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Social Workers Are the World’s Most Genuine and Unsung Humanitarians

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On March 1st, 2017, celebrity and grammy award-winning singer, Rihanna received the 2017 Humanitarian of the Year Award from Harvard University. According to the Washington Post, “She has used her wealth, influence and global reach to advocate for access to health care and education and speak for women and girls.”

As I decompressed (with bourbon) in the hours that followed my chaotic and draining workday, I found myself curious about Rihanna’s humanitarian contributions. Each article I read said pretty much the same thing—Rihanna was chosen for this celebrated award because of her involvement with and financial contributions to “a number” of charitable causes. I wondered if some of these charities simply called Rihanna to demand “bitch better have my money”, which is a Rihanna song for the uninitiated.

Rihanna’s benevolent aid includes the development of a Barbados based oncology and nuclear medicine center to treat breast cancer. Rihanna provides monetary support to charities that give children in developing countries access to education. Rihanna also created a scholarship for students from the Caribbean who attend college in the United States.

Certainly Rihanna’s contributions are nothing to sneeze on. Yet the more I read, the more I could not help but feel a bit resentful that our society seems to completely and utterly discount the consistent humanitarian efforts of social workers. I do not mean to disregard Rihanna’s charitable efforts nor do I know the extent of her philanthropic involvement or her motivations for such. Still, it is time that we acknowledge the challenging, tiresome, stressful, important, impactful and authentic work of social work for its humanitarian influence.

Each and every single day, more than half a million of us social workers (and people who function in the professional capacity of a social worker even if their titles differ) diligently go about the cause of promoting human welfare. They do it in schools and hospitals, in homeless shelters and in correctional institutions. They do it in private practice and in child welfare. They do it in refugee camps and during natural disasters. They do it in mental health clinics and community based agencies.

They do it quietly, humbly, and without expectation of acknowledgement. They do it in the early morning hours and long after many others have already gone home to their eager pets, their hungry children, their loving partners. They do it even when their day is done because it never leaves their hearts.

They do it in the face of adversity. They do it when others make it nearly impossible. They do it in situations that threaten their safety and challenge their values. They do it for little compensation and tons of bullshit.

They do it because they are passionate and sympathetic. They do it because they never want to stop learning, growing and practicing. They do it because they believe that at the core of the human condition is a resilient spirit. They do it because they believe people, no matter how old, how sick, how demoralized, can and do get better, get stronger, and find stability.

They freely give their limited supply of sympathy and empathy to hungry mouths, tired souls, needy hearts. They sit uncomfortably in the pain of others. They drown themselves in sorrows that are not theirs. They swim in seas of suffering not meant for them.

They protect. They serve. They stand and walk beside the most vulnerable, oppressed and broken citizens of our world. They speak for those with voices too meek.

They do not do it because they have unlimited resources from which to give. Social workers instead go about the cause of promoting human welfare because they are the world’s most genuine and unsung humanitarians.

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Natalie Tuffield is a Denver-based licensed social worker with nearly a decade of experience in community mental health and homeless services. For more from Natalie visit her blog,  "Confessions of a Banshee: Mostly Tragic Tales of Dating, Living & Working in the Mile High City.

          
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Deadpool, Gaymers and Girlfriends at London ComicCon

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10 Video Games for Gay Gamers

Being gay and being a geek are, you might think, quite different things. But sometimes these two aspects of identity collide, creating a wonderful spectrum of possibilities. London ComicCon 2018 raised the rainbow flag and became a sparkling example of one such space for the  LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community.

Glittery linguistic stereotypes aside, London Gaymers presented a funny, intimate and hopeful panel about LGBT gamers and the video gaming community at large.

They started with startling offline statistics from the LGBT charity Stonewall which found over 60% of university graduates return to the ‘closet’ and over a quarter are not ‘out’ at work. Conversely, the panel was comprised of Charley Hodson, Ashely Spindler, Izzy Jagan, and Nathan Costello all work in the gaming industry and all are ‘out’ in their workplaces.

