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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!

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Military Service Boosts Resilience, Well-Being Among Transgender Veterans



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



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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Transgender TV Characters Have the Power to Shape Audience Attitudes



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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Mental Health Issues Suffered By Gay Men



The mental health issues gay men have to deal with aren’t limited to stigma and discrimination. According to a recent study, gay men are four times more likely to commit suicide than straight men. Moreover, more than half of the men who identify themselves as gay suffer from anxiety or depression. In short, the mental health issues suffered by gay men are a serious problem so finding ways to counter them is crucial.

As mentioned above, the mental health issues suffered by gay men are a serious problem and the best way to counter them is spreading awareness about gay mental health. Spreading awareness about the mental health issues suffered by gay men will help to improve their health and allow them to live a stress free life. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the common mental health issues suffered by gay men.

Internalized Homophobia

Years of exposure to myths, stereotypes and homophobic rhetoric has forced gay men to internalize this negativity and believe, consciously or subconsciously, that these myths, stereotypes and homophobic rhetoric are true. This mental health problem suffered by gay men is known as internalized homophobia. Internalized homophobia is known to worsen general stress which in turn leads to poorer physical health.

Body image and Femininity issues

If you browse gay dating/hookup sites, you will find many profiles with the statements ‘No Fats, No Fems.’ This statement basically means that the individual isn’t interested in dating men with feminine qualities. This is an indication of larger issues in the gay male community such as overvaluing stereotypical heterosexual qualities and unreasonable body image expectations.

According to a recent study, the pressure of being masculine forces gay men to be less emotional and affectionate. Moreover, body image issues increase their risk of developing an eating disorder. As it contradicts the acceptance, quality, and openness the gay community should provide, the pressure to be masculine causes many gay men to feel frustrated and stressed.

Overworking to prove themselves to the world

Also according to the aforementioned study, on average, gay men have a higher income and are more successful than straight men. This may sound as great news, but it isn’t. Some gay men see their sexuality as a deficiency. So, to compensate for their ‘deficiency’, gay men try to be high-achieving or perfect in other aspects of life. The pressure to be perfect in different aspects of life causes great stress and anxiety in gay men. This is a mental health issue that troubles many gay men today in Australia and abroad.

The fear of bullying, being judged or rejection causes many gay men to isolate themselves or suffer from social anxiety. Also, legislations that limit their right reinforces to gay men that they’re not equal to heterosexuals. All of these things lead to the aforementioned mental health issues suffered by gay men.

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Child Welfare

Proposed Trump Cuts Imperil Mental Health, Health Care, Education and More



The budget proposed by President Donald J. Trump threatens critical health, scientific research and education programs that contribute to the social safety net for millions of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association.

“This budget, if enacted, would jeopardize our nation’s educational, scientific and health enterprises and limit access to critically needed mental and behavioral health services,” said APA President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. “These cuts would disproportionately affect people living in poverty, people with serious mental illness and other disabilities, women, children, people living with HIV/AIDS, older adults, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community.”

“While every administration must make difficult budget decisions, any attempts to balance the federal budget should increase, not decrease, the number of Americans who have access to high-quality education, health care and social support,” said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. “APA calls on Congress to reject this budget proposal and replace it with one that protects and increases access to services and care for all Americans.”

Among the cuts denounced by APA:

•    $7.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health, approximately a 21 percent decrease from the FY 2017 level, which would result in 1,946 fewer grants. The National Science Foundation would receive a cut of approximately $820 million compared to FY 2017, a decrease of 11 percent.

•    More than $600 billion in reductions over the next decade from the Medicaid program, which could eliminate Medicaid benefits for about 7.5 million people. The proposal also includes the option for states to choose between a per capita cap or a block grant beginning in FY 2020. Medicaid is the single largest payer for behavioral health services in the United States, accounting for over 25 percent of behavioral health spending.

•    Elimination of the Graduate Psychology Education Program, the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program, which together would reduce mental health workforce training by nearly $100 million.

•    Almost $400 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, including a roughly 22 percent reduction from the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.

•    14 percent ($9.2 billion) from the U.S. Department of Education, eliminating investments in educational equity and quality, including slashing other key programs that support gifted students, effective teaching and professional development.

•    Elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and programmatic changes that would prolong repayment periods for students with graduate school loans.

•    13.2 percent cut from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, including elimination of the Community Development Block Grant.

•    $200 million reduction for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

•    Elimination of 75 employees from the Office of Justice Programs, including a cut of over 30 percent, reducing the office’s budget from $1.8 billion to $1.3 billion. The agency administers critical juvenile and criminal justice grants and houses the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Bureau of Justice Assistance and National Institute of Justice.

“A strong educational system is the foundation of a globally competitive workforce that fosters innovation, discovery and research,” Puente said. “As other countries continue to invest in education as part of their economic and workforce development strategies, the need for increased federal investment in American education has never been more important to our nation’s economic stability, national security and public health.”

“APA looks forward to working with Congress to ensure a more balanced approach to addressing our nation’s fiscal 2018 budget priorities, including making progress on increasing access to mental health care and addressing the opioid epidemic, investing in the scientific enterprise and expanding access to higher education for all Americans,” Evans added.

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Obama’s Contributions to Social Change Will Leave a Lasting Legacy



History is already attempting to rewrite Obama’s presidency. Over his eight years in office, Obama never exuded anything less than class, intelligence and an apparently endless appetite for hope and optimism. He frequently spoke about the progress toward a more perfect union and never publically condemned the colleagues who chose to hold him back.

