A few weeks ago I was meeting with a teenage patient who’s been expressing their fears about their future. She stated, “I am scared I will not be able to play sports professionally because I am transgender.” In this country, we are currently dealing with my patient’s fear.
Right now, something that should have been celebrated as LGBTQ+ progress is being scrutinized. Dylan Mulvaney, a trans influencer, signed an endorsement deal with Nike. Caitlyn Jenner, furious over the Nike endorsement, lashed out stating, “The sneaker giant is going ‘so woke’ by throwing money at the trans influencer, but not Olympic hero Allyson Felix.” Caitlyn continued, “As someone that grew up in awe of what Phil Knight did, it is a shame to see such an iconic American company go so woke!”
Of course, Caitlyn’s statements were among others voicing their opinions through social media. Sharron Davies, an Olympic Medalist subscribing to a trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERF) ideology, said, “Women are being treated with total disdain at the moment, particularly in the world of sport where physiology makes so much difference.”
What Mulvaney is currently experiencing is nothing new. Marginalized communities in this country continue to experience hatred and are ridiculed because of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Ideology and media have been used for centuries to perpetuate disdain toward the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, and social media has come to provide a platform to promote and continue that cycle of oppression.
Fear typically correlates with a personal feeling or emotion. On a bigger scale, we must realize that fear can cause societal division. Fear can influence groups, communities, countries, and even the world. It can consume, depress, lead to poor decision-making, and make us prone to knee-jerk reactions. In its worst form, fear can incite hatred and violence. Members of our society have allowed ideology and media to incite fear among the masses, which continues to lead to hatred and violence, especially in BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities.
The truth of the matter is that fear is a phobia that causes people to avoid changing their circumstances due to being extremely afraid of the unknown. As a species, we have been taught and conditioned not to do well with change because it interferes with our autonomy. It can make us feel we’ve lost control over our territory. In this country, fear has changed perceptions and political beliefs based on which group has what power.
Consequences of Invoking Fear within a Society
The movie Birth of a Nation depicts slavery in a halcyon light. It presents blacks as good for little but subservient labor, and shows them, during Reconstruction, to have been goaded by the Radical Republicans into asserting an abusive dominion over Southern whites. One of the depictions was the fear among whites that freed slaves would coerce white women into sexual relations, which legally sanctioned excessive and vengeful violence toward blacks.
In 2013 Donald Trump stated, “Sadly, the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by Blacks and Hispanics.” A tough subject must be discussed. The terrorist attack of 9/11 led to increased hate crimes against American Muslims. During this time, I was a college sophomore in an international residential hall. My roommate was from Malaysia, whose national religion is Islam. I remember the entire dorm being evacuated and all our rooms searched by police with dogs. Once my roommate and I returned to our room, we realized his side of the room was ransacked entirely. My side of the room wasn’t touched. My roommate returned to Malaysia for the remainder of the semester as soon as possible.
Just over the past three years, ideology and media created hysteria about COVID-19, which in turn targeted the Asian communities, and hate crimes against them increased substantially. Hate crimes targeting LGBTQ+ individuals continue to grow as well. The long history of violence against our LGBTQ+ communities is becoming increasingly well-understood, but it shows no signs of stopping. In fact, in the first half of 2019 alone, at least 11 black transgender women were murdered. In 2018, at least 26 transgender people were murdered, most black women. Their deaths highlight the increased risk that many of us face.
These incidents have occurred in this country to communities that have been identified and labeled as “a reason to fear and to be afraid of them.” Hatred appears to be cyclical when targeting marginalized communities. It appears that whichever minority group exhibits any progression, the majority becomes overtaken by the “phobia” of fear that their power is being taken. Over the past few years, the transgender community has become a hyper-targeted group to fear. The lack of understanding and knowledge among those who are fearful of change promotes violence, bigotry, and division.
