I am extraordinarily blessed to have the privilege of being a provider of mental health and recovery services to the LGBTQ community. I am continually moved when witnessing the power of group members coming together in support for each other.
The groups at Valeo -- Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, where I continue my service to the community, continue to be a sample of what our community can achieve when we stand in solidarity for each other.
The Valeo Intensive Outpatient Program is a mental health and substance abuse treatment program where we provide group therapy for three hours per day; five days a week; for an average of three to four weeks.
Like its name implies, it is intensive. Valeo itself means "to be well, to be strong, to be healthy." The members who seek treatment vary across many spheres. The group on any given day is usually composed of members with variations in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, residency status, socio-economic status, and mental health/substance use struggles. It is definitely not a homogenous group, except in one important way. Each member is hurting in some form, and needs support.
In those moments of pain during group, I witness people stepping into another person's experience, truly opening themselves up beyond their preconceptions and biases. Those preconceptions and biases do not disappear, but in those moments of pain they do not matter. What matters is making themselves available to another human being who is suffering. What matters is not to let their differences divide, but to use their shared experience with suffering to foster inclusion and connection.
On a daily basis I see wonderful articles in the Huffington Post and elsewhere about our struggle as LGBTQ people to push for inclusion and acceptance in society. Egregiously absent in these articles is a conversation about our own lack of inclusion, understanding, and acceptance within our community of each other.
How many times have you heard jokes about bisexuals needing to 'choose a side' or that 'they really are gay but haven't come out yet?' How often have you heard or participated in disparaging remarks of transgender individuals? When did you last attend a fundraiser or organizing event for a section of the community you do not identify with in order to show support? What do you understand of the experiences of our same-gender loving people of color? When have you last sat with a queer youth to understand how you can be of service to their development?
I implore each of you, as I am continuing asking of myself, to move beyond your 'queer circles' and venture into our beautiful and diverse community. We cannot expect society at large to foster an environment of acceptance and understanding when we cannot provide that to ourselves and our fellow community members.
If we want society to accept, understand, and include us, we need to show solidarity for each other and show up for each other. I hope that our community will behave more like what I have witnessed during a decade of treatment of LGBTQ people -- that we move beyond our differences by recognizing our common suffering, and be there for each other in support -- body, mind, resources, and spirit.
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