“Being inclusive and saying that we’re welcoming are two different things; it’s not enough to wave a rainbow flag” and say that we’re welcoming of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals as well as those who are non-binary or gender nonconforming – more commonly called LGBTQ+, said Phoenix Schneider, MSW, a lifelong advocate for LGBTQ+ communities and a transgender Jewish individual. Schneider spoke to approximately 100 social workers and other mental health professionals at Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island’s annual Julie Claire Gutterman Memorial Lecture on April 7. He focused on issues facing individuals and how social service agencies can be more supportive and inclusive.
Demonstrating that you’re an inclusive agency, he explained before his presentation at Ledgemont Country Club in Seekonk, Mass., requires specific steps and a great deal of work with respect to policies, programs and outreach in providing comprehensive services for and community engagement with LGBTQ+ individuals.
As director, LGBTQ Initiative, Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia, Schneider is well-qualified to address these issues. His agency was the first Jewish agency to receive the Human Rights Campaign Foundation “Seal of Recognition” for Leadership in Supporting and Serving LGBTQ Youth and Families.
In a combination of lectures and interactive and group exercises, Schneider presented these key points for agencies that wish to create a nurturing and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ individuals and families. They come from best practices, Keshet (a national nonprofit organization working for full LGBTQ inclusion and equality in Jewish life) and the Human Rights Campaign (the nation’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality)
• Develop and implement policies that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals and families. For example, develop and implement a nondiscrimination policy and client rights policy that includes sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
• Amend all client forms across the agency that are LGBTQ+ inclusive and have more than two options. For example, rather than list “mother/father,” list “parent 1/parent 2/parent 3.”
• Provide LGBTQ+ sensitivity training for staff members.
• Review and amend written communications and website materials to include LGBTQ+ individuals and families. Don’t assume gender or assign a pronoun to someone based on gender presentation or expression. Schneider explained the differences between sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
• Provide at least one all-gender restroom.
• It should be a priority to have at least one person on staff who identifies as LGBTQ+.
Why is this important? LGBTQ+ individuals – across generations – face unique needs and challenges. Youth are at much higher risk of suicide than their gender-conforming counterparts, some individuals in their 60s are now coming out as gay or transgender and the laws protecting such individuals are inconsistent from state to state, said Schneider.
It can be daunting for agency staff members who feel that they must know everything about LGBTQ+ issues to feel competent, he acknowledged. “Just as with any other client,” said Schneider, “meet them where they’re at, validate them and don’t make assumptions.”
It only takes one supportive person in a young person’s life to save that individual from suicide, he added. Hearing someone say, “I accept you for who you are. I love you; you’re perfect the way you are,” can be a lifesaver, he said.
– Submitted by Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island