Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TJP Update

- by Stacey Prince

Over the summer and since the dissolving of the leadership council in May, I have had a lot of time to regroup and to think about the role of TJP in the community and in my own life. I have steadily found myself contemplating ending the project for a variety of reasons, primarily the following:

1) Since leadership council ended in May, I've been doing this solo. This was always a project I wanted to do in a group, in community - not in isolation, like so many of our other professional endeavors end up being. Yet many of the folks who I might think about asking to join me in leadership are deeply involved with other projects or endeavors and don't have the time or energy to add this on.

2) I'm not sure the project is serving the community in useful ways that are worth continuing. I base this on blog readership (which is steady but low) as well as the fact that so many of you are already doing great, social justice / anti-oppression based work in other groups and settings. It's not clear to me what additional value TJP brings beyond that.


3) I myself have been quite busy with other projects, primarily Beyond the Bridge which many of you know about, as well as consultation on a national project to bring effective couple therapy approaches to veterans.

In light of these and other factors, I have been leaning toward bringing TJP to a close - feeling as if, while it served its purpose for a time including bringing together many people who might otherwise not have met, perhaps it has lived its course. However, there is something about this project that I still find very compelling and am not quite ready to let go of. So, as a compromise between continuing as is and ending it altogether, I've decided to take a several month TJP vacation between now and the end of the year. This means I won't be posting blog articles, Facebook posts or organizing retreats. This break will both give me some time to finish up some other pressing projects and allow me to sit with what makes the most sense for me and for TJP.

What I am hoping is that, toward the end of the year or beginning of the new year, we can have a mini (maybe half-day) retreat in which any interested parties can check in with one another as a group, and see what there is energy for to work on in community. "Energy" might be as simple as getting together periodically to discuss the work we're doing and support one another, or it might be more involved than that. If, when we touch base, other folks are not able or interested in engaging with me as part of TJP, I will be able to put it down with peace in my heart, and continue to pursue this work in other ways. If there is energy to collaborate and move forward, that will be exciting and we will do so... until TJP and the needs of our group change yet again.

So, I wanted to let you all know why you won't be hearing from me (at least in TJP capacity) for the next few months. I hope this makes sense and of course welcome any thoughts or comments you might have. I know this network of now 150+ people is deeply committed to, and already engaged in, work toward positive social change and redressing social inequities. If there are ways that TJP as a community can continue to serve that overarching goal, then great. If not, it has certainly been a great pleasure and honor to have done what we have in the last 3 1/2 years.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Art and Social Justice

- by Stacey Prince

Picasso once said that “art is a lie that brings us nearer to the truth”. So true, but sometimes art also tells us the truth in ways that other media can’t. During my trip to Washington, DC this past week I had occasion to witness some difficult, beautiful, challenging, inspiring and visionary truths about social justice reflected through the visual arts. There are many ways to look at issues of social justice in the arts; for simplicity I will focus on the following three: inequities in the arts, social justice depicted through art, and art as social justice activism.

Inequities in the arts. While in DC I stumbled upon a lovely museum entitled the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I’ve been to DC many times, and yet have never heard about this wonderful museum, and I find it interesting that it has not been highlighted, or at least not prominently so, in guidebooks or local travel guides. Turns out it’s (from their website) “the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to recognizing the contributions of women artists”. Though it is on the small side compared with some of the gigantic Smithsonian collections, it’s a treasure trove consisting of both permanent collections and special exhibitions. Its history on the website explains that the museum was a direct outgrowth of discourse beginning in the 1960’s regarding the underrepresentation of women and artists of color in museum collections and major art exhibitions, with two female curators taking it upon themselves to begin remedying that, at least with regard to female artists.

During my visit I enjoyed viewing works in the permanent exhibit which consists of over 3,000 pieces by women artists from the 16th century to the present. While some of the 20th century artists (Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe) were quite recognizable, others, especially those from the 16th through 19th centuries, were new to me. As many of you may know, apart from brief eras of prominence, most women artists up until the 20th century received little recognition and were constricted in both their access to formal training and their subject matter. Take, for example, this quote from Marie-Elisabeth Boulanger Cave, a 19th century painter: “Woman must confine herself to those subjects which are allied to her sphere… children, animals, fruit, flowers, etc.” Nudes were out, as were large canvasses and abstract images. Even Georgia O’Keeffe, enjoying the relative freedoms of the early 20th century, observed the following: “One day seven years ago I found myself saying to myself–I can’t live where I want to–I can’t go where I want to go–I can’t do what I want to–I can’t even say what I want to–...I decided I was a very stupid fool not to at least paint as I wanted to. “

Unfortunately the stories of many artists of color follow a similar trajectory: difficulty obtaining education in the arts, underrepresentation in major collections and exhibits, and when they are shown, primarily being shown in separatist collections of African American art, Latin American art, Asian art, etc. See this article for an excellent discussion of exclusionary practices in the visual arts. The same is true in other media such as poetry and prose; see for example this 2007 report entitled Free Verse which found that less than 1% of published poets were Black or Asian.

