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On November 20, 1998, Rita Hester, an African-American transgender woman, was murdered in her apartment in Boston. She was stabbed 20 times and, while still breathing when the police found her, she died the same day at the hospital. She was 34 years old.

While Rita Hester was not the first trans woman to fall victim to anti-trans violence, her incident compelled activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to start the Remembering Our Dead web project. The event was dedicated to the murdered trans and gender-diverse people in the United States. It was organized as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita and all the trans people who have lost their lives because of anti-transgender hatred and violence.

In 1999, Smith organized the first Transgender Day of Remembrance; more candlelight vigils and similar events have followed.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Over twenty years have passed since the murder of Rita Hester and the first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Each year, Transgender Day of Remembrance recognizes more lost members of the trans community as murders continue to increase around the world. Twenty years have gone by since Smith started the campaign to end anti-transgender violence and raise awareness regarding the urgent need to educate ourselves about gender-nonconforming people and advocate for trans inclusion. Sadly, not enough has changed.

In 2019, at least 22 transgender lives were taken in the United States. Most of the people murdered were young, Black women. In 2020, 53 transgender and gender-diverse people fell prey to hate and violence in our country, and 386 were murdered worldwide, making 2020 the year with the highest numbers of fatalities since the Human Rights Campaign started tracking these crimes in 2013. These numbers do not account for the transgender people who have taken their own lives because of national indifference, a culture of intolerance, and hatred propagated by the ignorance and prejudice of a portion of the population.

2021 is not over yet, and the transgender community has already seen at least 46 of its members killed for daring to be true to their own selves. Unfortunately, it is possible the number is higher than reported because many stories about transgender people being murdered go unreported, misreported, or unnoticed. Globally, 2021 is likely to surpass 2020 as the most deadly year on record for the trans community, and a majority of those killed in 2021 were transgender women of color, with a high number of deaths happening in Brazil and the United States.

Why does the world need the Transgender Day of Remembrance?

Awareness is key to ending violence against transgender and gender-diverse peoples. The event is not only an opportunity for all communities to join transgender and gender-nonconforming people in remembering and mourning those who lost their lives in the war against prejudice, intolerance, and hatred. It is also a firm reminder that trans people are children, parents, and friends; people who have the same rights just like everyone else to love, live, and simply exist.

Transgender Day of Remembrance raises awareness of hate crimes that are still happening against the trans community and encourages people to educate themselves, advocate for change, and embrace the world as it truly is: diverse and unique. The campaign addresses issues that plague the lives of trans and gender-diverse individuals, encouraging the media to speak openly, boldly, and sincerely about the urgent need to change our mentalities to stop the hate, violence, and indifference that permits these murders to continue.

We all need Transgender Day of Remembrance to gather more allies against the campaign of hatred led by an ignorant minority determined to wipe out the existence of those who dare to be different. We all need Transgender Day of Remembrance to stand in vigil and remember those who have died because they choose to be free and live “differently”. We will continue to need Transgender Day of Remembrance for as long as trans and gender-diverse people are persecuted to preserve an illusory sense of “normality” and sacrificed on the altar of conformity.

transgender symbol

What can you do to become involved in Transgender Day of Remembrance?

You can educate yourself and others about what being a transgender or gender-diverse person means and how you can help stop the stigma associated with their communities. You can advocate for trans-inclusive policies and practices in your workplace, school, town, or city. You can participate or organize a vigil in your neighborhood on November 20th to honor the lives of transgender people who have been murdered. Vigils are often coordinated by local transgender advocates or LGBTQ organizations and usually take place in parks, community centers, or other venues.

You can write stories, articles, or news pieces about victims of transphobic violence and anti-trans hatred and bring them to the attention of local and national media outlets. Telling their stories out loud raises awareness and gives a voice to those who are no longer able to use theirs. Amplify trans voices and take action to stop the abuse and ignorance.

You can offer transgender and gender-diverse people employment, medical care, tutoring, food resources, and any other type of help they need and is in your power to offer. You can be there for them and be an example in your community. You can lead people on the path of inclusion, acceptance, tolerance, and understanding.

Furthermore, you can donate to organizations that help trans people of color, sex workers, migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees, as many of them are victims of discrimination, abuse, persecution, and violence. And, of course, you can mobilize your friends and followers to stand with you and share news about the campaign and events in their communities using social media and the hashtag #TDoR2021.