So, how can we continue the good practice, and ensure that more geek workplaces are queer-friendly?  “We need people leading organisations to be supportive, to be open, to be kind most of all – from the top to the very bottom”.

Working in small firms, where one is known and appreciated as a person, was seen as a Good Thing with regard to sexuality representation. At some points, the positive storytelling had an almost bashful edge – perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that this is counter to the dominant narrative of hardships.

That is: It is much more effective if someone from a dominant (or privileged) position espouses the values and principles of equality. In addition to the usual impact of management/leadership positions, a privileged individual is not subject to a fallacy of vested interest when they promote equality. Allies have “access to cultural capital, and cultural power to change the world” (well said, Ashley!).

Doesn’t that sound just like a superhero power?

Of course, some gamers in online communities may need help to adjust their belief in the ‘post-homophobic era’. That era, sadly, is currently as much of a fantasy as a crocodile shooting out bananas from its Kart in order to trip up a pink-clad princess (ten points for getting the reference). It may seem as though LGBT persons have ‘enough rights’, but the sobering statistics say otherwise.

Whilst the London Gaymers panel was in agreement that true equality is on its way, it is still in its infancy. It needs nurturing, and time, and effort… and, yes, the occasional time-out. Ashley was candid regarding the online abuse aimed at her, purely for being trans, leading to necessary banning. Likewise for times that people need to shut their comments sections or step away from the gaming community’s occasional toxicity.

A soft hug of an idea to address this comes from Overwatch. The popular first-person shooter game translates unsavoury phrases into, for example, “It’s past bedtime. Please don’t tell my Mommy” and “I feel very, very small… Please hold me”.  A nudge into nonviolent communication – with humour.

Indeed, the voice actors who play Genji, Mercy and Zarya noted in their panels that the popularity of the game it partly its inclusivity and diversity – not just within the game but within its community – “There is something for everybody”.

London Gaymers suggested the Overwatch model “holds people accountable” without necessarily stepping into the shaming, combative dance which can so often play out. Banning users from chats can ‘work’ in the short term – in order to remove hate or bigotry from online spaces – however, in the longer term, change will be created by supportive re-education.

Well, that, and visibility: the old adage we’re here, we’re queer still has its place. The fact of the matter is that gay people game. “We support the industry, and the industry needs to support us too…. We deserve this respect – if we’re not getting it, demand it.”

There are, of course, different kinds of representation. It is not all about mere presence. There is the bells-and-whistles flounce of a queer archetype, whose one discerning feature is their sexuality. However, there is also the happens-to-be-gay character, whose queerness is part of ordinary – or extraordinary! – human richness.

We have seen this in television with shows such as The Wire, The Walking Dead, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. There are already games which allow same-sex romantic interactions, such Dragon Age, The Sims and more recently The Last of Us and (author favourite) Life is Strange.

The number of Gaymers who explored their gender and sexuality through The Sims (Nathan helpfully chimed in, “I’m gay, so I could make lesbians!” compared to actual lesbian Izzy, who unfortunately couldn’t) was cute to the extent of heart-warming. True sandbox play.

In short, as Nathan stated: “You can put gay characters in the game, and if the game is good, people will want it”. If an audience is interested in the story, the game will be popular.

However we must be careful about how we cater to online spaces: “It’s not a bonus if someone isn’t homophobic, transphobic, racist”. We must expect better from our online communities. Most importantly, “Sharing the positivity, enthusiasm, passion, and love we have, speaking up against injustice and misrepresentation, pulling people up to our level rather than going down to theirs” are all ways that the Gaymers think we can make a difference.

Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool) (R)

Indeed, it isn’t just video games that are changing to represent audiences. Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead, from Deadpool and the more recent Deadpool 2) noted that she was respectfully asked by bigwigs (or biggish wigs) in the industry whether she wanted to keep quiet about her own sexuality, given the presumed response from audiences.

