While half of the nation and the rest of the globe is reeling at the results of the 2016 Presidential election, there is a general disbelief, shock, and grief that is all around us. However, at the same time, the other half of the country celebrates. For LGBTQI+ people and other minorities, it is one step further in complexity; these announcements can be impactful in other ways, even traumatizing. Regardless of political affiliations, one candidate wished to set back the clock and make LGBTQI+ people second class citizens. And America overwhelmingly supported that candidate.
For LGBTQI+ youth who are struggling and/or suicidal, this can solidify their negative feelings about themselves, about the type of life they can have, and about how others will view them. For LGBTQI+ people at any age, this is a scary situation; we have made so much progress within the last few years and we may very well lose the scarce protections and rights we do have. What can be particularly traumatizing for LGBTQI+ people is that while they are scared and horrified at this prospect, friends and family may be rejoicing publicly in the election of a person who wishes to take their rights away.
Today and within the next few weeks, as you are working with LGBTQI+ clients, the issue of the election is likely to emerge. Here are some suggestions on how to talk about this with them.
Allow people to tell their stories. What do these election results mean to them? How are they internalizing them? How are they dealing with family and friends who openly rejoice in a candidate who is determined to take away their rights?
Sit with these clients in their grief and fear. Listen. Don't try to minimize the impact of this election or look for a positive aspect with the clients at first. This is truly devastating.
Let them know that they are not alone. Half of the country is grieving and in shock. LGBTQI+ people and allies, people of color, immigrants, and all those with differences are experiencing this shock. We are united in our horror.
Breathe. We did not expect this. We believed we were making progress and gaining more acceptance. To see the electoral map, it can literally make it feel like you are surrounded by racist, misogynistic, bigoted, biased persons. Although that is not true, half of our country is clearly willing to tolerate misogyny, bigotry, and racism. That realization can cause LGBTQI+ people to shut down in fear and horror. Help the clients to calm - take deep breaths and find their grounding.
Empower people to use their voices. Keep people talking. As devastating as this was, keep people empowered and using their voice to communicate their experience. They do have a right to their rights. They are not wrong; the country seems to have gone crazy, but it is not LGBTQI+ people that are broken. Communicate how this election has impacted the LGBTQI+ communities. Always remember: we will overcome and we still have power, especially when we are united.
Tap into your support systems. Connect with clients and encourage them to connect to those people who support their rights, as well as those who are experiencing the same grief and fear. If you are in a school, hold a special meeting of a GSA; in any context, increase your LGBTQI+ support groups, and connect people to resources as we do in crisis counseling.
Do not disengage. As a counselor, especially one who may identify as LGBTQI+, it may be tempting to disappear, to grieve, and to be silent. We are afraid too. And we do need to take care of ourselves. However, we are also leaders and advocates. Our clients need us right now. Be present and vocal for them, so they see models of people who will fight for their rights.
Reengage your hope in humanity. Share hope, love, and peace. Find positive stories and news. Stay on social media and spread positive messages. But do not forget to take care of yourself as a counselor as well.
We will keep fighting. We have had a very successful last few years in terms of political change for LGBTQI+ people. We can move for change on many levels, and we get to vote again in 2 years, and then again in 4 years. The con artist and demagogue that is Donald Trump is likely to be revealed even to his followers in that time. We have made it through dark times before; my mentor Edward Zigler would always say, "In politics, whenever we have a sustained period of time where we progress quickly as a nation, it is followed by a pendulum swing back and we regress. But have hope, the pendulum always swings back and we move forward again." Oppression is part of our history and modern experience, for sure. But, don't ever forget that we are more than that and our ideals of equality and freedom WILL be realized as long as we do not stop fighting.