They were LGBTQ+. They were Latinx. Yet those relevant identities are being erased as we collectively talk about the horrific shootings in Orlando last weekend. While at the same time the media response increasingly seeps in anti-Islamic rhetoric. As therapists, what are we to do?
AAMFT issued in a response statement they want “to start a necessary dialogue around the absolute need for all to feel safe in our society.” While well intended, there are those who cannot feel safe in a culture where we are not only gunned down, but our identities are erased. Where many people live in states where it is still legal to be fired from your job or kicked out of your housing because of your identity. Where presidential candidates tout their plans to revoke your marriage license, and accuse you of being a pervert for wanting to safely use the restroom, and want to build a wall between the U.S. and your country of origin. Where you turn on the news and hear that Mexican men are criminals and rapists, statements made for political gain but not in truth. Where a night out dancing with friends in a seemingly safe space can end in death. Where your faith is misconstrued and blamed for atrocities and as a result your place of worship threatened.
All cannot feel safe in our society.
We need more than tweets and Facebooks posts offering “thoughts and prayers”. We need action. As family therapists and trained systems thinkers, we have a responsibility to be engaged in systemic change to reduce widespread racism and homophobia and Islamophobia. If you are thinking to yourself this isn’t about racism or homophobia or Islamophobia, if you are thinking I just want to know how to help clients in my office, then this message is especially for you. Discrimination and vilification of groups of people is connected at all levels of the system; discrimination at the macro level is connected to depression and suicide at the micro level. Consider this, since the introduction of the transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina, calls to the Trans Lifeline suicide hotline have doubled. We need only to turn back to our grad school intro to theory course books to understand this phenomenon.
Yes, we must be prepared to work directly in therapy with clients who experience hardship, and we also must be engaged in social change to reduce such hardships. We need to show up. At community cultural events. At pride events. At events that support communities of color. To march. To donate blood. To hand out water. We need to shut up and listen to the people most effected. We need to check our privilege and realize that if these events are optional for us, then we have a responsibility to stand with marginalized groups.
Then we need to speak up. At the dinner table. At church. In the classroom. By calling our elected officials. When we witness injustice. As therapists, our work and our ongoing education extends far beyond the therapy room and the conference workshop. We must be in communities listening to the voices of people of color and of LGBTQ+ people, particularly communities where identities intersect as queer people of color are most likely to be the targets of violence and discrimination. Then we work with these communities for change. You will learn more about how to be a helpful therapist in these spaces than anywhere else.
Kristen Benson, PhD, LMFT is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science and core faculty in the Couple and Family Therapy doctoral program at North Dakota State University. She is an AAMFT Clinical Fellow and an AAMFT Approved Supervisor. She chairs the AAMFT Queer Affirmative Caucus.