I was pleased to be one of the presenters at Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay this week. This organization provides several essential services to the community and has a large refugee resettlement program. The presentation was titled, Coming Around: How to Improve Services to LGBTQI Clients from All Cultural Backgrounds.
The main focus of the training was helping providers understand that there are other models of “coming around” to understanding one’s sexual and gender identity and still remaining connected to one’s family and community. These models may not reflect the more visible white American form that most people recognize of “coming out”; which usually involves verbally acknowledging one’s identity, telling family and friends and community, and sometimes cutting people off who aren’t immediately supportive, and withdrawing from past communities because of their homophobia.
There are other models that many immigrants and people of color may follow that leave them more connected to their families, communities, cultures or religious communities. For many people connection to all aspects of their culture are so essential and cutting oneself off from any aspect of these communities could be damaging and dangerous, especially in a country where having and being part of your cultural community is essential for healthy mental and physical health. Many people of color and immigrants are masters at piecing together communities and surviving and thriving this way.
Here are a few tips for therapists when working with LGBTQ people of color and immigrants:
It’s important for therapists to be affirming and supportive of their LGBTQ clients and have knowledge and understanding that being LGBTQ is normal and healthy. If you are not able to do this, please refer the client to supportive services.
Reject the idea that more “traditional cultures” or non-Western cultures are homophobic or look at the reasons that this is the common story or stereotype. How much has racism and colonialism impacted and created this story? Find stories together and examples from the past and from their present lives that affirm a more accepting, welcoming and honoring tradition within their communities.
Discuss what it actually means for the client to be LGBTI in their particular family and cultural community or in the larger gay community. What stereotypes does the client have about LGBTI individuals? Can they find stories or real life people in their communities whom they admire and feel similar to? Help them develop a solid positive identity and sense of self that works for them. The more happiness and integrity the client feels and has, the more they will be able to maneuver complicated family and community relationships
Help connect with other LGBT people to normalize the experience and also focus on connecting with communities that the client identifies with culturally (there may be some hesitation around this due to shame or fear or rejection), so you can work with where the client is. Connect the client to media that reflects LGBTQ people of their culture.
Create their own model of coming out or coming around and integrating themselves and their new identities with family and community. Help clients think of what would work best around how to include their families and communities. This could be less direct than the standard verbal declaration model, depending on the client and the culture. It may just mean bringing a partner around more, experimenting with talking about LGBT issues. If they want to verbally come out, what do they want to tell their parents or family or friends? Reduce pressure on timelines or even telling. What works best for this particular client at this particular point?
Remember that it may be important for client to stay connected to other people from their community. This may sometimes look puzzling if they are still attending a Church or Mosque that is homophobic or seeming “closeted” within the family system. Explore these issues and how the client sees things. What are the values that keep them connected to these original communities?
If a particular community niche doesn’t exist help them figure out how to build it e.g. they can form a dinner group, soccer group, or even engage with the most accepting people in their existing communities.
For more detailed ideas, resources or presentations, please contact me.
Dr. Cory Nyamora is an endurance sports coach with certifications from USAT and USATF, a licensed clinical psychologist, and the founder of Endurance – A Sports & Psychology Center, Inc. He provides endurance coaching for beginner and experienced athletes, as well as psychotherapy services to children, adults, and families.