Gay Addiction Professionals Offer “Gay 101” Seminar

On Aug. 22, hundreds of professionals working in the field of addiction recovery attended the Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) conference at the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. For five days, these professionals attended a number of workshops and discussions on such diverse topics as conflict resolution, family interventions, nutrition in addiction treatment, and the needs of women recovering from addiction.

And on the conference’s last day, one session offered attendees a primer on the terminology, history and needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and other sexual minorities.

Titled “What Every Counselor Needs to Know When Working with Sexual Minorities,” the presentation was lead by Joseph Amico, the president of the Association for Lesbian, Bay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies (NALGAP) and one of the conference’s organizers. NALGAP was one of several organizations for addiction professionals that participated in the conference.

Amico, who is openly gay, began the session by asking audience members to define each letter in the acronym GLBTQQAi2S — the latter letters of which stand for queer, questioning, (straight) ally, intersex and two-spirited, a term Amico said that several American Indian tribes once used for those whom they considered to have “insight into both the male and female spirit.”

“Everybody does pretty well with the first four letters, and then it starts to trail off at the end,” Amico joked when few people could identify beyond the second Q.

Amico then introduced his audience to a number of topics including the Kinsey Scale and Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, two scales for measuring and defining sexual orientation and the history of the gay rights movement in the United States from the 1969 Stonewall Riots to the present day. He then noted that “pre-Stonewallers”—those born before the riots—and “post-Stonewallers” frequently had different ways of regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and different needs in treatment.

“For pre-Stonewallers, queer was a bad word,” he explained. “That was a word folks used to make fun of us and put us down. But younger people have adopted it.”

Amico then gave his audience some guidelines for working with sexual minorities. He first instructed them to examine their beliefs and feelings about sexual minorities and to note any biases they may have.

“If you grew up in a religious society or a family where you were told that homosexuality is an abomination, you’ve probably got some things to work on,” he explained. For those who decide they are comfortable accepting sexual minorities into their caseload, Amico recommended putting gay and transgender-friendly literature or artwork in a clinic or practice’s waiting room to let clients know that they are welcome. He also recommended asking questions related to sexual orientation and gender identity on intake forms, knowing the developmental stages of coming out, and knowing what to say if a client asks for therapy to change his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.

“There’s no one who approves of that in the psychiatric world,” said Amico, noting that the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have both made strong statements against such treatment, popularly known as reparative therapy.

“Make sure they have information explaining why it’s not a good idea and won’t work,” he said.

Along with information about the Kinsey Scale and Klein Grid, Amico also gave attendees sample questionnaires to talk to clients about the development of their sexual orientation, which included such questions as “How old were you when you first had thoughts about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” “If you could change your sexual orientation, would you?” and questions about first sexual experiences. Here, Amico stressed that some clients—particularly gay men—may note that they had sex as pre-teens, but that they do not consider the experiences to be abuse.

To explain, Amico mentioned one of his clients who said that he had sex at age 12 with a male neighbor other children identified as “weird.” The client, he said, wondered if the neighbor was “weird like he was,” reported enjoying sex with him and returning for more.

“Is the issue that this 12-year-old was looking for sex?” he asked. “No. He was looking for someone who could relate to being gay.” However, Amico urged clinicians not to correct their clients while giving them the questionnaire.

“You’re gathering information,” he said. “Now is not the time to say, ‘no, it was abuse.”

Amico then walked the audience through the seven stages of coming out, from an individual’s confusion over his or her sexual or gender identity to their acceptance of that identity into their understanding of themselves. He then introduced them to some common stereotypes of gays and lesbians and some basic cultural differences between white, black and Latino gays and lesbians, such as African-American men on the “down low” who have sex with other men but do not identify as gay, and the idea among some Latinos that only submissive sexual partners can be gay.

At all times during the presentation, Amico’s audience asked several questions, from whether or not the term “queer” applied to lesbians to what to tell a client who had made up his or her mind to seek reparative therapy.

Amico later said that he was pleased by the audience’s response to his presentation, and pleasantly surprised to learn that the city could be quiet accepting of gay and transgender people.

“In terms of all other queer folk I know at the conference, everyone has been surprised at how progressive Salt Lake City is. They weren’t expecting it,” he said.

Visit NALGAP online at nalgap.org.

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