Brianna did not want to ‘keep quiet’ although she didn’t want to shout either. Her sexuality emerged in the public eye quite casually in a tweet which has been covered extensively elsewhere (not to be sensationalised as a ‘reveal’, mind). Responses have been supportive, and Brianna said that ComicCon 2018 had provided a platform for queer kids to talk to her about the importance of herself and her character in representing queerness in geek pop culture.

And it didn’t stop there. Not only is Brianna officially gay, but so is her character Negasonic, who was ‘outed’ in the same lowkey style. Ryan Reynolds – the characteristically ‘sweet guy’, the eponymous anti-hero, and co-writer of Deadpool 2–asked Brianna, “Hey, would you mind if we gave Negasonic a girlfriend?”.

(It is important, of course, to ask first).

Brianna claimed, with a wry smile, that she responded, “Mind?! I’m ecstatic!”.

And so, love of a feminine and lilac-becostumed variety struck the teenage warhead. Brianna discussed how they thought it would be more impactful  if Negasonic’s love interest was mentioned, but ‘not a thing’. (This, by the way, has been considered by some theorists as the mark of ‘true diversity’; a celebration that neither erases nor exotifies difference).

When asked how Deadpool 2 covers such tender and sensitive issues amidst its swearing, sexuality and gratuitous violence, Brianna and Stefan Kapičić (who plays the well-mannered, gentle giant Colossus) said it’s because of the “Magic of Deadpool”. It’s the use of humour, the fact that these issues are treated as if they’re “Not a big deal”.

And it is magic. It’s the magic of fun, and fantasy, and play. It’s the fun about engaging in media that represents you – or gives you empathy to understand someone who is different to yourself.

It’s putting equality as a casual thread, not as a snazzy sideshow, the same way that the many queer vendors at ComicCon’s Comic Village market were just.. there. Not in a special LGBT section, but integrated with all the other talented artists. (Pride comics, and Joe Glass in particular, I have to give you a mention because you expertly encompassed the superhero realm with the adage, I didn’t see anything like me, so I created it. Allow me to share your creation.)

It short, pop culture is evolving, and much like an Eevee (ugh, too dated?) it comes with a range of elements. It is okay in the modern era to get your geek on. It is becoming steadily (or sporadically) more acceptable to get your gay on. And of course, at ComicCon, you can even get your gay geek on.

Call for the change you want to see – and if you can’t see it, be it. Rainbows for the win.

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Culture

Is the #MeToo Movement Leaving Black Women Behind

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Oscar Award Winning Actress Lupita Nyong’o

Women have been sexually exploited for centuries and its foundation is heavily rooted in American history. But what about the black woman and her story? With all of the sexual harassment allegations and mayhem involving big names such as Weinstein, Moore, Spacey and now Matt Lauer; it should come as no surprise that black women are included in the ever growing list of victims.

However, it couldn’t be the further from the truth. It has been amazing and yet difficult to digest the responses to the black women who have come forth with allegations of sexual harassment. The skepticism and scrutiny in which many have been subjected to is both distasteful and heartbreaking. How is it that in 2017 our stories still don’t matter?

It is of strongly held opinions that the black woman was the original victim of what we now know to be sexual abuse/harassment/violence. The historic amnesia that America has denied for centuries has found a way to rear its ugly head only for the sake of whiteness and other contemporary motives yet the black woman is still forgotten.

Lest we forget that it was the black woman who was raped, killed, exploited, molested and subjugated to adapt to cultural norms that she may never receive full acceptance into despite her many contributions and heavy influence on this culture. Rooted in racist ideology that perpetuates systems of superiority, power, and control; it is evident why the black woman’s story is unbelievable.

Pair that with a century’s long narrative that has painted a picture of the black woman as an over sexualized seductress whose very anatomy is both revered and seen as threatening, and we now have plausibility to deny anything that comes out of her mouth claiming victimization. When a black woman claims that she has been victimized, why is she automatically seen as the perpetrator or instigator?

