How Attending Conferences Enhanced Our “Safe Space” in Treating the LGBTQ+ Community

At OPI we are committed to providing safe and affirming spaces for our LGBTQ+ young adults and their families.  We recognize that best practices for a young adult who identifies as LGBTQ+ are going to differ from their straight/cisgender counterparts because of a number of factors and that our awareness of those needs should be constantly evolving.  We also recognize that everyone’s experience is individual! Through diverse hiring practices, open and out staff members, LGBTQ+ process groups and social clubs, we are able to model for and provide holistic support to our participants identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

Part of our continued commitment to working with an LGBTQ+ population involves ongoing continued education at a variety of conferences and action summits available in L.A. and across the country.  In the past year, many members of our staff have attended LGBTQ+ Affirmative Conferences, trainings, or events in Massachusetts, Utah, and California to enhance our clinical skills and expertise. In the past month, we sent representatives to two local events, the EDGY Conference (sponsored by Penny Lane) and ETA Summit (“Eat, Think, Act” luncheon coordinated by La Fuente).  Some of our takeaways are as follows.

Alisa Foreman, Clinical Director at OPI, attended the ETA Summit and said, “We decided to be gold sponsors because we, at OPI, strongly support the LGBTQ+ community and pride ourselves on making OPI a ‘safe space.’  We have worked with many LGBTQ+ participants and are eager to continue to learn more about how to truly respect and support one’s journey towards their authentic identity.” Missy Martin, Director of Life Coaching, noticed that while we recognize a person’s internal journey, we must also be aware and versed in their societal context, the messages they have received about themselves from others, and how those messages shift and fluctuate based on time, geography, and other factors.  As an out lesbian member of OPI’s staff, I truly believe in the intention and honesty present in Alisa’s and Missy’s words. I take pride in being part of an organization that backs up those words with action.

OPI, specifically, is in a unique place to actively support our LGBTQ+ participants for several reasons.  For one thing, as we are situated in California, an informed consent model is utilized with regard to transgender individuals seeking medical treatment.  La Fuente’s ETA Summit did a wonderful job familiarizing clinicians and lay people alike who might not know about this model. Historically, a mental health professional was responsible for providing clinical recommendation before a client could explore medical options.  Under an informed consent model, the patient has agency over this and other pieces of their medical decision-making. Alisa Foreman said, “I was interested to learn about the ‘gate keeper’ vs. informed consent model and how that impacts an individual’s sense of control over their own lives, bodies, and identities. As an MTP, I do not want to be the ‘gate keeper’ for someone else’s true identity.”

ETA Summit also left me thinking about how I can better serve our LGBTQ+ participants by remaining knowledgeable in areas that might not apply to my own queer experience (remembering that I do not know everything) – for instance learning about and remaining familiar with dating apps that are also used to seek drugs.  As members of the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to relational difficulty and addiction because of a variety of developmental and social factors, this is particularly relevant with our young adults. Even more specifically, our participants who identify as gay men are at risk to become part of a growing movement of “chemsex” or sexual encounters under the influence of drugs (particularly/often crystal methamphetamine) as a way to dampen internalized shame about their desires.  Keeping my ear to the ground and being aware of the dating apps our participants are using, as well as being alert for certain acronyms (for instance PnP – Party And Play) can help me to counter harmful/toxic messaging, and keep our residences and offices safe, as our participants deserve them to be.

OPI also sent representatives to this year’s Edgy Conference – Penny Lane’s 10th annual gathering of panels and speakers intended for those who work closely with LGBTQ+ persons and their families.  The theme this year was “Building A Brighter Future.” One of our primary takeaways was a growing awareness of similarities between young adults who identify as transgender or gender-expansive, and young adults on the autism spectrum.  OPI Life Coach, Brittany Williams, summarizes, “I was intrigued by the workshop we took on the correlation between gender variance and the autism spectrum since we’ve had participants in the past who identified with this and had spectrum-like tendencies. It has caused me to be aware of possible patterns and tendencies that may have been overlooked because of their diagnoses.”  We were also interested in the continued conversation of how clinicians can best support clients going through any coming out process (with a recognition of how that process shifts, changes, and recreates itself over the course of a person’s life).

Both EDGY and the ETA Summit left OPI participants renewed in their existent core understanding of each person’s identity as unique, non-fixed, and non-linear.  “We will not act as gatekeepers. We will hold space for those who have been (and continue to be) othered. We will respect and listen to the experiences of our LGBTQ+ young adults.  Some of us will be allies, some of us will be mentors, and some of us will be mirrors. All of us will be informed.”

Author: Britt Kusserow
Email: bkusserow@opiliving.com

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