Ferguson & the Gay Rights Movement

This Black gays for justiceweek Ruth Bader Ginsberg drew an important distinction between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement – and she’s not been alone in her assessment.  The gay rights movement, which gained dramatic momentum following the protest at The Stonewall Inn in 1969, has had notable success.  It is less than 40 years later and people who couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ back then now support legal gay marriage.  Everyone says it’s just a matter of time  before everyone will be able to legally marry.  National organizations and LGBT organizations across the country are scrambling to figure out what the next major gay rights cause will be – a new mission and purpose.  I use “gay rights” here on purpose because transgender rights are still woefully hard to find and certainly have not enjoyed the success that gay rights have enjoyed.

They say slavery ended nearly 150 years ago, yet this country still imprisons 30% of young black men.  Black and brown people are several times more likely to live in communities riddled by poverty with no access to opportunity.  They are more likely to drop out of their under-performing school, and be arrested or stopped by police – often landing them in jail.  As we have seen in Ferguson (and in many other cases), young men like Michael Brown are more likely to be killed.

The reason the gay rights movement has moved ahead so quickly is because gay and lesbian people live in families all across the country.  In every city, in every town, in every suburb.  Every time someone comes out, it forces the entire extension of people in that person’s family and friend network to question their assumptions about gay people.

People who have been at odds with “the gays”, found them sick, wrong, unqualified parents and undeserving spouses now have children that fall into that category.  And their personal knowledge of their son, their daughter, brother, sister, aunt, best friend, their relationship with that person, conflicts with the societally-driven stereotype they have always known.  It forces them to confront their biases in a very personal way.  And love is winning out.  People are renouncing their bias.  As people know someone who is gay, they become supportive of gay rights.  This is backed by ample research.

Research also shows that lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of color are at greatest risk for poverty, unemployment, incarceration, HIV/AIDS infection, and premature death – whether due to health access issues, suicide, violence or racial profiling.   LGBT people of color are not benefiting from the gay rights movement the way that white gay and lesbian people have.

People in the LGBT movement have an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure that all of our brothers and sisters are protected – especially those who are most abused by our system – our brothers and sisters of color.   If you’re white – you can take a hint from the gay rights movement.  Make some new friends.  Expand your family.  Get to know your existing friends and family who are people of color – ask them about their experiences.  This call extends to the transgender community. If you’re gay or lesbian, make some friends in the transgender community.  The killing of the Michael Brown is personal and it should be personal for all of us.  Including those of us who have white skin and are cisgender.


Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012Kathleen LaTosch is a diversity and inclusion consultant specializing strategic planning for organizational change at nonprofit organizations. She works in Michigan and nationally, assisting organizations in making systemic and lasting change.  For more information, visit www.LaToschConsulting.com.

Employers: More Proof that Providing Transition-related Care to Transgender Employees is Good for Business

Transgender-SymbolCosts and Benefits of Providing Transition-related Health Care Coverage in Employee Health Benefits Plans: Findings from a Survey of Employers

By Jody L. Herman
September 2013

Employers report zero or very low costs and yet substantial benefits, for them and their employees alike, when they provide transition-related health care coverage in their employee health benefit plans. The report finds that a majority of employers reported that they would encourage other employers to add the coverage, and none would advise against it. Thirty-four employers participated in a survey to describe their transition-inclusive health benefits plans, how much these plans have cost them, and what, if any, benefits they receive from providing their transition-inclusive plans.

Key findings from the survey include:

• Eighty-five percent (85%) of the 26 employers that provided information on costs of adding coverage to their existing health benefits plans reported no additional costs to add the coverage.
• Two-thirds of the 21 employers that provided information on actual costs from employee utilization of the coverage reported zero actual costs due to utilization.
• Based on the experiences of surveyed employers, 1 out of 10,000 employees (among employers with 1,000 to 10,000 employees) and 1 out of 20,000 employees (among employers with 10,000 to 50,000 employees) will utilize transition-related health benefits annually when they are available.
• The type, number, and cost of services accessed by individuals will vary, yet as described above, the costs of these benefits, if any, are very low, as is the utilization of the benefit.

These findings are consistent with prior research that has shown employers generally benefit from providing LGBT-inclusive workplace policies. Survey participants for this study were all employers known to provide transition-related health care coverage for employees through their health benefits plans.

Click here for the full report.

Gender Identity is Not a Disorder

Transgender-SymbolOn December 3 2012, the American Psychiatric Association announced that it is replacing “Gender Identity Disorder” with the more neutral and less-stigmatizing title, “gender dysphoria” in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, more commonly known as the DSM.

The DSM is the mental health professional’s diagnostic book.  Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counselors all use this book to assign a diagnostic code to mental health disorders.  These codes are then used to bill insurance for proper medical treatment and are often required to justify covering the cost of office visits, prescriptions, and needed medical procedures.  It is paramount in the healthcare of someone who is transgender.  Perhaps at no other time in one’s life is it more important to have quality healthcare than during a gender transition.

The title change comes after decades of advocacy to remove the more stigmatizing diagnosis, “Gender Identity Disorder,” which equates gender identity with a mental health disorder.  Being transgender is not a mental health condition and it’s not abnormal.  Uncommon, yes; but abnormal, no.  There is no normal – normalcy is only what one perceives as common in his/her own existence.

If I grow up a white woman in a middle-class catholic suburban neighborhood, that’s my normal.  If a lot of women grow up the same way around me, it’s common.  But we’re not normal for everyone, just for us.  If I grow up Arab American in Dearborn, Michigan and all my friends speak Arabic as easily as English, and go to the same Eastern Orthodox church and celebrate the same holidays, that’s my normal.

Being transgender is not abnormal.  It’s just not as common and it’s doesn’t appear en masse within families and communities.  It can be a very isolated and isolating experience.  And it’s not a mental health disorder.  It’s like being born red-haired in a blonde, black and brown-haired world.  Or at least it should be… but it’s not – red-haired people don’t lose their homes, their jobs, their families; they aren’t denied basic human dignities based on the fact that they have red hair.

Having to cope with the societal stigma of gender transition drives many mental health concerns for transgender individuals.  Layer hormone therapy and other medical issues on top of that and it’s a difficult and uncommon territory to navigate.  Seeing a professional to sort through all that can help, but it comes with a cost – the cost of having that mental health diagnosis attached to your name, the cost of being “outed” to every other person who comes into contact with your medical record.

And how do you find a therapist who understands these same truths – that there’s nothing abnormal about being transgender, that it’s a personal characteristic.  How do you find someone who understands that the anxiety you are dealing with is caused by societal stigma and not caused by your gender identity?  It’s not easy.

Last week the Detroit region’s LGBT community center, Affirmations, brought together leading Michigan experts on LGBT mental health in what’s been called a queer mental health “think tank.”   After months of work, The LGBT Mental Health Task Force led the first ever two-day training on Clinical Issues & Sexual Orientation for therapists.  It was sold out with a waiting list for the next training.  This March, they are forging even newer territory – putting together the first two-day training on Clinical Issues & Gender Identity for therapists and counselors.  It will be the first such training offered in Michigan.  On the heels of the APA’s new announcement, there is no better time to be preparing mental health professionals to competently and knowledgeably provide services to people who fall outside of the two most common gender boxes.