Case in point, Harvey Weinstein quickly refuted claims from Oscar-winning actress, Lupita N’yongo, but for the most part remained silent on claims from other women. It is important to note that N’yongo is the only black woman who has come forth with allegations of sexual harassment by Mr. Weinstein. Are we to believe that Weinstein had an ‘off switch’ when it came to Lupita N’yongo? Pssshhh, I think not!

Surely people are not naïve to the fact that black women have and continue to experience sexual harassment and exploitation at alarmingly high rates. In fact, a quick Google search on black women and sexual harassment will render a host of information chronicling our fight against sexual harassment.

One will even learn how it was the struggles of a collective group of black women that helped shape sexual-harassment laws and the many protections it provides on the books today. It is also important to note that when the perpetrator of sexual misconduct is a black male whose victim’s are typically black women, little to no attention is brought to these issues.

For instance, when you hear the name, R. Kelly, not only is it synonymous with music and pop culture, but you may also think ‘affinity for young girls’ as well. Despite decades of suspicion, allegations, and videos of sexual misconduct, Kelly’s career has persisted and even thrived. This is an unlikely paradox given the current environment that has resulted in many high-powered men losing nearly everything they have worked for.

Even Bill Cosby was shunned for his actions. So why the difference? Again, when you compare Kelly up against other men, the only real difference is the victims. Kelly’s victims are typically young black girls and women whose lives and stories simply don’t hold as much value as their white counterparts.

There is little doubt that the black woman’s mind body and soul has been invaded in an effort to dominate the very space that she occupies. Slavery taught us that while the black male was indeed the head of the family, leader of the tribe and physically capable to withstand formidable circumstances; it was the black woman who was the driving force behind black people’s survival.

Even still today, she has had to take on all of these roles in the absence of the black male due to the continuous assault on his life while attempting to maintain some semblance of normalcy for both herself and her family.

Somewhere along the way, black women were placed at the bottom of the barrel and devalued or perhaps she was never valued at all. Society has stripped her of every human right you can think of. She has been poked, prodded, studied, raped, exploited, coerced, deprived, abused, and so on and so forth.

History has shown us that the black woman is a part of one of the most disenfranchised groups and that despite the many strides she has made in overcoming adversity, society still seeks to invade her space, steal her virtue all while denying her claims that give truth to her existence.

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Culture

Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?

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Photo Credit: People Magazine – Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Venturelli/WireImage

Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He was a champion of women’s rights, an avid supporter of the progressive movement and a sought-after democratic donor. How did the people not know? Was there some oath of silence friends, colleagues, and staff members took which protected this man for so long?

While some may plead the fifth, it is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination against women is commonplace in Hollywood and unfortunately throughout mainstream and greater society, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why it took so damn long for the public to learn about Weinstein’s behavior. Sure there were non-disclosure agreements and possible gag orders that were strategically attached to pitiful sums of money to hush Weinstein’s multiple victims, but even still the question remains, Why?

Some believe that the answer is simple, misogyny. The misogynistic views that have been embedded in the very fabric of this countries DNA and have been allowed to permeate throughout American culture since this nation’s founding is definitely a good starting point. This misogynistic culture has caused many to turn a blind eye when they see it happen or remain silent when they encounter it themselves. The real kicker is that holding misogynistic views isn’t just a male-only issue.

Women perpetuate these views too which is evidenced by how many women voted for Trump despite the Access Hollywood tapes. Not that it is right, but perhaps the culture of misogyny that has persisted over the years has made it okay for both men and women to perpetuate and accept less than ethical and violent behavior against women.

With a long history of disrespect, disregard, and marginalization of women in this country, it would be ludicrous to ignore the influence that this attitude towards women has had within families, communities, and society as a whole. Despite the historical context that helps explain the 20+ years of silence, the question of why still remains. There have been many strides towards inclusion and improved parity for women. Women have continued to evolve and remain outspoken in various efforts to advocate for themselves and close disparity gaps, so again, why was this allowed to continue for so long?