What will it take for women, people of color, uneducated artists and other under-represented groups to be fully recognized and given equal opportunity by curators of major museums and exhibits, publicists, and other gatekeepers to the art world? Meanwhile, young people, aspiring artists and adults who are not members of dominant (white, male, owning class) groups will not see their experiences and artistic visions fully reflected in the major collections of art around the world. Although the revisionist approach of a “gallery of women in the arts,” “gallery of African-American art,” etc. is better than nothing, as is true in other areas of oppression separate is still not equal.

Struggles for social justice depicted in art. On another day, in another gallery - the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery - an exhibit entitled “The Struggle for Justice” blew me away. This permanent collection is filled with images (including paintings, photographs, and sculpture) depicting the struggle for social justice for many marginalized groups, focusing in particular on efforts to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism. Some of the images were familiar, even iconic - a contemplative Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, and a portrait of feminist and NOW founder Betty Freidan - while others depicted their message with a new vision, such as the beautiful painting of Eunice Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, with five special Olympians, all on a beach and gazing together toward the horizon. The image of Rosa Parks carved in wood (pictured at the top of this article) depicts her courageous and historic act of civil disobedience with power and substance. You can view the entire exhibit here, and this wonderful website also contains lesson plan suggestions for utilizing the exhibit as a teaching tool. Although not named as such, the gallery of Pulitzer Prize winning photographs at the Newseum was another place where social justice struggles were vividly depicted. Hundreds of historic moments captured on film in this collection include the Kent State massacre, a confrontation between Jewish settlers and Israeli security forces, and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Art as activism. So, back to the National Museum for Women in the Arts. Have you ever heard of the Guerilla Girls? These artists, performers and activists call attention to social inequities in the arts, especially racism and sexism, through posters, buttons, and public protests conducted while wearing gorilla masks. They deliver their message with disarming humor but also pointed anger and satire. Take, for example, this t-shirt entitled “The Advantages of Being a Woman Artist” which lists the following “advantages” (these are just excerpts - it’s a long list):

• Working without the pressure of success
• Not having to be in shows with men
• Having an escape from the art world in your 4 free-lance jobs
• Knowing your career might pick up after you’re eighty
• Being reassured that whatever kind of art you make it will be labeled feminine
• Having the opportunity to choose between career and motherhood
• Not having to undergo the embarrassment of being called a genius

Or this poster commentary on racist and sexist exclusion in the art world, which is entitled “3 white women, 1 woman of color and no men of color - out of 71 artists?” Directed to chief curator Margit Rowell of the Museum of Modern Art, it reads,

“Dear Margit,

We’re thrilled that you have managed to redefine the still life to exclude women and artists of color from the practice. Guerilla Girls thinks you should change the show’s title from ‘Objects of desire: The modern still life’ to ‘The objects of MOMA’s desire are still white males.’ Lotso luck, Guerilla Girls.”

Viewing their work in this gallery made me want to laugh (I did, out loud, several times), cry, and got me really, really mad, all at the same time. The list of actions they have taken in their 25 years of existence is incredible. Here is their website, in case you want to learn more.

There is so much to say about art and social justice, and I am just touching on these rich and complex issues. An excellent book delving into this topic is Art and politics now: Cultural activism in a time of crisis by art critic (and Seattle resident!) Susan Noyes Platt and available for purchase on her website. The book covers topics including racism, immigration reform, environmental crises, and opposition to war and examines the various ways that individual artists, collectives, curators and exhibitions participate in social commentary and political activism. For now I will just say that I was moved by my brief tour of social justice in the arts while in Washington, DC - saddened and angered by the deep inequities persisting in the art world, but also struck by the power of art to illuminate stories and issues of social justice. Many have written about the importance of engaging affect when doing work on oppression and privilege; art has the power bypass rationalization and higher cognitive functioning to deliver a deeply affective experience and show us the truth.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Poverty kills, but racism is the weapon

- by Stacey Prince

I am on a plane headed to the annual convention of the American Psychological Association, dubbed by fellow psychologist Laura Brown (who is also on my flight) “summer camp for psychologists”. A gathering of over 10,000 psychologists with diverse interests and careers from around the world, the event is usually stimulating and exciting, a shot in the arm to keep doing clinical work and advocacy, a chance to hear new viewpoints, learn new interventions, and socialize with friends and colleagues. This year the convention is being held in Washington, DC, which normally would also cause great excitement for me; I love the city’s history, museums, monuments, and buzzing sense of political life going on all around. But right now, like many Americans, I feel a huge sense of conflict, disappointment, and wariness about the workings of our government. The debt ceiling has just (literally, in the last 24 hours) been lifted, but the sigh of relief that accompanies this is small, offset by worries about the still impending possible cuts to basic lifelines such as supplemental Social Security income and Medicare, as well as by witnessing the bitter, polarized partisan debate that led to this unsatisfactory and temporary resolution to the budget crisis. Going to APA in Washington, DC brings together in one place, in one weekend, three things I am passionate about and deeply committed to: psychology, social justice, and political activism. Yet this year, instead of excitement, I feel wary, weary, angry and, to bring a psychological term to bear, some learned helplessness about our country, where we’ve been and where we are going. Here are some of the pieces that go into that unsettling mix.

