As part of our commitment to supporting Pride this month, we are featuring spotlights on a number of well-known people in collegiate recovery who speak about their experience as part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This week we are honored to feature an interview with Patrice Salmeri.
ARHE: What do you think are the challenges faced by LGBTQIA + students in a CRP?
Patrice: So much of being LGBTQIA+ exists outside of a CRP: family rejection, street harassment, internalized shame, demeaning media representations and countless other social stressors. Queer people’s feelings of rejection and shame, especially around the core part of their identities, can do a lot of damage before they even make it to a CRP.
According to a SAMHSA/CSAP funded conference, here are some substance abuse-specific risk factors for LGBTQIA+ folks:
1. Sense of self as worthless or bad.
2. Lack of connectedness to supportive adults and peers.
3. Lack of alternative ways to view “differentness.”
4. Lack of access to role models.
5. Lack of opportunities to socialize with other LGBTQIA+ folks except in bars.
ARHE: In what ways can CRPs and the wider college community be more inclusive of their LGBTQIA+ peers?
Patrice: Ally training is only a beginning yet a must for all college students and particularly within a CRP. Collegiate Recovery Programs must create a culture of respect, openness, trust, and compassion. Creating safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ students to share and be vulnerable is a must. Teaching empathy for others is strongly encouraged. This can be done by role plays and exercises that highlight the stigma and struggle of LGBTQIA+ lives. Students need to challenge their biases, stereotypes, and explore their hearts not just their head. Offering unconditional support can change the life of an LGBTQIA+ student.
It is important to use the right words and pronouns. Language is everything in the LGBTQIA+ community. Never assume a person’s identity but rather ask if you are unsure. Using gender-inclusive language is important such as folks rather than ladies or guys, or partner versus husband or wife. Above all, ask LGBTQIA+ students, “How can I best support you?”
ARHE: What does being an LGBTQIA+ ally mean to you?
Patrice: The key qualities of a LGBTQIA+ ally are a desire to learn and understand. LGBTQIA+ students spend most of their life being outnumbered by straight people. There are a lot of straight and cisgender people who call themselves allies, however, they often engage in behaviors that make queer people feel deeply uncomfortable, unwelcome or unseen. It is often unintentional, yet the ramifications are the same. Blind spots can make even the most well-meaning allies act as jerks.
Here are four ways you can be an ally and really mean it:
- Be aware of how much space you take up.
- Do not minimize a person’s queerness. LGBTQIA+ people decide that individually.
- Let LGBTQIA+ people be human with all their gifts and flaws.
- Be inclusive and invite LGBTQIA+ friends to hang out with your friends and family.
There is an overwhelming amount of work to do until LGBTQIA+, especially transwomen of color, are treated equally. Being an ally includes being part of that fight whenever possible. Keep an open heart and look out for your LGBTQIA+ peers. It is an ally’s job to listen and ask LGBTQIA+ students how they are doing. Some things you may not understand but offer support when and where you can.
ARHE: How can recovery meetings ensure they do not marginalize the experiences of LBGTQIA+ members?
Patrice: GaL-AA embraces all LGBTQIA+ members in the fellowship.
Some LGBTQIA+ struggle with AA due to the mistaken link of AA to religion and the common moral condemnation or renouncing of LGBTQIA+ folks. There are however, LGBT AA and NA meetings.
Giving up friends who still use is difficult for the LGBTQIA+ population because that may be the few contacts they have. Social outlets of bars and clubs may be difficult to stay away from if those are the only social outlets.
Recovery meetings need to be safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ folks. Language is especially important. Sharing stories must adhere to strict confidentiality and anonymity.
ARHE: What resources do you recommend for LGBTQIA+ folks?
- National Center for Transgender Equality
- Transgender Law Center
- Trans Lifeline
- The Trevor Project
- LGBT Therapist Network
- National Association of Lesbian and Gay Addiction Professionals
- Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists
- Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychiatrists
- Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
- National Gay Social Workers
- Anti-Violence Project
- OutCare Health
- Gender Justice