Our former President spent most of his second term under siege from an uncompromising, myopic and greedy political party that controlled Congress and its purse strings. Perhaps no American president has had to endure so many vicious attacks on his character and “agenda,” most of which is planted firmly in the realm of common sense.

Look Beyond the Propaganda

During his time in office, Obama attempted to:

  • Sign a comprehensive infrastructure bill that would have rejuvenated America’s failing roads and other essential construction projects.
  • Sign a bipartisan transportation and housing bill.
  • Sign bills requiring equal pay for women and an overdue increase in the Federal minimum wage.
  • Sign a law that would limit offshoring and outsourcing, to keep American jobs in America.
  • Sign a law that would rehire 400,000 teachers, police officers, paramedics and firefighters.
  • Sign a law reforming student loan to make it more manageable and less punitive.
  • Sign a law that would have extended unemployment benefits for the most desperate Americans in times of hardship.
  • Sign a law that would have guaranteed millionaires pay similar tax rates as working Americans.
  • Sign a law that would have repealed subsidies for Big Oil.

If you’ve relied on television for your news — or even the major outlets with a digital presence — you’re probably familiar with tragically few of Obama’s efforts to reverse a generations-old trend toward ever-worsening inequality. He wanted to build an America that actually chose to rise to our potential instead of squandering it.

But Republicans stopped all of it from happening. They said they were halting the slippery slope toward tyranny — and they said it with a straight face.

What did we get instead? Eight years of Obama standing before the nation begging for a reasoned conversation about how to fix the middle class and create a government and nation that works for all of us, rather than only working for the rich. Eight years of Republicans saying “No.” The above is only a tiny sampling of GOP efforts to sabotage Obama — there are hundreds more examples.

None of this is to say Republicans — or even “conservative thinking” — is necessarily the problem here. The point is this: When evil wants to halt real social progress in its steps, the GOP is the tool it most frequently uses to do so. The Democratic Party might be out of touch these days, but the GOP is a deadly tumor that’s slowly killing us.

The ‘Signature’ Issue: Obamacare

No accounting of Obama’s tilting at the windmills of progress is complete without a word about The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” It’s his signature accomplishment, after all.

And yes, it’s complicated. Portions of it aren’t quite working as intended, but the goal of the law was to insure folks who’d never previously had insurance, either because their genetic code disqualified them or because they couldn’t afford it. By these standards, Obamacare has been a remarkable success. Twenty million Americans now have health insurance who did not previously have it, despite Republican efforts in Congress to literally steal the money meant to pay for it all.

You can’t be an informed citizen and still believe the ACA is some kind of albatross around the neck of America’s economy. It’s not socialized medicine. Hell, it’s not even universal healthcare. But it did move the Overton Window in a big way. The Overton Window is that magical spectrum that houses all of the ideas mainstream America is willing to entertain at any given time. Thanks to Obama’s presidency, the Overton Window now includes the concept of universal, unconditional healthcare. Other nations took the lead, and America took a while to catch on, but now we’re there.

Whether our current administration follows the painfully obvious bread crumb trail toward the only healthcare fix that makes any kind of sense today — a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system — is the only unanswered question.

Missed Opportunities

After we spend a couple more years toiling under the American Taliban we call Congress, Americans are probably going to start missing Obama in a big way. His story is a frustrating one, given where things are headed, but his actions speak far louder than bluster, outrage, vitriol and smear campaigns. If you look at his record objectively, you’ll see a man who frequently stood alone against impossible odds on your behalf and mine.

And yes, it’s a touch tragic. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama writes elegantly and sadly about the compromises implicitly expected of a would-be politician. He admits:

“I can’t assume that the money chase [of seeking reelection] didn’t alter me in some ways … Increasingly I found myself spending time with people of means … [who] reflected, almost uniformly, the perspectives of their class: the top 1 percent or so of the income scale that can afford to write a $2,000 check to a political candidate … I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met, in the very particular sense that I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality, and frequent hardship of the other 99 percent of the population — that is, the people that I’d entered public life to serve.”

Reading these words hurts when they were written by a man who campaigned relentlessly on the idea of hope and change. It’s here that Obama’s only real failure resides, but it’s not an upworthy, sexy or outrageous topic, so we don’t talk about it. And Republicans don’t talk about it either, because they’ve made a science of taking the kind of bribes Obama spends his time here lamenting.

Instead, we get politicians like Chris Christie who use oxymoronical phrases like “feckless tyrant” to discuss Obama in front of a live TV audience. Bluster and hatred has attempted to overshadow the real story of Obama’s presidency.

And that real story is called measurable social progress. In addition to laying the groundwork for a brand-new healthcare system, Obama also managed to:

  • Oversee a 5.4% drop in unemployment over the course of six years.
  • Pass a $787 billion Recovery and Reinvestment package to see the middle class through the Great Recession.
  • Be instrumental in the LGBT community’s fight for equal rights and the official recognition of same-sex marriage.
  • Lay the groundwork for U.S. energy independence by the year 2020 and become a world leader in a 200-country climate change accord.
  • Help keep immigrant families together by expanding work permit programs.
  • Impose consumer protections and reform efforts on Wall Street.
  • Reduce the United States’ unconscionable use of torture.
  • Normalize our relationship with nearby Cuba.
  • Impose stricter fuel efficiency standards on American automobile manufacturers.
  • Take better care of returning veterans with a $78 billion G.I. bill.

The list goes on, and anyone who’s honest with themselves couldn’t possibly remember this man’s time in office as a failure. In fact, in the uncompromising light of these encouraging facts, even the phrase “missed opportunity” starts sounding a little quaint and hysterical.

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