1) The gap between the super rich and the poor and middle class is more extreme than it’s been in almost a century. The richest 1% of Americans earn nearly 25% of the country’s income and control a whopping 40% of its wealth. Meanwhile, with unemployment at 9% for the population overall the partisan budget debate has threatened to cut some of the most basic safety net programs that help keep the nation’s most vulnerable, including the poor, the elderly, people with disabilities and the unemployed, afloat. Although some of those programs were spared during this go-around, the threat of draconian cuts still looms ahead during the November “super committee” negotiations. Was this just a postponement of the inevitable?

2) The resource gap is even more pronounced for people of color, and cuts that have taken place and may take place in the future also disproportionately impact people of color. In contrast to the national unemployment rate of 9 percent, joblessness for Black Americans stands at over 16 percent. Earlier this week, a New York Times article reported that in 2009, the median wealth of whites was 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, differences that represents the largest racial wealth disparities in the 25 years that the Census bureau has been collecting the data.”

3) Once an individual becomes unemployed, it is more difficult than ever to get rehired. For example, this article describes an investigation into systematic discrimination against unemployed job seekers that was called for by members of Congress and conducted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The message “the unemployed need not apply” is at times explicitly stated on job announcements, and even when it’s not, many job seekers report verbal rejection after a recruiter or employer earns they are currently unemployed.

4) Employment barriers for people of color who are jobless are even higher. Black and Latino workers are typically the first fired in an economic downturn. White high school dropouts are twice as likely to find work as similarly uneducated black men, and even college-educated black Americans are far more likely to be unemployed than their white peers. Also, since African-Americans, older workers (especially women), and disabled workers have higher rates of unemployment during this downturn, discriminating against unemployed people likely hits these groups particularly hard. So much so, in fact, that the same EEOC panel that is investigating discrimination against the unemployed has also been tasked with investigating whether this discrimination is illegal because it disproportionately targets people of color and other groups that are specifically protected by antidiscrimination laws.

5) A report by UBS economist Paul Donovan indicates that there is a strong correlation between social inclusion, healthy competitiveness and economic development. On the flip side, his report also indicates that a prejudicial society is more likely to have difficulty recovering from economic hardship than one that is non-discriminatory and equally empowering to all of its citizens. He argued that "A prejudicial society is likely to deny its labor, its workforce, the potential to develop – access to education, access to jobs" and that “prejudice, in whatever form – including racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance – irrationally destroys the value of human capital." What would happen, he asks, if someone whose mind holds the answer to one of the biggest problems facing the human race, such as climate change, energy efficiency or food productivity, was denied the ability to develop due to his or her ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation? This is just one example of the many, many ways in which prejudice hinders the enhancement of human capital. Of course there are daily, less dramatic examples in the lives of people who are denied equal access to education, wealth accruement, housing, employment, and other resources required to survive and thrive.

6) That distinction between surviving and thriving is an important one. What we are talking about here is not just the inability to achieve a comfortable, middle class existence, but about people in disenfranchised groups dying, whether by ill health or suicide, at disproportionately higher rates, and as a result of poverty and joblessness. Here are two powerful articles, the first on the relationship between poverty and other social conditions and US health related deaths, and the second linking poverty to suicides. The first study found that poverty, low levels of education, poor social support, health insurance status, experiencing racism and discrimination, and other social factors account for about as many deaths in the US as heart attacks, strokes, and lung cancer combined. The investigators provide estimated number of annual deaths attributable to each social cause, but note that these numbers were likely an underestimation as they did not account for the compounding effects of numerous factors (low education plus racism plus low social support, for example). The second study indicates that suicide rates increase during times of economic hardship, with several likely mediating variables including unemployment, personal financial stress, and previous suicide risk. This relationship is true not just in the US, but also has been observed in other countries including Greece, England and Japan, as well as in Europe, but I do not know whether the underlying racial disparities that contribute to unemployment and suicide risk are similar in those countries.

7) Despite all of the evidence regarding systemic oppression at every level including education, employment, healthcare, wealth accrual, the criminal justice system, etc. etc., the myth of meritocracy is still being touted by some. For example, Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern recently stated that “it's character that ought to count, not whether you're white or black... it should be your willingness to say, 'I'm going to become everything I can become’.” Kern was blithely promoting the myth of meritocracy, or its flip side, the “culture of poverty”. This argument, often used by conservative politicians to justify cuts to social program spending such as food stamps, maintains that poverty in communities of color is due not to systemic oppression or economic factors, but to a deeply rooted intrapersonal flaw that holds them back. They are simply not working hard enough, the myth goes, and/or are too dependent on governmental assistance to be motivated to succeed. This article soundly debunks the myth, yet it prevails in both media and government discussions, including in the recent pernicious budget debate.

