Happy New Year, counseling colleagues! If you’ve celebrated a holiday lately, I hope you enjoyed peace, joy, reflection and rest.
As we begin this new year, it comes to mind that counselors are likely to face challenges in their work, and in their fortitude and resolve, that may be different from in past years. I want to preface this with the assurance that my message here isn’t one attached to any political preference. Rather, it is meant to shine a light on reality by offering information and insight about the challenges counselors are facing.
This past spring, the American Counseling Association Governing Council made the wrenching decision to move our 2017 national conference from Nashville to San Francisco. That decision was the result of a bill passed by the Tennessee Legislature, and signed into law by the state’s governor, that is discriminatory in nature, targeting the LGBTQ community and challenging the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. The ACA Governing Council determined to vary our plan, make a statement and hope that the cultural and social justice divide we were seeing would heal and that these discriminatory laws would begin to subside. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
As we greet 2017, more legislation that is discriminatory in nature is on the way from multiple states. These pieces of legislation would attempt to limit counselors and constituents with no basis in logic or justice. It is troubling to say the least, and if we do not stand up and stand tall together, we run the risk of harm coming to many individuals and groups.
The harm I am referencing here includes the lowering of self-esteem, the loss of hope and the unmitigated fear that diverse individuals and groups experience when they are targeted or threatened, or when access to services is withheld from them. As counselors, we offer unconditional positive regard, empathy, solace and safety. But how can we offer these things if certain clients and students cannot access us within an atmosphere of acceptance and advocacy?
That is what is being threatened. The more that discriminatory, hate-driven legislation is introduced in multiple states, the more it weakens all of us. We must protect the cherished identity of “counselor” that we hold up, hold on to and for which we have fought.
I have had the honor of speaking at a number of state conferences over the past five months, including in states where such legislation was introduced and either beaten down or signed into law, such as in Mississippi and Tennessee. As I look out at theses audiences, it strikes me that the counselors with whom I am speaking are open, accepting and, perhaps, uncomfortable or unsure. Counselors are not the authors of these legislative initiatives that are limiting, fear producing or driven by hate. It is quite an experience for me to walk through an exhibit hall and have many participants stop me to remark how glad they are to see the ACA president there in their state. It lets them know that ACA is aware of the hurt that is seeping through the profession, more slowly in some places than in others.
It is time to live our identity, to say “no” and to be vigilant when something discriminatory or noninclusive appears on our radar. It is time to talk with one another.
Attending the ACA 2017 Conference & Expo is especially important. There is power in numbers and in passion, and the gathering in San Francisco will be an outstanding venue for meeting, engaging in discussions and planning how best to advocate for what I hope will be a courageous and hopeful step in defeating anything that is discriminatory or limiting in nature.
Two examples of topics at the conference that may pique your interest: “Common Experiences, Diverse Identities: A Life Span Approach to Counseling in the LGBT Community,” presented by the leaders of the task group that has been designing this approach since August; and “Left Out in the Hallway: Achieving Equity and Increasing Success for LGBTQ and African American Community College Students,” presented by Margaret O’Hara, president of the California Association for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors. And there will be so many more.
The key to our strength and advocacy is YOU. Please join us!