 

Transgender person

Helpful resources to get involved

Disclaimer: The following is a list of possible resources throughout the United States. This list is provided solely as a resource and none of the following organizations are endorsed by Julia Schwab Therapy.

GLAAD has put together a great list of resources for anyone who’d like to get involved. Below are a few examples:

Organizations in Los Angeles that work with the Trans* population (not an exhaustive list)–

LA LGBT Center
Transwellness Center
Trans Latina Coalition
Bienestar
Children’s Hospital
Trans Lounge
Trans Can Work
UCLA Gender Health
Gender Justice Los Angeles
Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Other Resources throughout the US

10 Trans Advocacy Organizations to Support | Bitch Media
TRANScending Barriers Atlanta Transgender Nonprofit (Atlanta)
Brave Space Alliance (Chicago)
Ingersoll Gender Center (Seattle)
New York Transgender Advocacy Group (nytag.org) (New York)
Boston Area Trans Support (massbats.org) (Boston)
Transgender Education Network of Texas (transtexas.org) (Texas)
TransAL | MobPride (Alabama)
BreakOUT! – Fighting the criminalization of LGBTQ youth in New Orleans, LA / Luchando contra la criminalización de los jóvenes LGBTQ en Nueva Orleans, LA (youthbreakout.org) (Louisiana)
Transgender Resources | The City of Portland, Oregon (portlandoregon.gov) (Portland resources)
Transinclusive Group (Florida)
Charleston Area Trans Support (chasareatsupport.org) (South Carolina)
LGBT Center of Raleigh (North Carolina)
Welcome to OUTMemphis – OUTMemphis (Tennessee)
Resources · Transformations KC • Kansas City’s Transgender Youth Group (Kansas and Missouri)
TEA of Utah (Utah)
The Center – Western Montana’s LGBTQ+ Community Center – Missoula (gaymontana.org) (Montana)
Identity Alaska – advancing Alaska’s LGBT community (Alaska)
Resources – Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia (tapvirginia.org) (Virginia)
StoneWall Society GLBT Resources in West Virginia (West Virginia resources)
TRANSGENDER SUPPORT – OKEQ – Oklahoma’s resource for LGBT persons and their families (Oklahoma)
Welcome to the Transgender Equality Network – Transgender Equality Network (transequalitynetwork.org) (Arkansas)

The concept of gender identity refers to how individuals perceive themselves, how they express themselves, and what terms they use to identify themselves. An individual in our society can identify as male, female, both, neither, or something more nuanced. Some societies around the world have even more options! Gender identities outside the binary may appear as a relatively new concept in Western society, but many societies and indigenous cultures have embraced more than two genders as well as their associated behaviors and expressions for many generations.

Gender identity has found its place in our contemporary vocabulary because of the urgent need for western societies to differentiate between biological sex – the one assigned at birth, and gender identity – the way people see and express themselves. One person might accept that their sex assignment and gender identity are the same (cisgender), or they might accept that these could be different (transgender). And that is natural!

In a society that sees beyond the gender binary system, there would be more terms that better express people’s lived experiences and they wouldn’t have to rely on big and ambiguous categories like gay or straight, transgender or cisgender, in daily life. These limiting terms were designed to enforce multiple binary systems that only allow for two sexes (male and female), two genders (man and woman), two gender expressions (masculine and feminine), and one sexuality (heterosexual, with homosexuality considered as an illness until the 1970s in the U.S.).

gender identity

Recently, western nations have had to accept that they could not erase or exclude people who exist outside of the binary forever, as advancements in technology have aided people in finding peers and communities all around the world. While the controversy over expanding the concept of gender identity seems rather new in the United States, and the need for accepting people who identify with alternative genders is dividing the so-called “progressive” countries of Europe and the U.S.A, other cultures have recognized more than two genders for centuries. However, many people do not know that. When colonization and imperialism started sweeping the globe these more nuanced and expansive categories of gender began to be oppressed and started to disappear.

Historically, western countries that were colonizing the world passed laws to punish individuals who did not fit neatly into the binary system of gender and sexuality used in many Christian/Catholic countries. More recently, as these nations have “progressed” they have had to pass new laws to confirm and protect the existence of genders outside the binary system, proving what many global communities have known all along! At the same time, they are also sending the message that non-binary genders now require protection because there are people refusing to accept them as societal norms and behaving in ways that are harmful to these communities.