8) Meanwhile, as the poor (and in particular poor people of color) continue to get poorer, the rich keep getting richer. Top executive salaries soared in the last two years (article), a 23% gain since 2009, while the average American’s wages went up just 0.5 percent from 2010 to 2011 (which, after correcting for inflation, means that average American is actually earning less than the previous year). Just to make this picture a little bigger (and worse), this article indicates that, unlike previous times in history, at this juncture economic recovery is not adding up to job growth. So, while CEO’s and some companies are starting to show signs of recovery, job growth- and hence financial health for the majority of Americans - is not following suit.

What is one to do with all of this depressing news? In particular, as a psychologist, I am wondering what I can do about it? Perhaps you are wondering the same thing. I have just a few ideas, and they feel small in the face of the overwhelming difficulties our country is facing. When working with clients, it is crucial for us to try to assist them in making accurate attributions about experiences they may be having. People who are unemployed struggle with feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy, difficulty fulfilling roles (as father, mother, provider) as well as the stress associated with financial hardship. Help broaden their lens of analysis to look at the bigger picture, including how ethnicity and other social group memberships play into disparities in education, employment, and wealth accrual. Whether working with people of color or white individuals, articles on slow job growth, unemployment rates, and discrimination against the jobless can be helpful. This is not to make clients feel hopeless; quite the contrary, this broader ecological perspective can help them feel hopeful that this situation they find themselves in is not their fault. If we simply tell people to try harder, we are promoting the myth of meritocracy ourselves. Give at least some of your time to pro bono or low fee services. Join a group or listserv to stay informed (the Psychologists for Social Responsibility Poverty and Inequality Project is one such group). If you are an educator, help find ways your department can make higher education more accessible and affordable to more students; also help your students become aware and involved in community issues such as poverty, homelessness and oppression. If you have other ideas, I welcome your comments here, and if I am inspired by other ideas as I attend the APA convention in our nation’s capitol this weekend, I too will post them.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Coming Out to Students: Risk and Liberation

- by Deborah Schwartz

This chapter explores the liberatory power of coming out, but also its risks. It may be of most interest to therapists and educators, as we grapple with decisions about self-disclosure in general, and regarding social group memberships that are associated with privilege and oppression in particular. Although the chapter focuses on disclosure of sexual orientation, the concepts it explores are equally applicable across a variety of memberships, particularly those that may not be immediately visible to others such as hidden disabilities, religion, class, etc. Also, while the coming out dilemma can feel especially tricky in hierarchical power relationships (therapist with client, teacher with students, etc.) this piece may also appeal to anyone who is faced with the choice to disclose or not.

The chapter was authored by a dear high school friend of mine. Interestingly, we did not disclose our sexual orientations to one another until years after high school - me because I was not out to myself yet, and Deborah because she was at the beginning of her identity development as a lesbian and was not out to her peers. Our reconnection in adulthood, including our connection as queer identified Jewish women, has been a blessing. This chapter will appear in the book "Our Stories Ourselves: the Embodyment of Women's Literacy" which will be available for purchase at It is preprinted here with permission.


When I taught adult basic education at the Archdale Family Literacy Project in Roslindale, Massachusetts, I kept a journal. More precisely, we—the ten women students and myself— all kept journals. Our medium was stacks and stacks of green steno-pads. In them, we tried to tell the truth about our lives, though the students started noticing gaps in my story. They challenged me not to hide myself from them. Following are several edited entries from my own journal, which tell the story of coming out to my students. Most are from my experience with this class, but I also included two entries from two other classes I taught concurrently.

March 3

They are writing frantically in their journals. S writes about driving the rats out of her apartment. C writes about playing her music as loudly as she likes. L writes about her grandmother— about living with her in the mountains and drinking her coffee so black that it stings her eyes before she swallows.

When J reads, she interrupts herself to tell us that she’s getting evicted because her oldest son Tom came home with some guy named Eddie who lit a joint in the hall then walked into her apartment with the lit joint and now the housing authority has the right to evict them.

C responds, “Even in this lousy project, you still have some rights.” She is on her feet: “Do you know how often they’ve threatened to evict me? Just for playing my music after church on Sunday afternoon?”

C is smart and community-minded. She has set up this protocol of letting the neighbors know when she’s going to be playing loud music. Half the time, they say it’s fine and half of those times she invites them over because “it’s no fun to dance alone,” and the other half of the time, she shares chicken with them and then they change their minds, and half of the time they end up watching TV together. “All those halves don’t add up,” B notices.

“They add up,” responds C. “Believe me, they add up.” Everyone laughs. The classroom is a world of words and stories and noise and quiet while we’re writing.

We have authority over our lives for this brief time. The crocus doesn’t just come up in the spring, but has the purple-colored chutzpah to bloom through the hard, cold earth. These women are like that. They give me bravery, but what do I give them? Room, that’s all.

April 23

“Read what you wrote, Deborah. You always make us read what we wrote,” J notices that I skip passages when it’s my turn to read. I remind her that its ok to skip passages, or to not even read at all.

