June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month
By Dr. Cindi Love (Dr. Cindi Love is a member-at-large of PFLAG, from Abilene, TX. Click here to see her letter in the Abilene Reporter-News.)
President Obama has officially declared June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. The timing was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall protest in New York City. This act of civil disobedience launched the movement among LGBT people to live openly and with integrity regarding their sexual orientations and gender expressions. June 2009 is a month commemorating good mental health for LGBT people, because mental health professionals tell us that the truth makes people free and secrets make them sick.
In recognition of this month, Kirk Hancock, executive director of the Mental Health Association in Abilene asked Kim McLaughlin, local Parents and Families of Lesbians and Gays president, to provide reflection on the effects of living in secrecy ("don't ask, don't tell"), stigma, marginalization and discrimination on the mental health of LGBT people and their families. I was honored when Kim asked me to compile it, and grateful that Kirk included our LGBT community in the MHA circle of care and compassion.
The fundamental mental health challenge for LGBT people is to choose to live truthfully about who we are in spite of the risks and consequences. If we live truthfully, there is risk that we will be shunned by our churches, our families, our employers and our peers. We may lose our jobs and in some parts of the world, our lives. But, if we don't live truthfully and "come out" about who we are, we continue to live in unhealthy silence and secrecy.
It's like playing a movie with half the screen showing. A friend of mine, Dr. Rob Eichberg (now deceased) wrote a book titled "Coming Out is an Act of Love." His theory was that living with integrity is a gift to the LGBT person and, ultimately, to that person's family and community. Giving that gift, however, is a very hard choice. Living in the closet is brutal for the adult psyche and it is often fatal for young people. Here are a few statistics that help quantify the situation in the United States.
• Gay teens are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers.
• Forty-five percent of gay men and 20 percent of lesbians surveyed had been victims of verbal and physical assaults in secondary school specifically because of their sexual orientation.
• Gay youths are at higher risk of being kicked out of their homes and turning to life on the streets for survival.
People who don't come out often experience guilt and anxiety, as well as loneliness and isolation. They report thoughts of suicide, self-doubt and self-hatred. Despite these negative feelings, many choose to stay "in the closet" because it provides a degree of safety from bigotry.
Researchers have reported many positive effects of coming out, including a sense of relief, an improved sense of self, positive self-esteem and increased authenticity.
Coming out is a process that occurs over and over throughout an individual's life, and it is an important component of gay, lesbian and bisexual identity development. So, if you know someone who is in the midst of this process, try and support them. I often hear parents and friends say, "OK, you're gay, now can we just not talk about it anymore." The truth is that we need to talk about it when we need to talk about it.
And, the good news for Abilenians is that we have some great resources to help us with the conversation.
- Dr. Cindi Love