The binary gender system is not a universal concept, and many cultures both contemporarily and historically had no issue embracing different genders and even bestowing high positions and elevating the status within their societies of non-binary individuals. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to learn about some of these gender identities!

The Two-Spirit people of North America

 

Native American cultures had found a place for non-binary individuals in their world many hundreds of years ago. The Guardian explains that in Native communities, people who identify as a different gender than the one attributed at birth are included in the category of two-spirit individuals. This is a word used to define intersex, terms that are roughly translated to mean half-male and half-female, female-male, and male-female. A two-spirited person is often considered to be a good omen. They can assume any of the social roles of men and women. In many Native communities two-spirit persons were well respected, considered divine, and often held ceremonial positions, conducting marriage ceremonies, peace talks between tribes, and carrying ancestral knowledge to share. It is normal for male-females to marry women and female-males to marry men.

intersex

We might see these marriages as gay marriages, but Native Americans do not consider these unions as such because of the existence of the two-spirit gender category. Contact with colonizers beginning as far back as the 15th century led to the ostracization of two-spirit people who were discriminated against and oppressed by Christian missionaries, who refused to negotiate or even acknowledge their existence as people and tribal representatives. Many two-spirit people lost their lives due to hostile interactions with colonizers. The term used to define two-spirited persons varies depending on the tribe where the individuals are born. The Zuni tribe, one of the many Native American tribes that have embraced this gender, calls a two-spirited person lhamana. The most famous lhamana was We’wha. We’wha was born in a male body, wore both men’s and women’s clothes, and performed mostly female roles, like cooking and gathering food.

Muxes in Mexico

Most muxes live in Oaxaca, Mexico. Muxes are individuals born in a male body who identify as neither male nor female. They may dress as women and adopt a “feminine” social role working, for example, in embroidery, hairstyling, or cooking, but there are also muxes who decide to pursue office careers or other professions. The Zapotec people recognize muxes as a third gender. Their name is derived from mujer, which means woman in Spanish, but muxes refuse to be identified as women or as gay, transgender, or bisexual.

In the Zapotec language, muxes is a gender-neutral noun, which makes it a bit more complicated when it comes to writing about them in a different language. Muxes are part of a culture with ancient traditions and are respected and celebrated in Oaxaca, during the Vela de las Intrepidas festival, as well as in Los Angeles, a city that has its own Muxe Vela.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The third gender of sekrata is widely accepted by the Sakalava people of Madagascar. A sekrata is a boy raised as a girl from a young age. Parents who notice their child exhibits feminine behavior decide to raise them as a girl and will not intervene in any way to contradict their behavior or personality. Sekratas are considered to be women in a man’s body due to their predominantly feminine characteristics. They identify, talk, and act like a woman, usually having long hair and wearing make-up and jewelry.

Sekrata in Madagascar

The sekrata are considered a gender category of its own – people who have a male body and identify as a female. The Sakalava people of Madagascar understand that having a third-gender child is natural. Sekratas usually avoid male associated roles like joining the army, often performing as dancers in tribal ceremonies. Moreover, they are believed to be sacred and have magical powers and they may be feared by people who follow the tradition associated with their existence.

Hijras in South Asia

Hijras have been considered a third gender in India for thousands of years and are mentioned in sacred Hindu writings. Moreover, the hijras have their own ancient language (Hijras Farsi) and were often associated with sacred powers. Hijras are individuals born males who don’t identify with the sex attributed at birth. Hijras have been legally recognized as the third gender in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

However, following British colonization, penal law changed in 1897, classifying hijras as criminals, and they have been marginalized by society. Many of them have abandoned their communities and have gone underground. Unfortunately, they continue to face discrimination in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh even after the British left. Society considers them outsiders and excludes them from various economic activities, while doctors refuse to treat them and police officers harass them. Despite their marginalization, the hijras continue to speak their own language and demonstrate that gender diversity is and has always been a natural part of society.

Hijras

Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama in Samoa

The island of Samoa has males, females, and it also has two fluid gender roles: fa’afafine and fa’afatama. Samoan culture recognizes assigned at birth males who identify as females as fa’afafine and assigned at birth females who identify as males as fa’afatamas. The term “fa’afafine” is quite representative of the concept it defines since fa’a means “in the manner of” and fafine means “woman”.