“But Deborah, you never tell us anything about your life, or at least anything good,” which I know is a code word for anything interesting.

“Well nothing all that interesting happens in my life,” I counter.

“Are you kidding?” replies C. “You come in here some mornings and you look like a train hit you. You and your double latte! Then some days you come in looking like a shining star. You have a life too, just cause you’re a teacher doesn’t mean you can hide behind that. Jesus, you know what color each of our bedroom walls is painted. We don’t know anything about you. Nothing that counts anyway. You take a risk, Missy, and read!” That’s what C says.

To read entire post, click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A New Idea for the Gaza Flotilla

- by Yvette Nahmia-Messinas

I met poet, peace worker, Reiki master and Israeli resident Yvette Nahmia-Messinas at a conference a couple of years ago, and was inspired by her creative approaches to peace building in the Middle East. She authored the collection of poems entitled “They All Sound Like Love Songs, Women Healing Israeli-Palestinian Relations" and has contributed to this blog several times before. Last week activists from around the world set out on a flotilla in an attempt to break the blockade of the Gaza strip and deliver humanitarian supplies. Two boats were turned back. Last year similar confrontations between activist flotillas and the military in the Gaza sea resulted in violence and fatalities. In this article, Yvette describes her idea of what an affective flotilla would look like. This piece was originally published on, and is reposted with permission.

In the best scenario, the flotillas could serve as a place to let go of the old paradigm of the strong wins; of winners and losers. In that scenario, the flotillas could launch a new way of doing things, for internationals, Palestinians and Israelis. Ideally, I would like to see the flotillas as seminar spaces in the middle of the sea, where Israelis-Palestinians and internationals could negotiate their fate until they formed a consensus. In that scenario the flotillas would not reach Gaza unless all involved Israelis, Palestinians and internationals reached an agreement.

I am inspired to suggest this model after a day I spent in Beit Jala’s Everest hotel as a participant in a process-oriented psychology seminar co-led by Gary Reiss and Vassiliki Katrivanou. At the seminar of 20 participants, Gary and Vassiliki taught me that when you bring up your discomfort and honestly express and share your feelings, and allow for others to do the same, you can eventually reach understanding and agreement. The process takes time, but is indeed worth the effort.

In this ideal scenario, I would have many facilitators work in parallel with all three groups, the passengers on the boats, the Israelis in charge of controlling the entrance of the flotillas, and the Palestinians in Gaza.

I would keep the flotillas at sea, and have Israelis and Palestinians meet together in the flotillas, along with the internationals, in a safe space where they could each express their pain, anguish, fears, and whatever comes up for them. At some point when everyone’s concern would be addressed the group would agree on the next step. And step by step they would reach a solution agreed by all.

In the course of this process, people involved would realize the humanity of all, would come to understand each other’s fears and pains, would cry and tremble and sweat and blush, and eventually understand each other’s positions in a tangible manner. In the end all would agree on some basic values, or on a policy that all could live with, and come up with creative ideas as to which boats can enter Gaza, or what the precondition is for them to enter and so on.

The point I am making is that the issue is currently dealt with by politicians, army officers, activists, and citizens who despite their good intentions are not managing to find a solution based on consensus. To my mind, we need to call in experts in group process work, in group dynamics, in conflict resolution, in healing: those who already have experience in solving conflicts in organizations and communities. These people exist; they are out there doing amazing work from which we could all benefit.

I call on politicians, activists, and army officers to recognize their limitations and call forth help from the experts in the field. I am sure dozens of them are craving to put their knowledge into practice and contribute their understanding and experience to help reach consensus by reaching out to all involved parties. Each voice, they tell us, counts, and this is something that most of us have forgotten.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


- By Teri Mayo

In November of 2011 my partner Teri Mayo and I founded an organization called Beyond the Bridge, whose vision is to bring awareness to and reduce the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. In January 2011 we joined with the Pride Foundation to create an area of interest fund, to support local organizations who do critical work with LGBTQ youth, focusing in particular on reducing bullying in schools, increasing family acceptance, and building more affirmative faith communities. On June 25, 2011 we held our first house party, and it was a day filled with connection, somber remembrance of lives lost, and inspired visioning of the future. Teri gave this beautiful speech which I wanted to share here, because it speaks to so many of the issues that are of concern to TJP readers, including allyship, resisting oppression, and activism. She focuses on the theme of choice, and the many ways that plays out in people’s lives: for example, the choice to bully (or not), the choice to ally with someone who is being bullied (or be a passive bystander), and the choice to take action via community engagement, activism, and advocacy (or not). I hope you enjoy it.

There is a beautiful song out now by the popular group Mumford and Sons called "Timshel." I've liked the song since I first heard it but it struck me that the meaning of that word was a perfect synthesis of all that we are doing here with Beyond The Bridge- both today at this gathering and in the larger sense with our cause.

