May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (or IDAHOBIT) where 130 countries around the world mark lesbophobia (where the term leads the South American efforts), homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. It started out as IDAHO, then in 2009 added the T and in 2015 we Brits added bisexuality, so you’ll see it spelt differently depending on where you are in the world. The similarity in name and reference to hobbits wasn’t welcomed by many activists around the world who saw:
*Consultations on the name with activists in 120 countries have concluded that the reference to hobbits might be clever for some parts of the world, but were seen elsewhere as an imposition of Western values. In many places where people are facing daily life threats, this proposal was considered highly inappropriate.
The theme this year is Mental Health and Well-being.
On Tuesday last week, I was invited by Dr Felicity Daly, Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Trust to take part in a lecture on Global Mental Health and Well-being. Other panelists were Nigerian LGBT Activist and Asylum Seeker Aderonke Apata and Professor Michael King of University College Hospital. This blog is an extended version of my brief presentation there.
At Pink Therapy we been engaging in a small way on the international stage for a little under a decade. I would occasionally get emails from therapists around the world asking for support and training and our weekend based model of short courses wasn’t conducive to their being able to travel on a regular basis and study with us. Seven years ago Pink Therapy ran a not for profit International Summer School. Over the subsequent years we have had psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists and sexologists from across Europe (including Central & Eastern Europe (Latvia, Croatia, Serbia, Poland, Hungary). Plus Israel Malta, Spain, Italy, France Germany, Denmark, Finland, Eire, Portugal, Scotland, NZ. South America: Brazil & Colombia. We’ve even had one person from Africa (Benin).
There are also a number of overseas countries where I’ve delivered training: (in alphabetical order): Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia,Dublin, France, Germany, Guernsey, Latvia, Malta and New Zealand, each has their own rich and quite different environment for the way Gender, Sexuality and Relationship Diverse people are living their lives.
Most of the therapists attending our Summer School’s have been working in very isolated contexts, where they might have been virtually the only out gay therapist in their country. They’ve worked with an incredibly wide range of clients. Some worked with LGBT victims of war, and of poverty, (the Transgender Roma’s of Serbia), or where the political situation is becoming more conservative and repressive (Poland).
Many of the psychologists/therapists are activist-clinicians. I met a an amazing intersex activist and therapist Mani Bruce Mitchell when I visited New Zealand or a lecture tour to promote the first volume of Pink Therapy in 1996. Mani was then the only out Intersex person in NZ. They recently had a second documentary made about them Intersexion which did very well at the LGBT+ Film Festivals around the world.
One of the earliest people to connect with us was Miguel Rueda-Saenz who went on to set up Pink Consultores an organisation similar to Pink Therapy in Bogota, Colombia and his University invited me to come out and deliver some training in Colombia. We’ve also had Klecius Borges a Brazilian Jungian psychotherapist who has done amazing work raising awareness of LGB mental issues and become a bit of a Brazilian television celebrity. We have had in two different cohorts, two lesbian therapists from Singapore where homosexuality is still illegal. It’s still not uncommon to find clinicians in Asia claiming homosexuality is a mental illness. I heard about this from people in Malaysia and China recently.
I was invited to help train the very first LGBT helpline volunteers in Latvia. (The year before the ‘Friendship Parade’ was 300 people marching around a city park heavily protected by armed police and 3000 protestors outside screaming abuse at them. They were bussed away from the park for their own safety.
Normally the people running such a service would be entirely self-identified as LGBT or T). On my helpline training in Latvia where there were just three brave out lesbian and gay therapists and so heterosexual allies formed the majority of the group. One of the out gay therapists was Maris Sants a priest and psychotherapist living in Latvia and one of the most well qualified therapists I’ve met. He is a survivor of Russian Reparative Therapy and was often brought into the TV studio to comment on LGBT human rights issues. Subsequently he was frequently spat at and attacked in the street for being openly gay. He is now exiled in the UK, where he initially got a job working in a café as a barista whilst he continued to serve the therapy needs of his fellow gay Latvians via the safety of Skype consultations.
There are so many stories of resistance and resilience we’ve heard over the years.
Our new 2 year Post Graduate Diploma is making a contribution to this deficit. Even in the UK, therapists have virtually virtually NO training in working with LGBT clients, despite LGBT people having much poorer mental health than the heterosexual and cis-gender population. Across the world, it’s much, much worse.
We know LGBT’s have poorer mental health. Especially the B’s and the T’s by virtue of the pressures on us due to Minority Stress and even amongst those of us with all kinds of privilege by virtue of gender, race, education, and class, we continue to face the constant toxic low-grade micro aggressions – the kind of marinade of ‘tolerance’ and mild disgust we live with – especially when we make ourselves visible, through the privilege of being able to engage in public displays of affection or state sanctioned weddings. How much worse must it be when you face prison or punishment rapes or an honour killing for being LGBT?
Mental Health is such an important human right to be fighting for. It goes to the heart of a country’s well-being – in terms of it’s health care, its culture, it’s spiritual life, and of course the economy. So finding a way to improve the legal situation in countries where homosexuality and gender variance are punished is crucial. Kaleidoscope have a project to change the laws in Commonwealth Countries. But so is improving the awareness of our fellow citizens at home. Things are changing. Much more than I could have imagined when I was coming out 35 years ago. But there is still a long way to go. This is why IDAHOBIT/IDAHOT is so important.