Statement for Division 44 – Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues

The tragic shooting in Orlando this June should remind us all that despite the enormous progress we have made as a society towards full equality for GLBTQ people in recent years, much remains to be done. GLBTQ people all over the country are at risk of violence every day; according to FBI statistics, they suffer more hate crimes than any other group. Psychologists have an important role to play both in caring for those attacked and discriminated against because of their sexuality and in analyzing the root causes of the culture of violence which puts them at risk. Yet our profession’s record on GLBTQ issues is in many ways troubling: psychologists have often pathologized those we should be working to help. One lesson we must learn from this history is that if psychology is to be effective in treating diverse communities, those communities must have a key role in shaping how psychology is studied, taught and practiced.

Much of my professional and clinical work has been with people whose suffering stems from political or social contexts of violence, racism, discrimination, and economic marginalization. I have learned that in such cases, individual treatment alone often depoliticizes the culture of bias and abuse within which the individual is functioning. Therefore, appropriate ‘treatment’ must include support for social justice and social action. Thus, while the APA must address specific mental health issues LGBT people face – such as teen depression, relational stress, trauma and violence – we must also advocate for socio-political change.

My career reflects a longstanding commitment to LGBTQ rights in both research and practice. I became Chief Psychologist at a Manhattan hospital in 1991, a time when the stigma of HIV/AIDS made gay people regularly afraid of discrimination in hospitals. I am proud to say that our hospital created the first openly GLBT-friendly dual-diagnosis unit in the country. I trained our staff in destigmatizing HIV, combating homophobic attitudes, and understanding the complex psychological and social issues involved in being GLBT in a prejudiced culture.

I have since used theater and oral history to offer a public voice for survivors of socio-political trauma and have had the good fortune to work with and learn from Ann Cvetkovich, a social activist and renowned lesbian scholar, on these issues. Ann’s unique political critique and scholarship have been very influential in the development of my own thinking. Please take a look at The Scholar and Feminist Online, 2.1, which Ann co-edited, and in which I have an article: (http://sfonline.barnard.edu/ps/reisner.htm)

As President, I would continue APA’s strong advocacy on behalf of the professional and clinical concerns of the LGBT community. I would seek increased collaboration on these issues with the international mental health community. But advocacy, however well-intentioned, is simply not enough: APA must do more to place LGBTQ psychologists in positions of leadership within our organization and our profession. As President I would encourage the APA and all its Divisions to do more to recruit students and early-career psychologists to take an active role in shaping the future of American psychology. There is far more diversity in the community of young psychologists than exists in the current APA membership, and that diversity is key to reforming APA. A younger, more diverse, more GLBTQ-inclusive community of psychologists will produce stronger, more balanced research and better, more sensitive clinical practice. It will also put the APA at the forefront of progressive social change.

It has been a year since the Supreme Court expanded legal protections of marriage to the LGBTQ community. And now, the e military has lifted its ban on transgender people serving openly in the armed forces. There has been enormous progress as more and more of the nation discovers and acknowledges that LBGTQ people are an integral part of our nation’s population and culture. APA has a significant role to play, at this watershed moment, in exposing the mental health consequences of othering, marginalization and authoritarianism, and in demonstrating the mental health benefits that come with social justice and human rights. I am known at APA for being willing to stand for ethics, social justice and human rights; I can be counted on, as President, to redouble these efforts as an ally of the LGBTQ community.