Bullying on the basis of sexual orientation is a common experience faced by individuals who don’t conform to gender stereotypes. If you or someone you care about has been a victim of homophobia, transphobia, or any other form of discrimination based on your sexual identity, here’s what you can do about it.
Acknowledge your internalized homophobia.
Despite the legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States and the recognition of same-sex relationships through mainstream media, the latent and overt prejudices faced by LGBT people are still rampant. This belief that heterosexism is the only right sexual orientation is called internalized homophobia. The American Psychological Association describes homophobia as the fear of transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay people. These negative attitudes and stereotypes are learned from family members, religion, and peers and tend to develop with an individual’s childhood and adolescence.
In cases where young people have an early “gay awakening” in a society that reinforces these stereotypes, they may try to hide their sexual orientation to avoid falling victim to potential social stigma. This is also a form of internalized homophobia, and this fear of disclosure of sexual orientation can result in severe mental health problems. In some cases, this psychological distress can look like contempt for other gay people, irrational fear of being around other sexual minorities, pursuing secret same-sex relationships (an unwillingness to openly acknowledge their sexual orientation), and an over-reliance on drugs and alcohol.
Luckily, mental healthcare has expanded to address some of the unique mental health problems that affect members of the gay community. If you or a loved one has been the victim of homophobia (both internalized and societal), a gay-affirming therapist can help you find self-acceptance and help you develop coping resources within yourself.
Talk to a gay-affirming/gay-friendly mental health professional.
If you identify as anything other than cisgender heterosexual, you’ve probably faced some form of discrimination because of your sexual and gender identity. One way to lessen some of this minority stress is by talking to an LGBTQ-friendly therapist. While most therapists these days are trained to work with LGBTQ clients, a therapist who also identifies as LGBTQ can be better placed to help you process some of the relationship issues and mental health issues that are unique to your sexual identity.
Finding the right therapist for you is one of the most important things you can do to manage your mental health. If you’re unsure of where to start looking for a therapist, resources like The Trevor Project and Psychology Today can help. To know if a therapist will be the right fit for you, first consider the type of therapy you’ll need. One way to figure out the type of therapy you’ll need is by examining the mental health issues you need help with. If you have depressive symptoms, or issues with anxiety, for instance, seek out a therapist with extensive experience in these fields.
As you prepare for your first therapy session, don’t shy away from asking your therapist questions about their training, their past work with LGBTQ clients, and their overall approach to therapy (CBT, psychotherapy). If your initial session doesn’t go as you’d expected, or if you just feel like you need a different therapist, you can always keep shopping around until you find a mental health professional whose therapeutic process matches your mental health needs.
Push back against homophobic language and behavior.
Personal biases, individual interests, and values are some of the reasons why most people pursue certain careers. Social justice and activism are no different. One way that you can help challenge some of the transphobia, prejudice, and stigma faced by members of the gay community is by finding ways to drum up social support and litigation to give LGBT people more visibility. If you value advocacy, you could follow in Malliha Wilson‘s steps and go into human rights law or civil rights law.