In the playroom I have a sign that reads “All of you is welcome here”, which was inspired by this Podcast about Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in the Playroom.
*Side note – if you do not listen to the Lessons From The Playroom Podcast or had no idea it existed scoot on over to wherever you listen to podcasts or download iTunes! Seriously. It is SO worth it and makes for awesome in the car listening. Well, I guess anywhere listening - BUT I listen to most of my podcasts in the car. *
Now, back to the sign! I was so inspired by this phrase and wanted to bring it into the place space as a way to signal my office a safe space for LGBTQAI+ clients and/or those that do not identify as cisgender. An article from the New York Times breaks down these categories and beautifully describes the + as “not just a mathematical symbol anymore, but a denotation of everything on the gender and sexuality spectrum that letters and words can’t yet describe”. Ahh YES to that!
In the last 10 years there has been an explosion of different terms used to describe the complex layers of sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT Health and Development Program at Northwestern University has this awesome Prezi Gender Identity Map and I don’t know about you but I LOVE a good visual. A collaboration from The Safe Zone Project produced a *Comprehensive List of LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Words. That list – it has over 90 WORDS!
For young people that I see that gender and sexuality is an important part of their story, I find myself asking questions, being respectful that the way one young person understands these concepts or heck even definition of terms can be slightly or completely different than the next, and googling. Like, a lot of googling.
And, here’s the thing about the young people we work with, we may assume or the young person may have told us that they identify as cisgender and heterosexual, but they might not – and we may never know. Maybe there are some that don’t want us to know. They aren’t sure if we are safe, of what we will think. They might not be sure if what they say is confidential, even though I *hope* we all cover this clearly during the intake process. They may still be struggling with articulating it or admitting it to themselves. All of this is OK. It is our job to hold a safe space for our clients to express what they want and need to – even if sexual or gender identity isn’t part of what they share with us.
This sign was my way of continuing to open up the conversation or play in a nonverbal and nonthreatening way. Not demanding or questioning, just being. Putting it out there so there might be less questioning or guessing if I am a safe person for them, or the therapy office is a safe space for who they are, all of them.
SO why is this so important? Well…I may be preaching to the choir here, but the statistics with what these youth face are staggering. 7% of youth identified as LGBT and account for 40% of homeless youth. Let that sink in – 40%. AND LGBT youth contemplate suicide at three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are five times as likely as heterosexual youth to attempt suicide according to the Trevor Project. The Trevor Project has a TON of resources for LGBTQIA+ youth including a suicide and crisis hotline. Check it out here!
And….if you didn’t know – now you know. And now that you know, you can evaluate! Is my office welcoming to everyone? How do I structure my intake process to make sure therapy is a safe space? Am I asking about preferred pronouns? Are there areas that I am rocking it? Are there areas I can improve?
So, after all this I created a watercolor rainbow painting, scanned it in, and filled in the words of the quote with the watercolor. It now sits in my office everyday as a reminder…that all of you, and everyone that comes through my door, is welcome.
Now, here’s the cool thing. As I look at it every day in my office it’s not JUST for LGBTQAI+ youth. It’s for everyone. The parent who feels like they aren’t enough, the child who is ashamed of her anger outburst, the young boy who feels like he is a failure because he didn’t score any goals, or all those parts of ourselves we feel shame about. The parts we feel nobody would accept if they really knew. Yes, all of those parts are welcome.
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I'm Ann Meehan, an LPCC, RPT-S, and EMDR Consultant. I help other therapists grow in their passions as play therapists, trauma therapists,and child and adolescent therapists.