The fa’afafines do not approve of being described as transgender or homosexual because these terms are often used to describe categories in binary systems, whereas there are four categories historically in Samoa. Fa’afafines assume the gender and sexual roles associated with women. In addition, they can have relationships with women, as well as other fa’afafines. The Samoan culture is open to many gender identities. Whether you identify as a fa’afafine, fa’afatama, male, female, neither, or fluctuate in your identity and/or expression, the Samoan culture accepts you as you are.

These are just a few examples of the many welcoming and diverse expressions of gender that exist around the world. You might see communities with three, four, five, or more recognized gender identities as you do your own research into the wonderful and nuanced world of gender.

 

Jamez Ahmad

This post was written by Jamez Ahmad.

Jamez (they, them) is a proud member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community. They have over fifteen years of experience educating groups on issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation. As a mixed-race individual, they are passionate about social justice and dismantling systems of oppression. They have an MA from USC and an MSW from Smith College. They are a Taurus who enjoys travel, fiction writing, and film.

LinkedIn – Jamez Ahmad

Our world is incredibly diverse. No two humans are alike, and we do, after all, refer to each of us as individuals because we are unique! And this is a wonderful thing. Limiting this extraordinary world of uniqueness and individuality into only two categories simply isn’t enough anymore. We are becoming more in touch with our inner selves, and, fortunately, we are no longer afraid to speak out and be proud of who we really are. And that is why everyone should become familiar with the use of gender pronouns and integrate them into our “normal” everyday lives. Because being normal means being yourself and accepting others as themselves!

What are pronouns?

Gender pronouns are a linguistic tool that individuals use to communicate and describe others. You might say he loves to cook when talking about your dad or she is a great mechanic when talking about your mother. Pronouns help us accurately describe the people in our lives to others.

Before we get further into our discussion of pronouns, let’s start by focusing on the difference between biological sex and gender. Biological sex is based on physiological characteristics – or physical anatomy- that we often associate with our ideas of gender. Society tends to label people born with vaginas as female, people born with penises as male, or people born with a combination of physical traits as intersex, and this label is assigned at birth based on what genitals the doctor can physically see.

Gender is a spectrum

Gender, on the other hand, is a social construct, or the labels society uses to explain the expectations of the social and cultural roles assigned to biological sex and anatomy within a community. So, unlike biological sex, which is based on genitalia, physical development during puberty, and chromosome composition, gender is the way a person identifies or is expected to identify in relation to socially constructed roles and as a response to their environment. People who identify as the gender assigned to their anatomy are known as cisgender and people who don’t identify with the label society assigns may identify as a member of transgender or gender-nonconforming communities.

Because many Western cultures and the English language have been using these terms interchangeably, it’s no surprise that gender is thought of in a binary way, becoming just as binary as biological sex to our society. However, we know this is not true; gender can be defined on a broad spectrum and is more complex than the binary labels society has been using. A person may identify within this gender spectrum or outside it at any point in their lives. For example, you may have heard the terms “tomboy” or “girly girl”, which society has used to describe different types of femininity. Or you might look at a bodybuilder and think he looks more manly than someone with less muscles. These words and thoughts let us know that there are many ways to express our gender, showing us that there are more than two ways to express ourselves.

LGBTQ progress flag

Gender is no longer a prisoner of the societal realms of “man” and “woman” that are based on genitalia. People are finding the words that work for them, some people may identify as nonbinary, transgender, genderqueer, gender fluid, or even gender-neutral. They can even change their gender identity over time, in a matter of hours, or over months or years. Gender identity is a combination of how we feel, how we see ourselves, and how we express ourselves to the outside world.

In other words, people can identify more closely with society’s expectations of being male or female, or even in between the two, or they may identify more with conventionally masculine expressions, feminine expressions, both, or in the middle, and simply switch between the two. Some people won’t express themselves in any way society can label, and that is a natural and healthy expression of identity too.

Persons who identify outside of society’s gender binary roles may prefer to use third-person pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns like they/them/their as singular, ze instead of she/he, and hir in place of his/him/her, and the list can go on with ve/ver, xe/xer, xie/xem, ze/zir and many more. These newer pronouns, like xe, ve, and ze are called neopronouns because they are new ways to help people be more accurately described. So, you may have a person in your life who wants you to use gender-neutral pronouns when you describe them or xem to others.

