homophobia · Mental Health Stigma Suicide

Queer-phobia in Mental Health Care

My practice website is pretty gay. Rainbows and Queer stuff all over the place. My job posting that I have up for therapists links to my website- it also explicitly says “LGBTQ experience preferred but not required,” and goes on to explain that the majority of our patients fall under the Queer umbrella. We certainly have hetero-cis patients- many of them. But around 60% or more of our clients are Queer (And I’m Queer. The owner).

Therefore it continuously surprises me in job interviews that the people applying have no experience with LGBTQ affirming care and also do not seem that interested in expanding their skills to include being an LGBTQ affirming and competent provider.

I’ve heard some crazy stuff in job interviews. Around four months ago a therapist who supervises the therapists in my practice commented on how slow we are to on board people- one every 4-6 months. I sort of rolled my eyes and said we don’t have a large qualified pool of applicants. She remained skeptical. She also intimated that maybe I scare people. I have been told I am intimidating. I thought maybe she wasn’t wrong. But I really do try to smile and be kind in job interviews.

So I had her start to join me.

After 6? interviews she said, “Okay. You were right.” People will literally say transphobic or homophobic statements in the interview with a Queer practice owner.

The entire experience of hiring has opened my eyes to the rampant homophobic and transphobic attitudes that are ever-present among mental health clinicians.

I always preface my Queer competence question with- “it’s okay if you have no experience with the LGBTQ community. It’s important that you are open to learning about it though.” Because I can hire some one with no experience and teach them to be Queer competent if they are teachable. Teachable/coachable are incredibly important qualities in employees. One therapist I hired had no experience with BDSM and minimal experience with trans clients.

Now she knows the lingo and declines to take new patients who are not Queer and/or in the BDSM community. Because she asked the questions and was open to feedback and learning and took CEU courses and did supervision with me around Queer stuff.

I’ve heard bad stories from my LGBTQ clients about therapists saying homophobic and transphobic stuff. I’ve definitely heard stories of kink-shaming and BDSM-shaming. In fact I asked a therapy group who I referred to and they referred to me frequently about seeing clients in the BDSM community and they got all squirrelly and were clearly not okay even mentioning BDSM.

I could say to therapists who are interviewing that we will accommodate their experience and desires and not give them any Queer clients. I thought about it. But then I thought. Fuck that.

I’m not going to own a practice that I founded because of the 2016 election and because of Pulse and because Queer people don’t have safe spaces…and not have every clinician working there be 100% comfortable with treating Queer clients.

I will say the hiring process teaches me as an employer. It teaches me that I do not want to rush the hiring process and hire the wrong person. It teaches me that homophobia and transphobia are rampant even among therapists who claim to be “LGBT friendly”. What does that even mean these days? What I’ve found is it means I’m okay if your a lesbian and we do not ever need to mention internalized homophobia or your sex life. It means that being trans is fine as long as we do not need to address micro aggressions that you face even within this office space.

It teaches me that I’m even more dedicated in my mission to create a safe space for minority employees and clients. It teaches me that being selective is okay. That I should wait for the right fit. That I should trust my gut because even people in the “helping profession” can have their discriminatory views that they are bringing to the table.

I am still going to ask about Queer experience. I am still going to require if not experience an openness to learn and to accept. I always thought I would have to protect my practice from hate among hateful people. But I picture those people more as potential clients or client’s family members or random people who come across our website. I did not think, in my naïveté and sheltered bubble of acceptance, that I would need to protect it from those within my own profession.

But I do. And I will.

If anything it’s also made me even more grateful for the employees I have. Because every single one of them is LGBTQ affirming. Not just friendly. But affirming. Accepting. Loving. There is no bone of hate or discrimination in the practice as it is now. I will continue to strive and work to keep it that way.