about the effects of that visibility. Our study shows the power of entertainment narratives to influence viewers’ attitudes toward transgender people and policy issues.”

The research was conducted in collaboration with Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a program of the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center that serves as a free resource to the entertainment industry on TV storylines addressing health, safety and national security issues. HH&S Director Kate Langrall Folb explains: “We worked closely with the Royal Pains writers, connecting them with medical experts and providing information for the storyline.”

The results of this research suggest increased visibility of transgender characters in mainstream entertainment can have far-reaching influence on public perceptions of transgender people and the policies that impact them.

“Watching TV shows with nuanced transgender characters can break down ideological biases in a way that news stories may not. This is especially true when the stories inspire hope or when viewers can relate to the characters,” said HH&S Senior Research Associate Erica Rosenthal.

Read more about the research in an analysis by Gillig and Rosenthal. “Can transgender TV characters help bridge an ideological divide?” was published by The Conversation.

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