Tips for Providing Positive Support to LGBTQ+ Individuals
The LGBTQ+ community comprises approximately 4.5 percent of the general population of the United States. Individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ are significantly more likely to have experienced exclusion, alienation, and even blatant discriminatory behaviors within social, academic, and work settings than individuals not identifying as LGBTQ+. Many non-LGBTQ+ individuals therefore wish to learn specific techniques and develop a better understanding of queer terminology to assist in increasing the comfort level of their LGBTQ+ friends, acquaintances, and/or colleagues. Below are some suggestions of how to provide support and increase the overall comfort level of LGBTQ+ individuals:
1. Do not automatically assume a person is heterosexual. For example, if you meet someone and they inform you they are in a relationship, do not assume their partner is of the opposite gender. Assuming a person is heterosexual forces them to correct you or even omit the truth, potentially making both of you uncomfortable. Attempt to make conversations as neutral as possible in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation.
2. Do not assume a person identifies as “male” or “female.” Do not assume that because someone appears to express themselves in a manner you define as “male” or “female” that they identify as such. Terms such as “non-binary” (i.e., identifying and/or having the experience of a gender that is not exclusively “male” or “female”) are increasingly embraced by individuals feeling as though “one-size-fits-all” descriptors of gender expression are oversimplified and inaccurate. Many individuals identifying as non-binary prefer to be addressed as “they/them.”
3. State your preferred pronouns. To minimize discomfort for queer individuals in making their preferred pronouns known, it can be helpful to develop a habit of stating your preferred pronouns as part of the introductory process. For example, “My name is Sierra, and my preferred pronouns are she/her/hers.”
4. If you are confused, respectfully ask for clarification. If a concept is unfamiliar to you, there is nothing wrong with appropriately and respectfully asking for clarification when it involves increasing the comfort level of those around you. For example, “I want to make sure I’m addressing you correctly; will you please remind me of your preferred pronouns?” Many cisgendered (i.e., those whose gender identity corresponds with their assigned birth sex) and/or heterosexual individuals fear asking queer individuals for clarification and simply avoid interaction with them altogether to minimize their own discomfort, which may inadvertently exclude and/or cause queer individuals to feel alienated.
5. If you make an honest mistake, do not panic. Regardless of our gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation, we are all human and we all make mistakes. If you accidentally misgender someone or accidentally assume someone is heterosexual, apologize sincerely and inform the individual that you will be mindful of your language in the future. Emphasize to them that you are in the process of learning this terminology to help to increase their level of comfort, as well as the comfort level of the queer community as a whole.
6. Do not dismiss these concepts as a “phase” or “fad.” One of the biggest misconceptions about the aforementioned terminology is that more recently utilized terms are simply a societal fad and are therefore unimportant to learn and implement regularly. This idea is simply untrue. Non-binary and non-heterosexual identities and orientations have been documented for centuries across numerous cultures around the globe, and society is finally more regularly implementing the terminology to correspond with these identities and experiences. While terminology may evolve with time (as does any terminology), these identities and experiences have existed for centuries, and will continue to do so; therefore, it is important for the comfort level of those around you to familiarize yourself with this terminology.
7. Get involved. There are many activism organizations in which you can express support for LGBTQ+ individuals and/or work to assist in efforts to minimize discriminatory measures against LGBTQ+ individuals. Involvement in one or more of these organizations can greatly assist LGBTQ+ individuals on a broader scale.
If you are an LGBTQ+ individual experiencing discomfort or difficulty regarding any of the aforementioned topics, it may be helpful to seek the services of a mental health professional specializing in issues specific to members of the LGBTQ+ community and/or identifying as an LGBTQ+ ally.
-Sierra Shapiro, MS, LPC
Sierra Shapiro is a staff psychotherapist at Marsh Psychology Group. You can contact her at 248-860-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org .