The Setback is Real
February 2, 2009 marked another historical moment for the LGBTQ+ community. RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered. Fifteen seasons later, the show continues with high ratings, spin-offs, and talented individuals/representation of our community. RuPaul utilized media like others have been for centuries, but to educate and provide knowledge to the communities that fear us. There are so many great avenues that Drag Race has created to instill confidence and self-worth in LGBTQ+ individuals. Representation on television, movies, music, and fashion continues to keep moving us forward.
The terms floating around the media today about trans individuals are “Physiology” and “Biologically.” Some like Caitlyn Jenner believe that even though an individual identifies as one gender, they should not be able to have the same liberties as the gender they belong to. Again, this is another example of one social group feeling threatened with their power and control will be taken by another. As history has displayed repeatedly, you only need a few to jump on a bandwagon to ostracize a community, promote hate, and rationalize the violence inflicted on the targeted group.
Last year I attended a mental health meeting at a school where one of the teachers raised a concern about gender in elementary school. The teacher explained that a second-grade transgirl wanted to be addressed by female pronouns among her peers. The district instructed the teacher to follow their policies, which was to contact all the school’s parents to make them aware and get their permission to move forward with the student’s request. It was mentioned that the teacher would have to provide a “lesson” to the students in her classroom, but only if all the parents consented. This caused the teacher distress. She explained that the district was not protecting all students. By sending all the parents letters, the school was basically outing this student, damaging and diminishing their self-worth and courage.
Breaking the Cycle, Ensuring Our Safety and Mental Health
As a community, we have the right to be treated like everyone else. Creating unsafe spaces, invoking fear, and promoting violence just to make us scared of being our TRUE selves must STOP! Breaking the cycle of oppression and violence has not been easy to change for centuries. Ideology and media can also be used to promote change—like this magazine does. Using media more positively to educate and encourage individuals about LGBTQ communities is incredibly beneficial.
Instead of invoking fear in people, which leads to violence, provide solutions to help diminish fear and create change. Advocate for public policies that affirm LGBTQ persons as equal citizens under the law.
Extensive training with experienced professionals who specialize in trauma, mental health, and the LGBTQ communities (continually throughout the year) should be provided for police, medical, and mental health personnel, teachers, and administrators in recognizing hate-crime victimization and cultural competency related to LGBTQ+ communities. Providing training and education allows these professionals to become more aware of how to show up within our community, which builds rapport and fosters a trusting relationship.
Anti-bullying and educational programs for children, adolescents, and adults who are most likely to commit anti-LGBTQ hate crimes could improve the social climate for LGBTQ people and reduce anti-LGBTQ hate crimes.
To have to be fearful of being harmed by someone daily causes tons of mental distress, untrustworthiness, and isolation. As a community, we must always keep ourselves physically and mentally safe. I typically encourage my clients to always be aware of their surroundings. Sometimes getting too comfortable allows danger to present itself. Wherever you are, make sure you know specific street names and possibly a landmark in the area in case you need to call for help. Try to avoid spaces with little light and little action from people. If possible, travel in pairs or in groups.
Self-care is promoted daily at my clinic for staff and clients. Self-care activities can range from physical activities, such as exercising and eating healthy, to mental activities, such as reading a book or practicing mindfulness, to spiritual or social activities, such as praying or catching lunch with a friend. Putting your mental health first during this horrific social climate with LGBTQ communities is very important. Trauma or re-trauma can occur while watching, listening to, and reading all the media surrounding the violence and hate toward LGBTQ communities. Seeking a mental health professional for psychotherapy creates a safe place to process what you are experiencing. It allows you to receive support and learn how to develop coping mechanisms through rough times.
We will weather this storm as we have many others as a community. Change places so much fear in people, but their fear is not because of change; it’s the lack of understanding and the unknown. I hope that providing the resources to educate those who are fearful will create a better understanding and an embracing of the unknown. Remember, do not make someone a priority that makes you an option!
Frederick Harris is the Founder and Clinical Director of New Beginnings Counseling Center. He began his career 19 years ago as a case manager at a maximum-security prison providing services to incarcerated men of color and reunifying them with their families. His direct, warm, and honest approach has been effective in building and maintaining therapeutic relationships.