 

humans restroom sign

Why do pronouns matter?

Millennials and Gen Z are more open towards all forms of gender expression and they need society’s support to help develop and grow into healthy and happy human beings. Pronouns matter because they help people position themselves in their communities to be seen as they truly are. Using the correct pronoun encourages inclusion and makes people feel seen, respected, and valued. Our gender identities are important parts that help us build our self-confidence and self-worth, so it’s only natural for us all to grow as individuals when everyone else respects the way we see ourselves.

The Center for Suicide Prevention reports that nonbinary and transgender people are 2x as likely to think about suicide than the general population. And that’s, in part, because of being misgendered and/or misnamed, having a significant and serious impact on one’s mental health. It is very important for workplaces, educational institutions, and organizations to include and support the use of self-identified pronouns and first names. In California, a person’s pronouns are protected in the workplace under Title IX and employees have the right to expect appropriate pronouns will be used by colleagues.

Furthermore, it is healthier for people to never make assumptions about how people identify. The appearance or behavior of a person is not enough to make the correct assumption about a person’s gender in every situation. It is best to always ask people about their pronouns and in some cases, maybe even how they identify.

However, it also is important to respect people’s privacy, so it’s best to refrain from asking questions about one’s body and medical history without permission. According to Science Direct, using a person’s pronouns can and will significantly reduce their risk for depression and suicide, so our society should speed up the process of embracing all gender identities and give everyone a chance to be vocal.

 

youths on the phone

Why social media invites people to share their pronouns?

Social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest have understood the importance of pronouns and in keeping up with the times, have rolled out profile features that allow their users to share their pronouns.

Instagram has a dedicated space for pronouns that gets displayed next to the user’s profile name. The feature is optional but has been welcomed by gender-neutral identified users. There are 41 pronouns on Instagram’s list and the company is planning to expand it. Their list was discussed and compiled following consultations with various LGBTQ organizations. Users also have the option to mix and match the available pronouns to better reflect their identity.

Facebook changed its options from just “male” and “female”, now offering users more than 50 different gender options to choose from, including non-binary and gender fluid. Moreover, users can choose the pronouns they identify with.

Another social media platform that respects its users and has understood the value and importance of gender identity is Pinterest. The platform allows users to add two sets of pronouns to their profiles from an extensive list that includes neopronouns.

Social media plays an important part in our lives and is often used as a way to express our originality, creativity, and uniqueness. It is only natural to allow users the possibility to also express their gender identity and offer them a space where they can be authentic and true to themselves. Consider sharing your pronouns on social media, and who knows, you might help someone finally feel like they can share their own.

 

girl on social media

The world has already changed. We’re just waiting for our language to reflect that!

It is no longer uncommon to see personal pronouns in email signatures of employees and social media bios; this can only lead to more inclusive cultures and hopefully, the end of harmful gendered language. It costs absolutely nothing to add your personal pronouns in your email signature and it takes little time, but for gender minorities, that pronoun line can make a big difference. This is one step towards crushing the ignorance and fear that attempts to diminish and further marginalize gender minorities in our society.

The presence of gender-neutral pronouns in social media and organizations encourages discussion around gender identity and, more importantly, normalizes the idea that the world has room for everyone and not just cisgender people.

The world has always had more than two genders. and many societies around the world have historically welcomed and embraced transgender and nonbinary members of the community. The faster we accept this as a norm in our society, the sooner we will be able to build a healthier world where everyone is included and appreciated regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or s. A world that treats gender minorities with respect and encourages everyone to tell their story is a happier, healthier world with fewer mental health risks.

This past weekend, on September 18th, I had the privilege of attending the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. I wanted to take a moment to share a little about the event and why it’s so important to me. As you know, I’m an LGBTQIA+ affirmative therapist in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been working in this field for over 16 years. I help the people of the community navigate the layers of gender, sexuality, culture, and race in a world that is still learning to accept and embrace the full spectrum of unique and beautiful expressions that exist.

