Discrimination: Strategies to beat the bumps of discrimination


Although many organizations have evolved rapidly to become more responsive to the needs of LGBTI individuals and their families, whether we like it or not most of our health care systems, governmental agencies and educational institutions work mostly with heterosexual individuals and families. This history can lead to bumpy rides characterized by patchy quality and discrimination when it comes to services for LGBTI individuals and families. In this post, Pink Families explores how you can help shape encounters with health care, governmental and educational professionals in order to effectively avoid and manage the bumps of discrimination.

Discrimination, straight-centric views and female-male assumptions

Language is a powerful tool. The language that someone uses gives you insight into how they understand the world. Unfortunately, the language that staff sometimes use reflects a hetero-centric or male-female worldview.

For example, when you are seeking fertility treatment the health care staff may ask you to stop having intercourse before a certain type of test can be used. They fail to realize that you may not be having intercourse to get pregnant.

Their language reveals an assumption that if you are trying to get pregnant you will be doing this through intercourse, rather than through, for example, artificial insemination. This worldview could be characterized as a straight-centric or hetero-normative worldview.

Another example is where you receive paperwork from the government that requires you to check (tick) a box about your gender. But, there are only two options that you can choose from. You have to check the box marked male or female.

The options contained in this sort of paperwork reveals a worldview that doesn’t allow for the possibility that an individual might be able to identify as both a man and a woman, or neither a man nor a woman.

This language also reveals a worldview that doesn’t allow for the possibility of a person being intersex. That is, it does not acknowledge that some people may have the characteristics of both sexes at any one time.

This worldview may persist even though reports show that approximately one in every 1,500 are born with genitalia that cannot be easily distinguished as male or female.

A third example is when a teacher automatically assumes that your child will have heterosexual parents. You may, for example, receive correspondence that assumes that you are in a sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex. This assumption also reveals a hetero-centric worldview.

When someone interacts with you in this way it may leave you feeling confused, excluded, sad and or angry.

So what can you do to about it?

Strategies to help

There are many strategies that you can use and practice to help turn these situations around to benefit you and your family. These strategies may also help you educate those that you are interacting with.

These strategies include:

  • Identifying your trigger points and controlling your emotions,
  • Developing a repertoire of strategies and skills to help you respond in problematic situations,
  • Using assertive communication skills, and
  • Using the worldview of the person you are communicating with in order to put together a convincing argument to change the situation.

Identify your trigger points and control your emotions

Although we all hope to not encounter any of the problems described earlier, when it comes to getting the best for you and your family sometimes it helps to expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Part of this preparation involves thinking about how you might feel if you were to encounter an experience that treats you negatively or in a different way just because you identify as LGBTI.

Often negative experiences in the present can remind us of negative feelings from the past. The feelings linked to past memories sometimes amplify the feelings that we experience in the present.

Feelings from the past, for example, might trigger feelings of powerlessness in the present. And these feelings of powerlessness may make us go into fight mode. Once we enter into fight mode we come out fighting, even though we may not have to. Going into fight mode may not achieve the outcome we are hoping for.

In other words, past event(s) sometimes act as triggers for inappropriate emotional and psychological responses in the present. When this happens, our communication style can change for the worse. It can come across as aggressive or overly emotional, for example.

Being aware of our own trigger points help us to acknowledge our uncomfortable feelings from the past. It helps us to remain in the moment and to attend to the current situation.

Remembering that our past experiences may not influence the outcome of our present experience is important. The past and the present are different. We have the power to shape the encounter that we have in the present moment.

In summary, being aware of our autobiography, and our emotional and psychological triggers can help control our emotions and allow us to deal with problematic situations. Doing this may help get the best for you and your family.

Develop a repertoire of responses and strategies

Developing a repertoire of responses can also help your family. Developing a tool-bag of different responses can help improve feelings of confidence when it comes to responding to any type of situation that comes our way.

In reality, when we are accessing services from different types of organizations we will deal with all sorts of people with various personal and professional backgrounds. This diversity means that using just one type of strategy will probably not be sufficient in helping us to get the best for ourselves and our family.

