Category Archives: Advocacy

Why Policy?

US Capitol Rotunda

U.S. Capitol Rotunda, Source: Flickr, user sidkid

“Why policy?”

I have been asked this simple, two-word question more times than any other question in the past year. Back in September, I began working as a graduate-level policy scholar for the Public Interest Government Relations office at the American Psychological Association. As this opportunity coincided with my fifth year of doctoral studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, I have often had to explain my hectic schedule upon meeting new individuals. Research and academia, most will understand, as those things fit seamlessly into the doctoral studies mold. But then comes the follow-up question: Why policy?

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How Much Do Black Lives Matter to the APA?

protestAs a student member of the APA and a psychologist in training, I’ve been disappointed in the American Psychological Association’s (APA) public response to the deaths of African American’s at the hands of police officers as well as mass shooters. While I’ve appreciated APA’s vigorous response to the Orlando tragedy, I couldn’t help but compare it to the APA’s response to the Charleston shootings. When I looked back to see if the APA offered services to the families of the victims of the Charleston shootings, or any other resources, I couldn’t find anything, not even a public statement condemning the shootings. Granted, the Charleston shooting occurred only a few weeks before the release of the Hoffman Report.  Yet preoccupation with the Hoffman Report does not explain APA’s silence, as it issued four press releases between the day of the Charleston shooting and the release of the Hoffman Report.

Moreover, the APA’s virtual silence in response to the numerous police shootings of unarmed African American men, women, and children is dumbfounding.  In an op-ed in response to Ferguson, written by former APA President Nadine Kaslow and former APA CEO Norman Anderson, the authors fall short of condemning the shooting of an unarmed black teenager and state, “[t]he judicial system will determine exactly what transpired between Michael Brown and the police officer.” Considering the historical treatment of African Americans by the judicial system, and the continued shocking disparities, their faith in the ability of the system to determine what transpired and provide a just outcome was questionable at best.  Perhaps Kaslow and Anderson’s questionable faith is representative of the APA’s position overall, and explains the silence.

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Take the ally challenge!

I am sick of writing posts in the wake of tragedies, and sickened to know that unless something drastically changes, they will continue to happen as they have for so many years. But I also know we can do better; I can do better. Specifically, allies need to do more in the times when there is no system-based tragedy making headlines. Therefore I am taking a 30-day ally challenge and I would love you to join me!

Sometimes trying to be an ally can feel overwhelming because there are so many social justice issues around the world to care about. Sometimes I end up doing nothing because I do not know where to begin, or how to begin. Sometimes I get stuck because I know there are people who dedicate their lives to social justice, whether on a global scale by people like Paul Farmer, or on a local scale, like the founders of the Wisconsin youth organization Proud Theater, and that as much as I would like to be, I am not one of them. It is too easy for daily life to get in the way when there is no crisis to respond to. I realize, of course, that the ability to not engage fully in a topic if it doesn’t fit in my schedule is the result of the many privileged identities I hold, but that does not change the fact that I often end up analyzing data or checking Facebook, rather than really engaging as an ally.

If you are like me, and want to do more to make the world better but are feeling stuck, let’s try this month-long experiment together. I would contend, as others have, that being an ally is a verb rather than an identity label. It is not something someone is, but something someone does, and therefore something we can practice daily in order to improve.

This is my plan of attack to practice becoming a better ally.

Step 1: Choose a topic.

We know that in order to make behavior changes, the goals have to be manageable. There are countless areas of disparity and oppression in the world, but in order to prevent inertia, I will pick one topic to focus on for two weeks – just one! (With the sad exception of responding to crises, like the recent shootings)

Step 2: Pick a time.

Behavior change works best if we can incorporate it into our daily routine. What time works best for you to do your allying? It might take some scheduling trial and error, but I think I’ll try lunchtime…

Step 3: Become an informed ally.

Without knowing about an issue, it is difficult to effectively work for change. Every day I will spend 10 minutes learning about the topic I have chosen. Is this enough time to spend allying? No. It is not even close to enough time to do justice to learning deeply about a topic. However, it is ten minutes more than I am currently spending and therefore a step in the right direction. Specifically, I will seek out perspectives of members of communities affected by the issue, as well as the perspectives of those whose beliefs run counter to my own. It is difficult to create change without dialogue, and difficult to create dialogue without understanding perspectives across the aisle.

Step 4: Take action.

Knowing about the ways in which our system is broken is a start, but allying also requires doing something about it. Each week I will therefore also do some sort of action outside my comfort zone. There are a lot of ways to be an ally in daily life, some of which might not be entirely within my control. For example, it is important to speak up about microaggressions when we see them. We can do things to increase our efficacy speaking up, like learning about how to recognize microaggressions and how to communicate effectively about them. But what if I spend the day doing research in my office and legitimately do not encounter any microaggressions to challenge? The action I take each week has to be something I can initiate that I would not have done otherwise, whether that means attending a solidarity event, volunteering, donating, starting a dialogue, or calling a legislator.

Step 5: Tell your friends.

Behaviors changes are more likely to be maintained when people have social support for making the change. Share what you’re doing and what you’ve learned with your friends and family. Spread the word. Create a network of people practicing allying.

Step 6: Do it again the next month!

In this way at the end of one month I will know more about two topics and have taken four small actions related to them. If I keep it up over a year, that will lead to knowing more about 24 topics with 48 small actions. If I get my friends to join me, who knows how big the ripples may go.

I may not ever be an ally rock star, but I sure can work at becoming a better one than I currently am.  If those of us who hold privileged identities make an effort to be more intentional allies when there is not a national tragedy, not only might that make us better at responding to tragedies when they do happen, but it might also help us start using our power more effectively to prevent them in the first place. We might not be able to solve all broken things all at once, but that shouldn’t stop us from practicing the actions needed to learn about what is broken and be part of the solution. I hope you join me in this allying challenge!

