October is LGBTQ+ History Month
LGBTQ+ History Month is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, as well as the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements.
The LBGTQ+ community, particularly transgender people, are subjected to bullying, bias, ridicule and, sometimes, violence. Lanie Rogers Burleson is responsible for the development and implementation of education and awareness of LGBT+ issues and providing victim assistance to the LGBT+ community at Open Arms in San Angelo. Burleson says that all LBGTQ+ can be subjected to bias and prejudice and spoke specifically about the challenges that transgender people face, “People dismiss transgender people because if someone was identified male at birth, they’ll always be ”male“ to some people. There are actually 3 genders. A lot of people in the LBGTQ+ community silently struggle, especially transgender people. They operate in survival mode most of the time because they always have to be on the lookout for bias and violence.”
According to TeenTalk, “Gender identity is how a person feels and who they know themself to be when it comes to their gender. There are more than two genders, even though in our society the genders that are most recognized are male and female (called the gender binary) and usually is based on someone’s anatomy (the genitals they were born with). This is gender assignment and it is based on an assumption that someone’s genitals match their gender. However, gender isn’t about someone’s anatomy, it is about who they know them self to be. There are many different gender identities.”
Many children of all ages and backgrounds are subjected to bullying at schools and other social gatherings. If someone is LBGTQ+, it increases the chances of them being bullied. According to the government website, StopBullying.gov, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth and those perceived as LGBTQ are at an increased risk of being bullied. Results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey show that, nationwide, more U.S. high school students who self-identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) report having been bullied on school property (33%) and cyberbullied (27.1%) in the past year, than their heterosexual peers (17.1% and 13.3%, respectively). The study also showed that more LGB students (10%) than heterosexual students (6.1%) reported not going to school because of safety concerns. Among students who identified as “not sure” of their sexual orientation, they also reported being bullied on school property (24.3%), being cyberbullied (22%), and not going to school because of safety concerns (10.7%).“
Open Arms has a program for teens in San Angelo and the surrounding counties, youths ranging in age from 12-19. Youths interested in the program can call 325-655-2000. Burleson says that of 60 youth who have, “walked through our doors, I’d say that 90% of them have contemplated suicide at one time or another. It’s sad.” LBGTQ+ youth are at high risk for suicide.
According to Burleson, being LGBTQ+ is more than dealing with social biases, it also complicates people getting help that they may need, such as drug abusers, “We had a transgender female who came in here looking for help with drug treatment. She was staying with a friend, but was basically homeless. I called around for a week, looking for a drug addiction program that would accept her. I found one in Midland, but they would have required her to be housed on the men’s side.” Burleson says that the transgender female left and went back to Abilene before they could get her help, “In her mind, to her, it’s just that no one cares. People used to believe that being transgender was a mental health issue, but it isn’t. The problems caused are what the transgender communities suffers from in the form of discrimination and bias. People who are transgender get fired from their jobs or find problems getting jobs to begin with, because of being transgender.“
Burleson says that progress is being made on some fronts, “I’ve given LBGTQ+ 101 classes at Shannon Hospital and West Texas Counseling and Guidance. We educate people on what it means to be LBGTQ+.” Burleson says that they also have good working relationships with counselors at the schools, “We get referrals from the counselors at the schools.” Burleson believes that educating the public in general is needed, as well as kindness, “If many people were just kind and respectful, regardless of personal beliefs, this world would be a much better place.”
In addition to dual rape counseling services, Open Arms has a 24-hour hotline, a Survivor Advocacy Program, individual and group support, counseling services, information referrals and accompaniment services.