On May 29, 2015, President Obama re-proclaimed that June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. In his re-proclamation, Obama highlights his Executive Order on LGBT workplace discrimination. In this landmark order, Federal contractors are protected against discriminations based on gender identity and sexual orientation. He called to not only end the discrimination with Federal contractors but also to extend these protections to all American workers in the future.
President Obama addresses youth as well, acknowledging the high number of LGBT youth who are bullied in schools across the nation. In addition, he pointed out the growing population of LGBT youth who face homelessness. He states that his administration is striving to help these youth as well as older LGBT individuals who also struggle to find affordable housing without discrimination.
Obama proclaimed that the administration is working to update the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, acknowledging that the numbers of gay/bisexual men and transgender women are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. He asserts that same sex couples continue to reap spousal benefits and that LGBT rights are human rights.
Although clearly an important step to name June as LGBT Pride Month by President Obama, some find “pride” months to be an empty gesture. In her article on why she does not celebrate LGBT pride month, blogger/writer Akilah Bolden-Monifa (2014) states that the pride month calls for lip service while not acknowledging lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people the other 11 months of the year.
Bolden-Monifa (2014) identifies as an “out and proud lesbian of African descent” and feels that celebrating pride month contributes to her “tokenization” and her goal for LGBT people are for equal rights. She highlighted some of the ways that LGBT individuals still do not have equal rights:
It is still legal in most states for an employer to fire someone based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.
LGBT individuals still do not have full rights to form a family. Only a few states allow for same-sex simultaneous adoption and Mississipi and Utah outright ban adoptions by same-sex couples.
Bolden-Monifa (2014) does give mention to President Obama’s Executive Order protecting Federal contractors from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. She also cites that the number of states that allow same-sex marriage continues to grow but until LGBT individuals have full and equal rights, she will not celebrate LGBT pride month.
LGBT and Mental Health
From a mental health perspective, we can surmise that President Obama’s proclamation is taking the right forward steps for LGBT individuals with mental health issues. The rampant discrimination and for some, outright violence, takes a toll on the mental well-being of LGBT individuals, especially youth. According to The Trevor Project (2015), the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LBTQ young people ages 13-24:
- LGBT youth are 4 times more likely, and questioning youth are 3 timex more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers.
- Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt.
- Suicide attempts by LGBT youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
- Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.
One huge obstacle that LGBT individuals face occurs in a place where they should feel supported, validated and free to be who they are without rejection or shame: in the therapy room. Some psychotherapists believe that LGBT individuals can be “converted” or become straight, as if it is a choice or pathology of sorts. This of course can cause further damage to an already vulnerable population of people, especially youth. To combat the potential catastrophic results that conversion therapy can produce, the governor of Oregon has recently successfully banned the practice of conversion therapy in her state (Fang, 2015). Oregon is the third state to ban conversion therapy, joining the states of California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. President Obama also openly condemned conversion therapy in April of this year. He was responding to a WhiteHouse.gov petition that called for it’s condemnation after the suicide of a transgender teen. Prior to her death, this teen had written in a post on social media that religious individuals tried to tell her that she was a boy. In the past year, 18 states have attempted to ban conversion therapy but it is a constant obstacle with religious and conservative opposition fighting against it (Fang, 2015).
As we can see, much progress continues to be made and one important step to continue to make is to increase awareness of the inequality, discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals. Hopefully with continued diligence, compassion and advocacy, we will one day live in a world where LGBT people will be full members of our communities without fear of threat to their physical or emotional well-being.
Bolden-Monifa, A. (2014) Why I don’t celebrate LGBT pride month. Retrieved May 20, 2015, from http://http://www.huffingtonpost.com/akilah-boldenmonifa/why-i-dont-celebrate-lgbt-pride-month_b_5539604.html.
Facts about suicide (n.d.). Retrieved June 3, 2015, from http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide.
Fang, M. (2015). The country’s first openly bisexual governor bans gay conversion therapy in her state. Retrieved June 3, 2015, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/19/oregon-gay-conversion-therapy-ban_n_7337350.html
Obama, B. (2015). Presidential Proclamation —LGBT Pride Month, 2015. Retrieved May 20, 2015 from https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/29/presidential-proclamation-lgbt-pride-month-2015.