If you are part of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community, are suffering from addiction, and are living in rural Pennsylvania, you might feel like you don’t have many options for treatment that will make you feel safe and valued.
Not to give Pennsylvania a bad rap, but, well, it kind of deserves it. We are the only state in the Northeast that doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity in our hate crimes legislation. While Governor Wolf signed LGBT anti-discrimination laws for state employees and those employed by state contractors, the LGBT community is still not protected from discrimination in private employment or in housing and public services. Unfortunately, a lack of protection and support on the state level creates a climate that tolerates prejudice and discrimination against gay and transgender people on the local and personal level. Discrimination and social stigma create stress in LGBTQ individuals that can lead to substance use and addiction.
LGBTQ Community and Addiction
Even if a gay or transgender person feels supported and loved by their immediate community, they face discrimination and may fear for their safety outside their community. The unique stress of being a stigmatized minority (“minority stress”) contributes to the higher rates of depression and anxiety in the LGBTQ community. Gay and transgender people also face discrimination and prejudice in health care services, whether from health practitioners who trivialize or don’t understand their needs or from an insurance company who won’t provide coverage for same-sex partners. The discouragement and mistrust that result lead people to avoid seeking treatment. In addition, predatory marketing of tobacco targets the LGBTQ community, and bars and clubs are often seen as safe spaces where LGBTQ individuals can feel accepted, making it harder for those struggling with addiction to avoid easy access to substances. All of the above—stress, inadequate health care, and high substance use in the community—lead to a much higher rate of addiction among gay and transgender people, an approximate 20% compared to 9% of the general population.
Finding LGBTQ-Friendly Addiction Treatment
If a gay or transgender person is struggling with addiction, you can imagine the stress they might feel when choosing a treatment center. LGBTQ-exclusive treatment programs are hard to find and some facilities that advertise as having specialized programs do not, in fact, offer such programs. For a gay or transgender person from rural PA who can’t afford to travel far for treatment, choosing an addiction treatment facility that will make them feel safe is a challenging task. Imagine suffering the ravages of addiction and trying to recover surrounded by people who, at best, don’t approve of your lifestyle, and, at worst, might display outright prejudice and bullying.
Recovery requires self-disclosure; revealing your deepest self to a supportive community is transformative. It makes you understand that you are not alone. It gives you the courage to face daily challenges and triggers, knowing that those who love, understand, and support you are a phone call away. When gay and transgender people feel like they must hide their true selves, their recovery from addiction is compromised.
Signs of an LGBTQ-Friendly Treatment Center
So what can a gay or transgender person seeking addiction treatment do to find a facility where they will feel safe? They can start by looking for the following signs that a treatment center might be LGBTQ-friendly. These list items are taken from an article in Social Work Today and A Provider’s Guide to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Bisexual Individuals, published by SAMHSA. This second document is a comprehensive resource for those interested in furthering their ability to treat members of the LGTBQ community.
- Intake forms include open options for identifying gender and relationship status
- Pictures on website and in brochures include a variety of types of people
- Website and ads include non-discrimination statement & policy
- Facility has openly gay or transgender people on staff
- Facility shows special care in helping client find inclusive after-care treatment
- Special care is taken to ensure confidentiality
- Counselors address clients’ feelings about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity and the effects of homophobia
- Treatment providers are especially patient and sensitive, understanding that client may have built up a distrust of health care providers based on past experiences
- Providers have at least a general understanding of and sensitivity about appropriate terminology
- Any prejudice or homophobia displayed by other clients is immediately addressed
Even if a facility displays many of the above characteristics, visit the facility. A facility might sound inclusive in its marketing but can give you a chilly reception in person. Other facilities may meet very few of the above criteria and yet make you feel very welcome in person.
At this time, Mountain Laurel Recovery Center does not offer specific programming for LGBTQ individuals. However, in a conversation I had with Clinical Director Trinity Cowburn, she expressed eagerness to welcome and support anyone who wants to recover from substance abuse, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and to be flexible and creative in accommodating housing preferences based on gender identity. If you’re suffering from addiction and looking for a facility in Pennsylvania, admissions counselors at Mountain Laurel would be happy to talk to you about how they can help.