Julia at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

Over the same period, I’ve also been an advocate for the community. I’ve experienced, witnessed, and fought against the discrimination and oppression that a gender non-conforming community faces. For these reasons, when possible, I feel privileged and honored to be able to attend events like the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. It’s both encouraging and a sign of progress to see many wonderful people and organizations dedicated to helping the lives of trans individuals and advocating for the transgender community.

What is the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival?

The Long Beach Trans Pride Festival began as an idea conceived by Alexa Castanon because she wanted to highlight trans people living, working, and thriving in Long Beach. She then took her vision to her friend Angel Macias. They began by creating Angels on Earth, an awards banquet to recognize transgender community members who were committing time and resources to help trans people but didn’t receive any compensation for their services.

Long Beach Trans Pride Booth at Festival

The stories of dedication, caring, and commitment inspired Angel to do more. Her goal was to utilize the platform to spread the message that members of the Trans Community deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, just like any other human being. That their lives are just as valuable and important as those of our cisgender brothers and sisters.
After witnessing the tragic killings of trans women of color, and attending vigils and rallies denouncing them, Angel decided to go even further. In collaboration with Alexa and other Trans members at California Families in Focus, they created the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival. The one-day event, calls upon the amazing, talented, and courageous members of the Long Beach Community to help educate, elevate and encourage Trans and gender non-conforming people.

In It Together

The festival was incredible, the atmosphere reverberated with positive energy. You could feel the openness, love, and support that every person was experiencing at the event. In addition to the attendees, there were also several organizations that invested time, money, and resources to make the event such a success. These organizations work hard to help people in various communities, and it is clear that their work and support are part of what makes big successes like the festival possible. Though I can’t list every organization, I do want to call out a few that supported the event but also do fantastic work for the community.

APLA Booth at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

APLA Health

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health is the largest founded in 1983. Almost 4 decades later they are one of the largest non-profit HIV service organizations in the United States. Their mission is to “achieve health care equity and promote well-being for the LGBT and other underserved communities and people living with and affected by HIV.” This is a fantastic organization that I personally have a lot of experience with, and it was great to see them at the festival standing by their commitment to helping the community.

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach Booth at the Trans Pride Festival

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach has been around since 1980 and provides a variety of health, social, advocacy, legal, and service programs to the LGBTQ community in the Greater Long Beach area. This tremendous organization has been working hard to help the LGBTQ community for just over 40 years. I worked at the LA LGBTQ Center for a portion of my career and can attest to the amazing work that happens at these centers. They help many, many people and it was wonderful to see them showing support at the festival.

APIT booth at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

APAIT

APAIT was established in 1987 as a grassroots AIDS service organization for Asian and Pacific Islanders suffering from AIDS. Over the past 30+ years, they’ve grown their vision to advocate, educate, and achieve optimal health and well-being for vulnerable communities. They are a large organization that works hard to provide helpful programs and resources for the communities they serve. Their presence at the Trans Pride festival is just another sign of their unparalleled commitment.

Translatina Coalition at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

TransLatin@ Coalition

The TransLatin@ Coalition hasn’t been around as long as some of the others but they do excellent work. It was established in 2009 by a group of transgender and gender non-conforming and Intersex (TGI) immigrant women. Their focus is helping the TGI Latin@ immigrants living in the United States. It was great to see them at the Pride festival representing who they are and what they do.

TransLounge booth at Trans Pride Long Beach Festival

Trans* Lounge

Trans* Lounge is a bit different than the other organizations on this list. They are a program within the Cultural Arts & Education Department within the Los Angeles LGBT Center. I worked at the Los Angeles LGBT Center for a portion of my career and Trans* Lounge is an integral part of the organization. Trans* Lounge offers a variety of education and empowerment programs that offer free classes and events for the TGI/ENBY+ community. It is relatively new, having been created in mid-2015. They were a welcomed presence at the Pride festival.

A Fantastic Success

Overall, the Long Beach Trans Pride Festival was a fantastic success. It was amazing to see so many people show up to demonstrate their support. I spoke with numerous friends at the event, some of them are members of the community, therapists, or employees at some of these organizations. Everyone was thrilled with the turnout, the organization of the event and grateful to support such an important cause. Please note that this is not a complete list of the organizations that attended, this would be a very long post if I went through all of them. I just listed a few that stood out to me but there were many more people and organizations that helped make the event the resounding success that it was. I know I won’t miss the next one, I had an incredible time and even my puppy had fun.

