For about two weeks last month, it was entirely legal for Texas social workers and counselors to discriminate against LGBTQ and disabled people by ‘opting out’ of providing mental-health services to them.
Acting on the recommendations of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council (BHEC) and the Texas State Board of Social Worker Examiners (TSBSWE) voted unanimously on October 12 to erase disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity from the nondiscrimination clause of its code of conduct.
The potential for damage from this ruling was quite considerable, since mental health disparities are of particular concern among LGBTQ folks. Members of our community are at increased risk of being diagnosed with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, while they are simultaneously less likely to receive care. For example, according to a recent national survey by the Substance Abuse Mental Health and Services Administration (SAMHSA), over 40 percent of LGB young adults (18–25) and 30 percent of LGB adults with serious mental illness received no treatment.
Conditions of despair such as substance abuse and suicide are also more common among LGBTQ people. LGBTQ folks are more likely to recreationally use alcohol and drugs, have higher rates of substance use disorders, and are more likely to continue heavy drinking later in life. Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are also at increased risk of developing suicidal ideation or making a suicide attempt, a trend of particular concern among LGBTQ youth.
Full and equal access to mental health services is absolutely critical for LGBTQ people, so it was no surprise that the Board’s decision was met with significant opposition. Fortunately, in response to a tremendous statewide and national backlash, there was a swift reversal of the ruling and a reinstatement of the agency’s nondiscrimination policy on October 27.
Combat Discrimination at the Ballot Box
This episode serves as a stark reminder that marginalized and oppressed people are frequently targeted through legislative and policy attacks. Systemic injustice is perpetuated by the discriminatory policies and practices rooted in many of our institutions. Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is now being legalized under the guise of ‘religious freedom’ or ‘individual rights’—the latest buzz words being used to codify discrimination into law.
To combat these forces, we must continue participating in the electoral process now more than ever by voting in every election. Voting matters because prejudice continues to impact both public-policy decisions and our personal lives. While our national elections every four years certainly get the bulk of attention, local elections also provide us with a vital opportunity to shape the civic and judicial landscape in our neighborhoods and communities.
Processing Feelings around the Election
The past four years in our country have felt particularly divisive. While Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ folks are all too familiar with the challenges of racism, homophobia, and transphobia, there is a collective sense that things feel much worse than ever before.
It is quite common to feel a measure of sadness, despair, or anger in response to such deep-seated and psychologically taxing conflict. Emotional estrangement from friends and family members with differing views (and who vote against your interests while claiming to love and support you) creates a sense of disequilibrium and confusion. And a sense of disconnection and mistrust can set in when people who claim to be allies refuse to examine their privilege or acknowledge their blind spots.
2020 has already been a challenging year, and with the 24-hour news cycle constantly bombarding us with polarizing information, the desire to just “check out” is greater than ever.
Getting Mad as Hell
When someone directly harms us, there is a clear focus for our anger and we know exactly where to direct our frustrations. But when we are attacked by institutional and systemic forces, or by the pervasive negativity and toxicity of our public discourse, it is much harder to find the right place to effectively channel our emotions. This can leave us feeling angry about “no one and everyone” at the same time!
When looking for an outlet for our anger, we sometimes turn to social media just to find people and politicians who will further ignite our outrage. So ask yourself when engaging with certain news or social-media outlets:
am I doing this because I’m seeking information and connection, or am I really just looking for a target for my anger?
The truth is, you don’t always need a particular face to aim your anger at. What you need is a plan. How can you mobilize to fight injustice? Perhaps it’s blogging or writing about your experiences. Perhaps it’s a Facebook Live event, a YouTube channel, or a podcast. Sharing your experiences as an LGBTQ person has value, particularly for those who might be struggling with loneliness, isolation, and self-acceptance.
Taking action by exercising our right to vote and participating in community events and the political process not only advances LGBTQ equality, but provides an important outlet for us personally. These are the things that can carry you through November and beyond, regardless of any single election’s outcome.
How will you continue the work of advancing LGBTQ equality and empowerment beyond November?
This article appears in the November 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.