Timshel is a Hebrew word, loosely translated as "Thou Mayest." There are many ways to interpret and discuss this word but here is the very abbreviated version. It is from Genesis in the Old Testament and refers to God's granting man knowledge and choice (as opposed to living a pre-ordained life). We were given the choice in that moment but with that gift of knowledge comes responsibility: the individual responsibility to do the right thing. Many describe that moment as the invention of conscience.
It seemed appropriate here because choice - the right choice - is what we are hoping to affect with Beyond The Bridge, in small and large ways. Including the choice for us as individuals in this moment at this party.

With Beyond The Bridge we hope that with by funding various, specific programs we will be able to give more knowledge to those who need it. And in doing so, that we can affect choices made by individuals, teachers, schools, congregations, and communities at large. With the addition of support and a newfound sense of community, perhaps people will make a different choice. Timshel. Perhaps they make the choice not to bully. Perhaps they make the choice to stand up for a classmate who is getting harassed despite the risks to themselves. Maybe a teacher intervenes instead of letting covert homophobia stand or comments go unchecked. A pastor decides to take a stand in favor of love and against institutionalized marginalization. Maybe, with the right education and with a new understanding of options previously unknown to them, an LGBTQ youth makes the decision to live. These are choices. And like the line in the song says, these are what make men (and women) great.

It may be a cliché to say this but it’s true: if what we do protects or affects one queer kid, then we have succeeded. My sense is that we will largely never know the impact that our effort has. But we must still make the choice to try and affect change. Too many lives are lost or harmed if we do nothing.

Which brings me to this moment. Our choice. Many of you have already given to this cause and we cannot thank you enough. But here is a moment to do more. If you understand, relate, are drawn to what we have talked about here, then make the choice that resonates with your conscience and contribute again. Whatever you are able to give makes a difference. If you have not donated, this is your opportunity to help us along on this long and difficult path.

This journey, sadly, will likely not end in our lifetime, but we can make the choice to do everything we can to help. Today is just a step on the journey but it is our moment. If I could say one thing to all of the kids out there struggling with acceptance, who are being bullied and who are scared, I will reference the song one more time and say: "You are not alone in this."

To find out more about Beyond the Bridge please visit our website,

Monday, July 4, 2011

Whose Independence?

- by Stacey Prince

OK, I like the 4th of July as much as the next person - especially when Seattle breaks its multi-year streak of crummy weather and is actually sunny and warm for the holiday. Cook-outs, fireworks, a day off from work... what's not to like? But my relationship to the meaning and history of the day is much more ambivalent. It's difficult to wholeheartedly celebrate freedom and independence when so many in this country are neither. Here are just a few examples:

Immigration. It is believed that there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. They deal with daily barriers to independence and security including language and cultural barriers, anti-immigrant hostility, being denied employment and housing, as well as pervasive fear of being discovered, detained and/or deported. Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas recently disclosed his undocumented status in a powerful story in the New York Times and is trying to bring increased attention and national debate to address our country's broken immigration system.

Transgender Rights. There are daily advances in the rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. It may feel like one step forward, one step back much of the time, and we still have a long, long way to go, but overall the trajectory is toward improved protections, freedom and equality. The civil rights struggle for transgender individuals however flags behind by about 2 to 3 decades. Transgender individuals are still some of the least protected and most discriminated against people in this country. They are regularly let go from jobs, evicted from housing, and denied medical treatment, as well as facing transphobia and violence, with little legal recourse. This article summarizes the ongoing struggle for transgender rights.

Racism in our country is still the most divisive of all the isms, with pervasive, systemic discrimination experienced by people of color in virtually every facet of life including employment, education, access to health and mental health care, financial security, and the criminal justice system. Further, there are not only stark between-groups but also within-groups differences in racially biased discrimination. For example, this recent study compared sentences and length served for over 12,000 light skinned versus dark skinned black women imprisoned in North Carolina between 1995 and 2009. The authors controlled for factors such as prior record, date of conviction, prison misconduct, and thinness, as well as whether the woman was convicted of homicide or robbery since these crimes usually carry longer sentences. Results indicated that women deemed to have light skin were sentenced to approximately 12% less time behind bars than their darker skinned counterparts, and that having light skin reduced actual time served by approximately 11%. The authors concluded that it is not sufficient to understand racial discrimination just in terms of relative advantages of whites versus to non-whites. Based on this study, characteristics associated with whiteness among Blacks also appear to have a significant impact on important life outcomes. These and other findings indicate that this subtle form of racism known as colorism (discrimination experienced within groups of color based on lightness or darkness of skin) is also a serious problem in our country.

