The quest to ensure social work practices are LGBTQ-inclusive occurs on a number of levels. It requires the development of knowledge around LGBTQ issues, rethinking individual interactions with clients and colleagues, and advocating for change on a policy level.
Why Inclusivity of LGBTQ Individuals Is Critical
To not be discriminated against based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a basic human right. Yet many LGBTQ individuals experience discrimination by family, community groups, workplaces, the health system and more.
As in any other group of people, some LGBTQ individuals will experience abusive relationships, but they may be less likely to seek help due to community-specific stigma and discrimination.
LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience mental health conditions – including depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal ideation – so it’s essential that social work services are approachable.
The mission of social workers is to enhance human well-being while trying to empower people who are vulnerable and oppressed. Therefore, the inclusivity of LGBTQ clients should be at the forefront of every social worker’s mind.
How Can Social Workers Help Address Discrimination?
Developing an understanding of some of the issues faced by LGBTQ clients enables social workers to identify how their own practices may alienate or discriminate against this population. There are many opportunities for social workers to build their knowledge, such as by attending sexual diversity training, reading journals and speaking to individuals throughout the LGBTQ community.
Becoming more informed may also help social workers identify issues within their organizations that should be challenged. For example, it’s still relatively commonplace for organizations to request that clients identify themselves as male or female, although this can be dismissive of transgender clients’ needs. Similarly, requesting that clients declare their marital status may disregard other significant, long-term partnerships or kinships – which goes against social work’s focus on the importance of human relationships.
Other effective practices include using gender-free language and considering how all kinds of potential clients would experience interactions with the organization. Social workers may also wish to review promotional materials to ensure they don’t exclusively depict stereotypical norms of families or relationships. Addressing these issues can demonstrate support for LGBTQ clients.
Creating Widespread Change through Social and Political Action
Another powerful way for social workers to drive social change is to advocate for action on a legislative level. There is great scope for new legislation and policies around insurance and property rights, youth services, health and mental health services, and marriage and family law rights. Writing letters, making formal statements and joining working groups are all ways to get involved.
Advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community is an important step towards building a society that is responsive to the needs of individuals. When a society is accepting of diversity, everyone benefits.
If you’re interested in serving the LGBTQ community through social work, invest in an advanced education and explore your further study options today.