Outside of the obvious cover-up and threat to one’s reputation; undoubtedly there is a certain intimidation that comes with “going public” about issues like this, especially when your livelihood, reputation, and in extreme cases, your life, is on the line. A victim is even more subdued when the perpetrator holds clout such as Weinstein, Cosby, and others who have been ousted for similar acts.

Arguably so, the tolerance for this type of behavior and misconduct is steadily dwindling and is a strong indicator as to why the people are just now learning about Weinstein’s gross behavior. Still, look at how long it has taken to get here. The tolerance for this type of behavior has to be high, for goodness sake, Trump was recorded on tape bragging about grabbing women by their meow’s, yet he was still elected the leader of the free world. This seemingly renewed assault on women has resulted in a call to action for individuals to protect rights that were hard-fought for and losing them would be a detriment.

This new movement of resistance has definitely brought light to the multiple injustices experienced by women as well as exposed several high-powered individuals and corporations for their unscrupulous behavior. However, as with any major change, hitting people in their pockets have always garnered both attention and change when all other forms of advocacy and protesting have been exhausted.

The threat of bad publicity and potential boycotts has been the impetus for many public apologizes, forced resignations/terminations, policy changes, and organizational change and perhaps is the reason why we are just learning about Weinstein’s actions. The Weinstein Company has since fired Mr. Weinstein in an effort to save face.

While the power of the purse has definitely seen many individuals stand on the side of “right” and condemn the actions of Weinstein in an effort to save face and maintain their bottom line, many of these same individuals such as Ben Affleck has been ousted for being perpetrators of illicit behavior against women themselves. So not only does the question of why still linger, but the question of what does it really take to resolve these kinds of issues arises as well? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones. For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to ”

So not only does the question of why these allegations lingered for so long is burned into our minds, but the question of what will it really take to resolve and address these kinds of issues in today’s society remains? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones.

For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to “make it” but were victimized, perhaps some made peace with their new-found success and opportunities and chose to put the Weinstein experience behind them. Either way, it’s good that the skeletons are no longer in the closet.

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Actor Terry Crews Comes Forward About Being Sexually Assaulted by Hollywood Exec

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Actor Terry Crews takes to Twitter to discuss being sexually assaulted by a Hollywood Executive in the wake of the firing of Harvey Weinstein for sexual assault after years of accusations.

Actor Terry Crews

Did you hear the Expendables star say last year?

How is it the criminal justice system doesn’t seem to be able to touch these folks?

Power and privilege keep a lot of people silent.

He just validated a whole lot of women who deal with this on the regular. It’s not easy to come forward.

There is strength in numbers and knowing you are not alone.

Both men and women are affected by sexual assault and rape culture, and it will take more men becoming advocates as well as coming forward to tell their stories because they have stories too.

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The Y Wants Everyone to Take a #SelfieWithSomeoneNew

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Today, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) is launching a new social media campaign, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew. Inspired by the Y’s new “Us” national campaign creative, #SelfieWithSomeoneNew is an opportunity to highlight how the Y uniquely brings people together. To help raise awareness for the campaign, the Y will partner with long-time member and supporter, actor Ethan Hawke.

Photo Credit: (YMCA of the USA)

The Y is encouraging people to meet someone new, strike up a conversation and discover what they have in common, then, take a selfie and post it to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SelfieWithSomeoneNew and tag @YMCA.

Whether it’s a new neighbor down the street, a parent at your child’s school or a person you see every day on your commute home, the Y hopes people will take a few extra moments to get to know one another in order to build a stronger, more connected community.

To encourage participation, the Y is partnering with Oscar-nominated actor, Ethan Hawke, a long-time Y member and former Y camper. To help drive momentum, Hawke will be taking a selfie with someone new at his local Y while encouraging others to do the same.

“I am excited to support the Y and help shine a light on the work they do,” said Hawke. “They are so much more than a gym. They create community. I started going to the Y as kid when my parents didn’t know what to do with me all summer. Since then, the Y has been a staple in my life; my refuge when I am an out of work actor, or the place that has taught my children to swim. I hope we can raise awareness about everything the Y does in communities all over the country.”

