Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Working with Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and the Transgendered

As I continue to pursue my PhD in Educational Psychology, I am required to examine ethics within the profession. This week, we were asked to look at the current state of ethics guidelines when dealing with lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and the transgendered. Here are a few of my thoughts from the essay I submitted this morning ...

On Monday night, I was in New York City and saw a preview of the revival of “The Normal Heart”. It is a historical play, written by Larry Kramer in 1985 that addressed the issues surrounding the HIV-AIDS epidemic of the early 1980s. Because the Broadway production is a revival, it highlights the fact that the problems currently existing within the gay community are the same problems that existed 30 years ago. It speaks to the political issues surrounding the gay population, as well as the continued need for ethical guidelines for professionals working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered populations today.

According to the American Psychological Association Task Force Report (2009), the concerns of transgender/gender variant populations revolve around social justice issues. Historically social justice issues (for every population) have always been important to the APA, so it is not surprising that the APA recognizes that stigmatization and discrimination occur in almost every aspect of a transgender/gender variant person’s life: threats to their physical safety, their psychological well-being, access to services and basic human rights.

Discrimination and prejudice often occur when a person’s sexual/gender orientation is known. Those who do not share the same sexual/gender orientation, or accept the sexual/gender orientation differences, pass moral judgments against them, so it is important to incorporate guidelines that extend to include this consideration.

Based on the two articles of Standard 3 of the APA guidelines, the role of the psychologist is to create a welcoming, friendly/educational environment that is free of sexual solicitation, physical advances or sexually suggestive verbal/nonverbal conduct. Shouldn’t this extend to all professions?  Also, ethical psychologists do not harass or demean a person who is seeking their help. While the Standard does not specify transgender/gay-lesbian or bi-sexual populations, the standard can act as the umbrella for all sexual/gender orientation issues until the APA can revise it to be more inclusive.

Because much of my professional life is in the Arts, I often encounter gay/lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered people. In knowing them, a theme keeps repeating:  No matter who a person is or what sexual/gender orientation a person has, everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated as a person. Everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated for who they are and what they do with their talents and abilities. And ... as far as I can see, projects and collaborative processes succeed when people concentrate on the goal of the collaborative process and not who the person is “sexually” or "culturally".

For an educational psychologist specializing in the arts and music, the most important guideline I can recommend is to educate others to focus on the abilities and talents of what people can “do” instead of how people express themselves sexually and culturally. In creating art or educating people in the arts, the focus should be “the art”. New respect and understanding for others is a natural by-product that results from the process of successful creation.

In my opinion, appreciation and respect for others will always be a natural by-product of collaboration because the act of creating transcends race, religious views and sexual/gender orientation. When people unite in a common goal and succeed together, they develop an arena that promotes appreciation and respect; it creates a place where love can emerge, and people develop an ability to “like” the people with whom they are working.  When we "like" each other, we create an environment where social change can occur and a society can become a just one.

For the psychology profession, it all comes back to the same three-word mantra adopted by the American Psychological Association: “Do no harm". If those in psychology (or anyone else for that matter) are diligent in their attempt to suspend the tendency to project a moral judgment on those with different sexual/gender orientation from their own, they will “do no harm”; they will expand their own world-view, make friends, develop new understanding ... and truly help them.

American Psychological Association (2010). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association, Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. (2009). Report of the Task Force on Gender Identity and Gender Variance. Washington, DC: Author.

The Normal Heart. (2011). Retrieved from

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