On June 7, the American Counseling Association and Society for Sexual, Affectional, Intersex, and Gender Expansive Identities co-hosted a webinar, Speaking in Support of LGBTQ+ People Through Advocacy and Allyship, on how counselors can support LGBTQ+ clients.
Dominique Marsalek, ACA’s state government affairs manager, began the webinar by introducing some of ACA’s legislative priorities for the year and discussing two types of advocacy counselors can use to support queer clientele:
- Issue advocacy promotes a particular position supported by interest groups and focuses on policies that could affect this position (such as gender-affirming care) on all levels.
- Legislative advocacy involves acting to support or discourage the passage of a certain kind of legislation.
Gene Dockery and Valeo “Leo” Khan-Snyder, the two other presenters, continued the conversation on advocacy by discussing how counselors can become advocates for the LGBTQ+ community in the wake of the homophobic and transphobic laws being introduced around the country.
“Right now, we have more than 520 anti-LGBTQIA bills in various states. We also have several at a national level — and this is the highest number we’ve ever had,” said Dockery, chair of SAIGE’s Public Policy Committee and a doctoral candidate in counselor education and supervision whose research focuses on trans and queer liberation, advocacy and disability justice. “This is a deadly issue for trans people. A lot of what is happening is a concerted effort by conservative groups. These are bills that are prepackaged with nearly identical language being sent from state to state.”
The speakers discussed how Senate Bill 1580, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law, allows Florida health care providers and payers to decline care or payment for certain services if they “conscientiously object” for any reason. This means that those in health care can deny transgender individuals gender-affirming care without repercussions.
As a transgender man, Khan-Snyder said he has seen firsthand the harm this legislation has done.
Khan-Snyder, a SAIGE Public Policy Committee member, and Dockery stressed that counselors need to become advocates for their clients to prevent more laws like this from being passed. But they also caution that this work can take a toll on counselor as well.
“The advocacy work we’re doing is inherently traumatic,” noted Khan-Snyder, a clinical mental health counselor who works with marginalized populations, particularly LGBTQ+ clients in rural communities. “This isn’t just impacting our clients; it is also impacting our advocates.”
So much of counselors’ focus tends to be on the clients that the counselors often neglect their own safety and mental health, added Dockery, who is nonbinary. Dockery explained they face a lot of risks since their name and gender identity are publicly available. Same with Khan-Snyder, who shared that he had to create a plan to leave his state in case his personal information got leaked.
The speakers told the audience that cis and straight counselors can help advocate for their clients by meeting with legislators, connecting with LGBTQIA+ organizations and creating support networks.
“Make it known to other people that you are here; you are doing the work. Show up to events that are legislatively focused, show up to school board meetings … to the extent that it is safe for you,” said Khan-Snyder. “Be visible and active in doing the work.”
Part of doing the work, he continued, is to learn more about the queer community and its individual members as people. This way, we can take their desires and needs into account when we advocate on their behalf, Khan-Snyder noted. He stressed that an advocate’s job is to uplift people’s voices.
Both speakers also discussed how advocates can keep up to date and in touch with the queer community: They can follow local news sources as well as queer and trans journalists, connect with LGBTQIA+ organizations and reach out to teaching unions. Dockery added that teaching unions can be useful resources because many teachers are concerned about the educational restrictions resulting from these bills.
“You have to hold space for people publicly, but you also have to stand up for us privately,” Dockery said. “What are you saying [and] what are you doing when we’re not looking? Because if you’re not doing this when we aren’t looking, you’re not actually an ally.”
Samantha Cooper is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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