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Healing After HERO

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Dealing with the defeat of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) proposition.
By Katie Springs, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC, DCC

The opposition’s campaign messages were based on myths and the perpetuation of fears that lacked any factual basis. Nonetheless, they persuaded a significant majority of voters to oppose Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).   

In the days and weeks leading up to the election, as well as in the days and weeks since, this heated campaign has been the focus of many counseling sessions in my office. The emotional impact has been real, and felt by both LGBT community members as well as self-identified straight allies. 

In the LGBT community, the range of internalized emotional responses to both the outcome of the proposition, as well as the hateful messages used by HERO opponents, has included descriptors such as: pain, alienation, disappointment, frustration, anger, as well as feeling mislabeled, misrepresented, and misunderstood. For straight allies, the sentiment is often embarrassment, frustration, and disgrace. When unresolved, these internalized feelings often lead to increased incidents of anxiety and depression, as well as a general decrease in the feeling of overall well-being.

It is not uncommon for a political event such as the defeat of the HERO proposition—or any other public message that is applied inaccurately in a broad-stroke fashion—to tap into an LGBT person’s past hurts, feelings, and experiences. Often, it revives old conflicts or pain related to sexual orientation or gender identity, or dredges up memories of negative interactions with anti-LGBT people.     

At the same time, it is not uncommon for a person who is uncomfortable addressing grief (most often involving a friend’s or family member’s loss) to avoid the topic (or even the person) altogether, hoping that with the passing of time, the pain will magically disappear and life will return to “normal.” Allies who are uncertain about how to approach an LGBT friend or family member about the HERO defeat may be taking such a position of avoidance, unintentionally exacerbating the feelings of hurt and isolation that their LGBT friends feel.    

Social change rarely follows a linear path. Nor does the process of healing. There will be bumps and curves along the way. However, we can all develop the capacity, ability, and strength to keep those bumps from becoming cliffs. Self-care and compassion are the building blocks for healing. The following tips (with the acronym FOCUS) may help us to focus on the healing journey:

• Find three positive things in your life each day to celebrate. They may be as simple as “I ate a nutritious and delicious lunch,” to something far more personal in nature.

• Observe your feelings, acknowledge them, but recognize that feelings are not necessarily facts. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. When negative feelings arise, create a logical rebuttal to your internalized statements (e.g., “I feel like an outcast” does not mean “I am an outcast.” A negative feeling/rebuttal sequence may look like this: “I feel like an outcast; however, I know I am not an outcast because I have family and/or friends who love and support me.”). 

Additionally, be cautious about over-personalizing. Not all opponents of the HERO proposition are anti-LGBT (e.g., instead of saying “I live in a city that hates me (or hates LGBT people),” a more constructive statement might be, “The defeat of the proposition is not about me personally; the community at large needs to be better informed of the facts.”).

• Create balance and dedicate energy to various components of your life that make you the unique and wonderful, multi-dimensional person that you are. Diversifying the way in which you identify yourself may lead to more balance and satisfaction. Realize that belonging to the LGBT community is only one dimension of who you are. What are some other key areas of your life that you identify with or need to create space for? Possibilities may include: family life, career, exercise/competitive sports, volunteer work, a faith or spiritual community, etc.

• Utilize both individual and community resources available to you if you are concerned about the impact that negative thoughts or feelings may be having on your life (e.g., reach out to LGBT organizations, professional counselors, ministers, friends, family, etc.).

• Start a dialog with family and friends. Speak responsibly and respectfully to everyone (especially the opponents of LGBT civil-rights protections), providing information you believe they should have in order to make educated and informed decisions about future legislation. Use facts, rather than feelings, when having the discussion, and provide links to credible sources when possible; once you place them on the defensive, it is unlikely that they will hear, or be open to, important messages (e.g., instead of saying “You’re an idiot” or “You’re a hater,” consider “There is a great journal article that discusses the inaccuracy of the campaign messages that have been released. The link to it can be found here…”).

Katie Springs is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Houston, Texas.
She can be reached at [email protected]

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