Quite some time has passed since the tragedies in Orlando, St. Paul, and Baton Rouge. All of these incidents included violence toward traditionally marginalized groups. For those of us with privileged identities or psychological distance from the events, much of the emotional toll may seem “in the past.” For those of us without such privilege, however, the emotional labor has not ceased. We write this post with the belief that, if we are to successfully ward off the threat of callousness and acceptance of unthinkable violence, we must meet our emotional expenditure with direct action.
Much has been written already on the complex feelings many of us within APAGS have experienced in the wake of the Orlando shooting (e.g. here and here) as well as the shooting of unarmed black men in St. Paul and Baton Rouge (see here). The specific identities of those targeted marks these tragedies as incidents with much larger sociopolitical implications. They represent both a deep personal trauma which must be addressed at the individual microlevel (with peers, with clients, on our listservs, within our families) as well as a national crisis that must be addressed at the systemic macrolevel.
Thus, in addition to the many resources regarding steps to be taken at interpersonal and community levels (The Community Healing Network has a great resource list, and another compiled by Skyler Jackson can be found here), in this post, we hope to provide resources regarding the legislative issues this tragedy touches upon.
Racial & Religious Discrimination
National tragedies such as Baton Rouge, St. Paul, & Orlando frequently touch upon many issues of racial and religious inequities in the U.S.; including Latinx rights, Black rights, Islamophobia, immigration reform, and racial profiling. APA has a long legacy of opposing discrimination based on race and ethnicity (see APA’s 2001 resolution), and has taken actions on racial profiling, deportation, and immigration reform. APA has also taken a strong stance on the need for religious freedom and tolerance (see here). More information about policing in communities of color can also be found here.
Given APA’s strong voice on these issues, it behooves psychologists, as the 2001 resolution states, to “…speak out against racism, and take proactive steps to prevent the occurrence of intolerant or racist acts.” To see a list of current legislative and community-based initiatives through APA you can take part in, check out APA’s ethnic minority affairs website.
Hate Crime Prevention & Gun Control Legislation
The APA strongly emphasizes primary (i.e. universal) intervention strategies to address violence, with an emphasis on multi-systemic involvement. Strategies derived from the Task Force on the Prevention of Gun Violence , for example, focus on including mental health professionals and law enforcement in collaborative effort with one another to reduce risk of violence. These include such things as addressing maladaptive expressions of masculinity through violence from at-risk males.
APA has also called for the expansion of funding for National Violent Death Reporting System to ensure that vital data is collected surrounding the tragic fatalities of violent acts. If violence prevention and gun control legislation is something you are passionate about, one way to make your voice heard is through supporting “common sense” gun laws through a quick letter to congress.
LGBTQ+ Rights & Homophobia
APA has been a strong proponent of LGBTQ+ rights ever since Evelyn Hooker’s 1956 Annual Convention presentation. In her speech, Dr. Hooker challenged the view that homosexual people were inherently less mentally healthy than their heterosexual peers (see here). Since that time, APA has recognized that state-sponsored limits on LGBTQ+ freedoms (for example limiting basic parental, marriage, and legal recourse rights) not only dehumanize LGBTQ+ persons but also tacitly legitimize discrimination against them.
Recently, APA has been in strong favor of H.R. 3185 and S. 1858, also known as the Equality Act. As a bit of background, ‘H.R.’ stands for ‘House of Representatives’ while ‘S.’ stands for ‘Senate.’ In order to become law, a bill must be passed in both the House and the Senate, and thus often gets two separate identifying numbers (because debate and revisions occur on both the House and the Senate sides these bills often look slightly different from one another). As of this writing, the Equality Act has been referred to the relevant subcommittees/committees in both the House and the Senate. As such, stay tuned and take part in this and other relevant initiatives by registering for APA’s Federal Action Network (FAN).
Overall Advocacy Resources
If you are interested in the intersection between psychology and advocacy more generally, a great resource and manual has been provided here. In addition, you can sign up to receive regular updates about APA “action alerts;” which are immediate steps you can take (often requiring less than 30 seconds) to have your voice heard on issues that you care most about. You can sign up for such action alerts by going to: http://cqrcengage.com/apapolicy/home. As an aside, we promise that the Federal Advocacy Network is not a ‘spam’ listserv. We’ve always received important and timely updates from the Action Network, and have heard back innumerable times from senators and representatives about letters we specifically sent through the network.
Conclusion: Stand Up!
APA itself has a strong history of advocacy in these realms. As Amalia Corby-Edwards—Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer with APA’s Public Interest Directorate—states, “APA has been lobbying on these issues for years […] going forward, we’ll likely redouble these efforts, and think about new approaches.” As Corby-Edwards identifies, national tragedies both highlight longstanding societal problems and can hopefully serve as a catalyst for intensified legislative efforts.
As the saying goes, the “personal is political,” and relating our own experiences with larger social issues is not only therapeutic, it can help promote real change. If you feel inspired or interested in joining like-minded advocacy peers, please consider becoming a campus representative with the Advocacy Coordinating Team by going to our homepage, http://www.apa.org/apags/governance/subcommittees/act.aspx.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this blog post represent the exclusive views of the authors and not necessarily those of APA or APAGS.