SomosOrlando

#SomosOrlando: Latinx LGBTQ+ being Ignored while Simultaneously Killed

SomosOrlandoThis blog post is a joint collaboration between: James J. García, Chair of the APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CARED), Roberto L. Abreu, Co-chair of the National Latina/o Psychological Association Orgullo Latinx: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity SIG and Division 45 Student Committee Co-liaison, & Laura P. Minero, Student Representative of the National Latina/o Psychological Association

Disclaimer: The opinions in this blog represent the personal opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of APA, APAGS or NLPA.

Across the nation, many of our hearts were broken by the massacre of 49 LGBTQ+ individuals and 50+ wounded during Pride Month and “Latino night” at a nightclub in Orlando. As photographs and names of the victims began to pour in, it was undeniable that most of the LGBTQ+ victims (90%) were Latinx, mostly Puerto Rican and other Latinx backgrounds. We also know that some of the victims came from mixed status families or were undocumented themselves. These challenges add further complexity to the grief and trauma they (and their families) historically have, and will continue to, experience on a daily basis.

As reporters in popular news channels struggled to pronounce the last names of the victims, the racial and ethnic identities of the LGBTQ+ victims were ignored. Many reporters refused to utter the letters “LGBTQ;” comments such as “this is an attack on all of us” were used to generalize this issue to all Americans. Although these statements were meant to show support and solidarity, indeed it concerns all Americans, these messages felt invalidating as this attack was directed at LBGTQ+ people, particularly us the Latinx LGBTQ+ community. This points to a larger systemic and historic problem in the United States: the attempt to sanitize, strip away, and demonize Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ bodies from their identities via a system of oppression, power and privilege sustained by White supremacy, heterosexuality and cisgender identities.

Within the sociopolitical context, we are negatively stereotyped by the media as unsuccessful, a group of criminals, foreign born, and only Spanish-speaking. These stereotypes disregard us as a diverse group of people by ignoring the heterogeneity within our communities. The blatant ethnic gloss against us is not new nor is it the result of recent political rhetoric; rather, there is an extensive history of hostility, which perpetuates a failure to acknowledge our intersections as Latinx LGBTQ+. For those of us who identify as Latinx LGBTQ+, we cannot help but feel that we are being ignored while simultaneously being killed.

There are three points of discourse missing from the current media narrative:

  • First, the sorrow of our Latinx LGBTQ+ community is being used to fuel hatred against the Muslim community and marginalize LGBTQ+ Muslims; however, our plights are similar, as we all live in survival mode to exist in a system that has set us up for disadvantage.
  • Second, there is no mentioning of homophobia and heterosexism within the Latina/o community, which pushed us to create our own spaces where we can temporarily break free of the violence, prejudice and discrimination from our own familias.
  • Lastly, the conversations seem to gloss over racism against LGBTQ+ people of color and those who are biracial/multiracial within the LGBTQ+ community.

Dauntingly, what can we do as psychologists-in-training?

Interpersonal level:

Departmental level:

  • Develop, create, and host healing spaces for LGBTQ+ people of color
  • Advocate for a statement/comment from your Department/University
  • Attend Pride and remembrance events as a Department

Societal level:

Living at the intersection of Black, Brown and LGBTQ+ is to expect that you can be discarded at any time without getting the chance to exist in your own skin. To this end, we, as psychologists-in-training, need to continue having these conversations to effect change together and at different levels of our society.

#WeAreOrlando

By Julia Benjamin, Chair of the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (CSOGD)

And James J. García, Chair of the APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity (CARED)

Early Sunday morning, the deadliest mass shooting in United States history took the lives of 50 people. The community and countless individuals will bear scars from this attack for the rest of their lives. It occurred on “Latin Night” at an LGBT+-affirming nightclub during Pride month.

We are devastated. We are furious. We are scared. We are heartsick.

Orlando ribbonWe each attended vigils yesterday in remembrance of the victims and survivors, one in Tucson and one in Madison. They were separated by hundreds of miles but at each, we heard our feelings echoed by other voices. It was easy to feel overwhelmed as they spoke of the stark realities LGBT+ individuals face daily and the complex intersecting evils that contributed to this tragedy: fear for our safety, racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and the now real fear of guns. Yet through it all, the other themes that rang loud and clear were those of peace, solidarity, hope, and love.

As graduate students in psychology we are called on to use our knowledge and skills to fight oppression and provide support in times of trial. When the world feels complicated and broken, how can we take steps on our own campuses and in our own lives to hold onto hope and move toward healing systems and souls? Here are some practical things you can do, whether you identify as LGBT+ or as an ally:

  1. Show up
  • Attend the candlelight vigils that are being coordinated nationwide.
  • Get informed – learn about what’s going on, read here and here.
  • Stop by your campus or local city LGBT+ center to meet folks and offer solidarity; click here for the Campus Pride website.
  • Reach out to friends and loved ones, to provide and receive the social support that we know helps confer resilience in times of distress.
  • Show up for yourself – be sure to keep taking care of your own basic needs like sleep, a balanced diet, and exercise.
  1. Speak up
  • Write to your elected officials, U.S senators and representatives.
  • Share your feelings and thoughts and engage in dialogue through blogs, psychology-related listservs, and/or social media.
  • In the upcoming presidential elections, vote with your ballot.
  1. Step up

As more details of this event emerge in the coming days, let us remember that there are layers of complexity to this massacre. Also, let us remember the intersecting identities of those who were affected, as this shooting disproportionately affected people of color and our Latina/o LGBT+ family. Let us stand together with our allies in our mourning, fear, anger, and devastation, but also in our solidarity and hope for a more peaceful, accepting, and just society for all.

Florida