Native Americans. European colonization of North America forever changed the lives, well-being, and cultures of the many indigenous peoples who lived here for thousands of years, long before the settlers who would later declare independence from Britain every arrived. The Native people whose land was taken and culture silenced by colonial settlers continue to experience disproportionately high rates of social, economic, and health inequities. The country's 2.1 million Native Americans have the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, and illness of any ethnic group. Interestingly, many Native American individuals and tribes have a complex and conflictual relationship with this holiday. Some tribes have decided to stop observing the holiday altogether, in recognition of the fact that so many tribal people were killed and villages destroyed as they were "in the way" of the new country that was being celebrated on this day. On many reservations it was one of the few holidays chosen by the government (but not meaningful to the tribe) when tribal people were allowed to perform traditional dances and drumming. This made it appear that Native Americans were celebrating Independence Day, when in fact they were not. Over time, however, some tribes have reclaimed the day and it has become one of cultural celebration (rather than a celebration of "independence" and patriotism) for many. This article explores the complex relationship to the holiday for some tribal reservation residents.

Economic Injustice. Where is the security and prosperity that were supposed to underlie our freedom and were spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, the document whose writing we commemorate on July 4th? It seems it has never been more true than now that as the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Thirty-nine million people live in poverty in the United States, and as this article indicates, financial growth and job growth are no longer tied. What this means is that while corporate profits continue to accrue, more and more Americans are jobless, and employment lags behind growth during both economic boons and downturns. As the article so succinctly points out, given that those who benefit from corporate growth represent a tiny proportion of the population, "it's not economic growth most Americans are looking for -- it's jobs."

So, here we are celebrating Independence Day. Several recent newspaper articles including this one indicate that patriotism is at a new high this year, with some speculating that this might be related to the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. Yet with almost 13% of our country's residents overall and 25% of the Native American population living in poverty, 11 million undocumented immigrants, nearly half of our population non-white and experiencing personal and systemic racism, mass incarceration of Black youth and adults, 8 million identifying openly as gay or lesbian, and 700,000 as transgender, whose life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are we celebrating anyway?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Friends in Internet Places

- by Stacey Prince

You know when you are doing something different or new, or you're a little uncertain of your direction, how validating it can be to learn that there are other people out there who have similar ideas? Thanks to the world wide web, this has happened to me recently in a multitude of ways, connecting me to individuals and organizations whose work mirrors and bolsters my own and gives me the encouragement to continue. I wanted to highlight some of those connections here:

1) Heather Greene, Justice Centered Social Work. Heather is an MSW in Portland, Oregon, who is committed to anti-oppressive, social justice oriented social work practice. Her website outlines her intentions and philosophy of justice centered practice and supervision, and I especially appreciate her voicing of the struggle to do this work in the context of institutions and systems that can and often do perpetuate systemic oppression. Her blog, the Social Work Activist Reader, was recently begun and is intended to be a forum for exploring practice through a justice lens. She also will soon launch an online zine with a similar focus. We have begun to correspond and her passions, vision and interests overlap considerably with mine for TJP. I hope the future will bring opportunities for us to connect not just electronically but face to face!

2) Manivong Ratts, Washington Counselors for Social Justice. I have been hearing about Vong for several months from mutual friends and colleagues, who have told me we should get together to discuss our two organizations and their overlap. He has been active in the national organization Counselors for Social Justice, and is currently President of the Washington chapter. In one of those weird, small world things that make you go hmm, it turns out he works right across the street from me, as program director of the school counseling department at Seattle University! So far we are internet friends only, but we are working on a get-together soon. From their website, WCSJ is "a community of counselors, counselor educators, graduate students, and school and community leaders who seek equity and an end to oppression and injustice affecting clients, students, counselors, families, communities, schools, workplaces, governments, and other social and institutional systems." Strategies include implementing social actions, disseminating scholarship on the impact of socioeconomic inequities, maintaining an active online and in person support network, and providing social justice focused professional development activities. Sound familiar? I was so inspired to learn of this parallel organization whose commitment, vision and strategies sound so much like TJP's. I am also excited about the possibilities for allyship and connection with Heather, Vong, and other practitioners in the Northwest who share a commitment to incorporating social justice, anti-oppression, and liberatory strategies into our work, possibly at a future TJP retreat.

Venturing now both beyond the Pacific Northwest and outside the world of mental health:

3) Josh Freeman, Medicine and Social Justice. Dr. Freeman is chair of the department of family medicine at University of Kansas Medical Center. I really like this guy's blog! He writes on topics such as the following: healthcare reform, insurance companies profiting while patient care quality decreases, perceptions and realities of economic inequity, professional disincentives to providing care to underserved populations, and financial conflicts of interest impacting physicians' choice of treatment approach and the veracity of research findings. While not speaking to mental health practice directly, so many of these issues are prevalent in the mental health professions that I think it is a great read for those of us interested in the intersections of social justice and mental health.

And finally, here is a way that the internet has made the world seem REALLY small and has connected me with someone whose work is so similar, and yet so very different...

