By Talbert Toole
Members of the LGBTQI community often face discrimination, prejudice, and social stigma, among other disparities. These disparities can lead to depression, anxiety and sometimes suicide, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
The Oxford Treatment Center (Oxford Outpatient and Resolutions) hosted a public forum Wednesday night in which a panel of experts in their respective fields discussed mental health in the LGBTQI community. Topics included microaggressions, transgenderism, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The panel included Kevin Cozart, operations coordinator for the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies; Kendrick Wallace, a graduate student pursuing his M.A in Higher Education/Student Personnel at the University of Mississippi; Stacee Reicherzer, a transgender therapist, educator, speaker and writer; Laura Haddock, a counselor educator and supervisor at Southern New Hampshire University; John Marszalek, a counselor educator for over 15 years and a counselor for over 20 years.
Brian Whisenant, director of community relations at Oxford Treatment Center, served as the moderator for the forum.
Queer Housekeeping Questions
Whisenant opened the discussion with what he called “queer housekeeping questions.”
“What does it mean to be LGBTQIA-plus?” Whisenant asked the panel. “What is the significance of the letters?”
Cozart said one thing he always heard in the early years of his coming out process that applies more so to white gay men is that they are shifted out of normal society to the point that they can now bear witness to the struggles other marginalized communities face. From harassment to social injustice of these communities, he said white gay men can still use their place of privilege as white men to help those who still are excluded and underrepresented.
“Because I’m gay, if I acknowledge it in certain circles, it pushes me out of the community that I grew up in,” Cozart said. “I can see what other people face, and they can’t hide necessarily that part of themselves.”
Stacee Reicherzer, a transgender therapist, said the language that is used to identify people has evolved over time. Not long ago, “gay” was the only term that was mostly used to identify anyone who did not self identify as heterosexual, she said.
She said the word “gay” was so widely used years ago simply for those that could actually claim the identity; however, now society knows that sex, sexuality and gender are not necessarily grouped together.
However, society has become more inclusive with the terminology by adding the “I” in the acronym, Reicherzer said. The “I” represents those who identify as intersexual—individuals born with any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Sexual Orientation vs. Gender Identity
During the public forum, the panel also discussed the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Gender identity is who you go to bed as and sexual orientation is who you go to bed with,” said Laura Haddock, a counselor educator and supervisor at Southern New Hampshire University.
Haddock said, as a woman, her gender identity has always been a minority group. The perception of what is considered a minority has shifted over time, she said.
“There was time, in my lifetime, that the opportunities that I have now didn’t exist,” Haddock said. “A part of what [this panel] represents for me is what I hope will be the same opportunity for those who identify on the gender spectrum or orientation spectrum have the sameness [in society.]”
In October 2018, the University of Mississippi’s department of sociology and anthropology, in partnership with the African American studies program, released a report on microaggressions at the university—a document report of students’ everyday experiences with incidents involving race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation at and near the University of Mississippi’s campus.
As the panel continued their discussion on microaggressions, the conversation transitioned into assaults on the community and those who identify with both the LGBTQ community and people of color.
Kendrick Wallace, a black graduate student pursuing his M.A. in Higher Education/Student Personnel at the University of Mississippi, lead the conversation with Cozart on defying microaggressions.
“For example, a microaggression is someone assuming ‘you’re black so you must be good at basketball,'” Wallace said.
The conversation continued as the panel discussed the differences between microaggressions and macroaggressions—a larger off the cuff comment, according to Haddock. Wallace said a build-up of microaggressions will eventually lead to a microaggression.
For more information on the Oxford Treatment Center, visit its official website.