by Rebecca Gitlin, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and LGBTQ+ Services Specialist

June is Pride Month, which is a time to uplift and celebrate sexual and gender diversity in our communities. For many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, Two-Spirit (LGBTQIA2-S), and other sexually and gender diverse individuals, Pride Month is a reminder of the importance of visibility, community, and acceptance. This month also represents political resistance for many LGBTQIA2-S community members, as we continue working toward a society that is free from discrimination, bias, and victimization toward diverse genders and sexualities.

Pride Month commemorates the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, which took place in New York City. At the time, police harassment toward LGBTQIA2-S community members – drag queens, sex workers, and transgender and gender non-conforming people in particular – was not uncommon. LGBTQIA2-S bars and other gathering spaces were often at risk for police raids and mass arrests. On June 28, 1969, patrons at the Stonewall Inn responded to a police raid with resistance, leading to five days of protest and other political action. The Stonewall Uprising is credited for spearheading the Gay Liberation Movement, which ultimately led to modern-day LGBTQIA2-S liberation movements.

Less known, however, are previous acts of resistance against police violence by LGBTQIA2-S communities in California. In May 1959, patrons at Cooper Do-nuts, a popular hangout for LGBTQIA2-S communities on Main Street in downtown LA, responded to police harassment with resistance and public protest. This is sometimes credited as the first uprising by LGBTQIA2-S communities in the United States. In San Francisco, an uprising occurred in response to police harassment of transgender patrons at Compton’s Cafeteria in August 1966. Just a few months later, a protest at the Black Cat Tavern (which still stands in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood) in response to police harassment and brutality represented one of the first and largest organized public protests for LGBTQIA2-S rights in the country.

We currently exist in a very different legislative landscape affecting LGBTQIA2-S people’s basic rights to live openly. However, persistent stigma, discrimination, and victimization toward LGBTQIA2-S communities continues to this day. Indeed, 2021 set a record for the number of anti-LGBTQIA2-S legislation (particularly laws affecting transgender youth) introduced in local/state governments. Additionally, the number of recorded deaths by anti-transgender violence continues to increase with each passing year, with Black transgender women and gender non-conforming people disproportionately targeted.

We know that heterosexist and cissexist bias in our society negatively impacts health outcomes and social determinants among LGBTQIA2-S community members. Experiences of anti-LGBTQIA2-S discrimination is linked to elevated rates of psychiatric distress, problematic substance use, and suicidality. Inequities in social determinants of health are also well-established; LGBTQIA2-S community members are less likely to have access to responsive healthcare, more likely to be un(der)employed, and more likely to be experiencing housing insecurity or homelessness. These striking disparities do not affect all LGBTQIA2-S community members equally, as transgender, bisexual, systems-impacted (e.g., Child Welfare, juvenile justice), BIPOC, and those living in rejecting homes/communities often experience steeper inequities.

Because of our collective sociocultural context and history, in addition to individual experiences of bias and victimization, it is important for us to know about – and put into practice – affirming and responsive healthcare for LGBTQIA2-S communities. While we know that LGBTQIA2-S identities and lived experiences are among many aspects of human diversity, many community members (and many healthcare providers!) may have internalized ideas that stigmatize LGBTQIA2-S people. The task before us – as individuals, as a society, and as a system of care – is to cultivate environments that resist perpetuating bias and discrimination against LGBTQIA2-S communities.

Increasingly, research is demonstrating the far-reaching impacts of affirming LGBTQIA2-S people as their authentic selves. Rates of psychiatric distress, suicidality, and other negative health outcomes substantially decrease when LGBTQIA2-S community members are accepted for who they are. This includes acceptance at home, in school, and in healthcare environments.

In recognition of Pride Month – and to celebrate the diversity of Los Angeles County year-round – here are some suggestions for how you can contribute to improving the health of LGBTQIA2-S communities:

  1. Take a few moments to reflect on potential implicit and explicit bias you may have toward LGBTQIA2-S communities. Acknowledging our own biases can be difficult. It is important to remember that we all have biases – they are often a reflection of our sociocultural environment and/or messages received during our upbringing, rather than an indication of our inherent “goodness” as people. Here are some resources that might help you identify and address your potential biases related to gender and sexuality.
  2. Learn more about LGBTQIA2-S history and lived experiences, including the stories of community leaders like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Uplift the stories of LGBTQIA2-S community members around you – including your own, if you identify as part of the community and have mutually supportive and safe spaces to do so.
  3. Learn about the importance of pronouns. Add your pronouns to your email signature, display name on virtual platforms like MS Teams or Zoom, and business cards. If you are a direct service provider, practice introducing yourself with your pronouns, and ask all your clients which pronouns they use when meeting someone for the first time. This sends a powerful message that you acknowledge and respect diverse gender identities.
  4. Seek out further education about LGBTQIA2-S healthcare. There are resources within DMH and our broader LA County mental health community to help with this. Attending community events and trainings focused on LGBTQIA2-S health, such as DMH’s monthly drop-in LGBTQIA2-S Clinical Consultation Team meetings, is a great way to connect with others and engage in collective capacity-building. The Wellbeing4LA Learning Center also has several resources to help you improve your practice with LGBTQIA2-S communities.
  5. Use a Pride-themed virtual background on MS Teams, Zoom, and other videoconferencing platforms.
  6. Recognize and challenge transphobic, biphobic, and homophobic bias and discrimination, including microaggressions in professional and personal environments.

Together, we can cultivate a more welcoming, affirming, and vibrant society in which LGBTQIA2-S communities are not only recognized and celebrated but are also given the necessary resources and respect to thrive.

Happy Pride from LACDMH!