Julia with puppy at Long Beach Trans Pride Festival

In a world where heteronormativity, prejudice, and harassment continue to run rampant against the LGBTQ community, meeting with an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is imperative. An LGBTQ affirmative counselor can provide the tools for unpacking shame, deeper understanding, and overall acceptance. An LGBTQ affirmative therapist can remind you that nothing is wrong with you for being a part of the LGBTQ community. Despite the campaigns calling for inclusion, legalizing same-sex marriage, and anti-bullying education in schools, the LGBTQ community still encounters ongoing challenges.

Antiquated societal norms that label people as “normal” and “abnormal” create immense pressure for the LGBTQ community. These pressures double the likelihood that members of this community will develop a mental health disorder as compared to heterosexual individuals. Moreover, according to the CDC, they are 2.5 times more likely to struggle with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. On top of the “usual” societal stressors, LGBTQ people have to endure bullying, discrimination, and abuse based on their sexuality and/or gender identity.

What is LGBTQ affirmative therapy?

The National Library of Medicine defines LGBTQ affirmative therapy as “a form of therapy that helps a person accept their intrinsic identity, gender, and sexual orientation and see beyond the damaging concept of ‘normality’ as imposed by a discriminatory society.” Fearing judgment and discrimination, many people find it hard to accept themselves as they are and embrace their gender or sexual identity. Unfortunately, this too often manifests as internalized transphobia or homophobia for many LGBTQ individuals.

The role of an LGBTQ affirmative therapist is to create a safe space for the client to communicate their emotions, thoughts, and actions and validate their needs. Unfortunately, many therapists still find it hard to accept LGBTQ people as “normal”. As a result, many of these therapists provide care that is subpar and can interfere with overall well-being. Still, even today, many states have not banned conversion therapy.  Many LGBTQ people have experienced horrific trauma from conversion therapy.

As an affirmative therapist and advocate for the LGBTQ community, I stand by the life-saving belief that affirmative counseling will never attempt to convert or “repair” someone’s gender or sexual identity. More than 700,000 LGTBQ people have been exposed to incredibly damaging and medically unjust conversion therapy. I want my clients, whether they are recently coming out or have been out for years, to know nothing is wrong with them.

therapist with patient

How will affirmative therapy help?

I know firsthand what it’s like to experience non-LGBTQ affirmative care and the impact it can have on one’s life and self-worth. Mental health professionals who provide affirmative therapy sessions encourage clients to discover their authenticity and embrace their gender and sexuality without guilt. They create a positive space for self-acceptance and understanding of gender, sexuality, and identity expression.

Affirmative therapy can also support one’s understanding of the ways in which their religious and sexual or gender identities coexist. Religion plays an important part in many people’s lives, but true self-acceptance can remain difficult in the face of religious dogma. Therapy can help integrate the two and provides the necessary support for clients to affirm their genuine identity in all realms.

The lack of support and understanding from family members and friends can be very painful. The absence of this support may contribute to a deep sense of loneliness that may eventually lead to a mental health issue.  Some people turn to harmful strategies to cope with the stigma and discrimination, such as isolation, self-harm, and substance abuse. Debilitating fears of violence, depression, anxiety, and PTSD may also arise. Therapy helps you identify and acknowledge the source of harmful behavior and replace it with a healthy coping strategy so you can find, accept, and love yourself.

How will affirmative therapy work?

Affirmative therapists know that it is vital to create a safe space for LGBTQ individuals to reveal their true selves without the fear of judgment or prejudice. LGBTQ people, just like everyone else, come to therapy to solve relationship issues and work through mental health disorders. While conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma are common, these mental health conditions are not LGBTQ issues but human issues. Members of this community just happen to experience an additional layer of shame and fear related to their gender identity or sexual orientation. After all, only a few decades ago homosexuality was deemed a mental illness, and, unfortunately, in some parts of the world, it still is.

Therapy should focus on helping the client understand that what they think, feel, or desire is natural and an important part of who they are. The affirmative therapist should be trained and ready to gently work with the client’s needs and expectations. It is important to remember that affirmative therapy focuses on the client’s relationship with their feelings and identity. Sexual orientation or gender identity is never the problem. Only through understanding, acceptance, and integration, can the client find peace and healing.

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