For example, one strategy might help with one person but it may not work with another. Appealing to someone’s sense of compassion may help reach one type of goal at one point in time. But fighting for equal rights might help in another situation. Knowing the evidence might help get the best for your family in one scenario. Using your connections and relationships with key personnel may help you in other situations.

In summary, developing a range of different ways of interacting with people will help you and your family get the best that you deserve.

Role-play to develop assertive communication skills

Taking the time to come up with some ideas about how you might handle negative situations and practicing these ideas through role-play will help you develop assertive communication skills. Being able to communicate assertively may help you get the best for your family.

Assertive communication is when you communicate your needs and wants while also remaining aware of the needs and wants of others. An example of an assertive statement is as follows: “I appreciate that you are letting me know that you don’t wish to register my child in your class, however at the same time I’m aware that we are legally entitled to have her registered”.

If you have a partner, a co-parent or a good friend, involve them in discussions about what has happened or what might happen with the types of organizations you encounter. Set up a hypothetical scene based around these points. Then, act out the scene. One of you could take on the role of the patient while another could take on the role of the clinician, for example. One of you could take on the role of the teacher and one could take on the role of the parent.

When role-playing remember to stay calm, stay proud and be clear that you expect a good standard of service at all times. Also, remember to demonstrate that you are aware of the wants and needs of the person you are role-playing with. But at the same time you are able to express what you need and want in a way that is respectful.

Use their worldview in order to put together a convincing argument

Every staff member that you work with from any organization will have certain obligations that they must fulfill. Understanding what might be driving their action can help you develop a convincing argument to help you achieve your goal.

For example, a health care unit manager may hold the responsibility of making sure all staff comply with the policies in their unit. The unit manager will need to take the role of a boss to make sure that their service is adequate and able to provide good quality care. The manager will most likely need to report to another authority or to a more senior member of staff within their hospital or clinic.

This means that a unit manager may be motivated by factors such as accountability, the need to provide quality, the need for staff to practice safely, the need to make sure targets are met and the need to get patients through the door and into their service. All of these motivations can be used to inform your argument when something needs to be changed.

For example, if the quality of the care they have given came close to compromising the safety of your child then highlight this to the manager. Doing this might help more than emphasizing how upset your are about the situation. Demonstrate to the manager that you are not necessarily making a complaint but that you are aware that there would be very serious implications for the unit if a serious and adverse incident was to occur. Let them know that you value their service and that you are aware of how important it is to them to provide good care. This is why you thought it was very important to bring this situation to the attention of the manager.

Another example relates to the school environment. Schools and teachers want children to have a good education and they want the children in their care to do well academically. Homophobic bullying is one issue that stops children from achieving their academic potential. In fact, research has shown that both straight children and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans children do better at schools that don’t allow for homophobic bullying.

Explaining this research to the teacher might help them see that tackling the bullying at their school will help all of the children in their school to do better academically. Highlighting this research may help the teacher realize why it is so important to stamp out homophobic bullying in their school.

Help them realize that if they don’t address the bullying then all of the children at their school are at risk of not doing as well as they could.

Ongoing incidences of bullying may therefore negatively impact on the academic rating of the school. It may also negatively impact on the reputation of the school and therefore on enrollments. But let them know that this situation can be avoided through introducing interventions to effectively address the bullying.

Keep positive, keep growing and learning

In an ideal world none of us would have to encounter negative experiences due to our sexual or gender orientation. But, in reality many of us do and this can impact negatively on our family. The strategies discussed in this post can help you successfully overcome these challenges.

Viewing these experiences as potential opportunities for personal growth and development may help you sustain your efforts in addressing these problems. Also, the skills you develop through managing negative situations will help you navigate through other challenges that you and your family might encounter in the future.

Resolving matters professionally and amicably will also help shape the worldview of those that provide services to you. Doing this will probably make the journey easier for you, for your children and for others that come after you.

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