Because of the Y, people who may not have met otherwise, come together, whether they are kids in an afterschool enrichment program, adults in a cancer survivorship group or families volunteering. These are natural and easy ways for people to find commonality and even unity among perceived differences.

“For more than 160 years, the Y has brought people together – no matter their differences – and helped build stronger, more connected communities,” said Kevin Washington, President and CEO, Y-USA. “#SelfieWithSomeoneNew is a great way to illustrate how we can all take small, but meaningful steps towards unity with something as simple as a photo.”

The Y is one of the nation’s leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 22 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation’s health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change. ymca.net

For more information on how to participate in the Y’s #SelfieWithSomeoneNew campaign and to learn more about the Y’s “For a better us.” campaign, visit ymca.net/forabetterus.

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Have You Heard the “Suicide Prevention Anthem 1-800-273-8255”

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MTV – VMAs

National Suicide Prevention Month begins on September 1st, and MTV officially kicked off the awareness month with a performance of “1-800-273-8255” by Logic along with Khalid and Alessia Cara at the VMAs. The song’s title just happens to be the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and the performance also included a group of suicide attempt survivors who came on stage wearing shirts with the number to the suicide helpline.

The song begins from the perspective of someone who wants to die and feels there is no one there to care about what happens to them. The opening hook for the song states, “I don’t want to be alive, I just want to die today, I just want to die.” Some may take an issue with the beginning of the song, but it can not be understated the importance of identifying those feelings in order to seek help.

A recent study which included 32 children’s hospital across the United States revealed an alarming increase in self-harm and suicidality in children and teens ranges from ages 5 to 17 over the past decade. Also, the School of Social Work and Social Care at the University of Birmingham released a recent study stating, “Children and young people under-25 who become victims of cyberbullying are more than twice as likely to enact self-harm and attempt suicide than non-victims.”

The second hook starts with “I want you to be alive, You don’t gotta die today, You don’t gotta die.” The song moves from a place of darkness to a place of support. When someone expresses suicidal thoughts, it is critical to not dismiss their feelings or minimize the weight of the issues preventing them from wanting to live. The Center for Disease control list death by suicide as the number 1 cause of death in the 15-19 age group. According to the National Data on Campus Suicides, “1 in 12 college students have written down a suicide plan as a result of stresses related to school, work, relationships, social life, and still developing as a young adult.”

John Draper, Director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, in an interview talked about the impact the song is already having. Draper said: “The impact has been pretty extraordinary. On the day the song was released, we had the second-highest call volume in the history of our service. Overall, calls to the hotline are up roughly 33% from this time last year.” via CNN

“I finally want to be alive, I don’t want to die today, I don’t want to die” are the lyrics and the tone in which the songs end. Then, it leads into an incredibly woke statement by Logic, and here is a sample:

“I am here to fight for your equality because I believe that we are all born equal, but we are not treated equally at that is why we must fight!” – Logic VMAs

The trend for suicide deaths is on an upward climb. A 2015 study by the Center for Disease Control state there were twice as many suicides than homicides in the United States. It’s time we end the stigma and myths surrounding suicide attempt survivors “doing it for the attention.” Suicidal thoughts may be an ongoing struggle instead of a one-off event to prevent. In this case, we need to arm loved ones and at risk individuals with information as well as tools and resource to manage their mental health status.

Suicide Warning Signs

Another useful resource is the Crisis Text Line in which users can send a text to a trained counselor and typically receive a response within 5 minutes. Texters can begin by texting “START to 741741” to get connected.

Mental Health providers and practitioners are always looking for ways to connect and reach those most at risk for suicidal and self-harming behaviors, and pop culture often has a direct connection to those who are the most vulnerable. Unfortunately, a recent study identified a link between 13 Reasons Why and suicidal thoughts in which it found “queries about suicide and how to commit suicide spiked in the show’s wake.”

However, unlike Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why“, this song is already showing that it will have the opposite effect by increasing queries and online searches about the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. If you have not seen this powerful VMA performance, I urge you to check it out.

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