4) A few months back I received an email from a Pastor named Martin Nzabanita. Martin is the leader of a ministry named Beyond the Bridge that serves countries in central Africa. His congregation has both religious and social foci: in addition to an active Christian ministry he works with street children, orphans, the homeless and impoverished, prostitutes, victims of rape, and individuals with substance abuse in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the DRC, and trains other pastors to do the same. He found me because I also run an organization called Beyond the Bridge (, whose focus is to raise funds to support organizations that work with LGBTQ youth to reduce suicide risk, prevent bullying, and increase acceptance in schools, families, and faith communities. A friend in the US was helping Martin set up a web page for his ministry, and they were both surprised to find another group with the same name. Martin emailed and asked me about my "ministry," and when I explained to him that in fact we were not a ministry but a community organization with a focus on LGBTQ youth, frankly I expected rejection. Instead, he was warm and accepting, and what has transpired since has been a remarkable, fascinating dialogue that has built bridges in ways that I did not think possible: across vast differences in philosophy and approach and religious belief, across huge cultural differences, and of course across the many miles and continents between Seattle and central Africa. As Martin describes it, he works with people who have been the victims of hatred, exclusion, tribalism, ignorance, and the mismanagement of African institutions. He describes himself as not being "in the prison of religious barriers," and in fact I have found his responses to my inquiries about the challenges faced by gay and lesbian people in central Africa to be unconstrained by the usual homophobic, rejecting rhetoric that so many of us have experienced or been harmed by when trying to interact with fundamentalist Christians. I believe this dialogue has been healing and growth producing for both of us: I am learning that my kneejerk reaction to evangelical Christians is sometimes unfounded. In turn, I am sharing with Martin about the concerns and needs of LGBTQ individuals, the human rights violations that take place in many countries in Africa and around the globe, and the need to address these social inequities not just with prayer, but also with public education and policy change.

Community is one antidote to feeling isolated and lost, and one of my primary goals in forming TJP was to build local community; now I am also grateful to the internet and a good dose of kismet that is bringing me together with others in the global community who are doing similar work.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


- by Stacey Prince

I learned this beautiful word today while reading the book Cutting for Stone (which, by the way, is a great read so far). In addition to having a lovely sound, like a sea creature or a generative biological process of some kind, anamnesis (from the Greek word for “remembrance”) has the following three interesting and varied definitions:

• The remembering of things from a supposed previous existence,
• A patient’s account of a medical history, and
• The part of the Eucharist in which the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ are recalled.

Wow! A recollection, a patient’s self-reported medical history, and a Catholic sacrament all in one! What fascinating word. What it got me thinking about, though, was particularly the middle definition, “a patient’s account of a medical history”. Think about how important that is to all of us who are healers and providers of health care. Whether you are a massage therapist, an internal medicine specialist, or a psychotherapist, careful collecting of the patient’s medical history is critical both to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment planning. In Cutting for Stone the physician narrating the story recalls the words of her professor: “Milk the history! Exactly when and exactly how did it start? Onset is everything! In the anamnesis is the diagnosis!”

So, in the anamnesis is the diagnosis. Yet now think about how incredibly culture-bound this taking of the patient’s history is. Whether you are patient or caregiver, what you look for in tracing the origins and history of your pain, your symptoms, your distress is bound by what you have been taught to look for, what likely etiologies and processes and mechanisms your cultural context has provided you with. In your search for an explanation, you include some pieces of information and exclude others based on these cultural boundaries. A great example of this is the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, in which a young Hmong woman born in the US shortly after her family’s immigration is thought to have epilepsy and to need medication or surgery by her Western physicians, while members of her family believe she is possessed by spirits and needs shamanistic intervention and sacrifices. Told with compassion and balance, the author depicts the struggle to define her illness which leads to disastrous consequences as she is denied the benefit of both perspectives.

Now, think about how social justice and inequities come into play. Who defines the cultural boundaries, who gets to determine what is normal, what is pathological, what causes distress? Primarily those who hold privilege and are members of dominant groups. Those who hold this fearsome power differ by culture, of course, but in Western culture they are primarily highly educated with advanced degrees, often male, often White, and almost always owning class. While members of an individual’s community may have their own set of explanations for illness or distress, if they are not in power their explanations of their own or their family member’s illness may not prevail and will have little bearing on diagnosis and treatment of the individual in question.

So, here is a place where social justice and healing come together in ways that have profound and lasting impacts for individuals. Look at how the course of a person’s life can be altered by the ways that their medical histories are defined by those in power. A recent series on CNN explored reparative or conversion therapy, efforts (usually through aversive behavioral means) to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual. In “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” Anderson Cooper explores the history of such efforts to change sexual orientation. He focuses on the tragic story of one individual treated with conversion therapy as a youth by George Rekers, one of the leading proponents of conversion therapy. Initially deemed a “success” by Rekers, this young man by all reports led a terribly unhappy life and then committed suicide at age 38. His family members firmly believe that conversion therapy, which included both verbal and physical punishment for feminine behavior, was to blame.

Imagine such a patient’s anamnesis. He might tell you that he is unhappy and depressed because he is gay. This is what he has been told – by his church, the media, his family, and his doctor. In this cultural context he likely would be unable to recognize that there is a confounding variable, homophobia (and its internalized version), that might better explain both his own low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and depressive symptoms and other peoples’ opinions about him. Seeking treatment, he might then feel hopeless and suicidal because the treatment failed to change him. Ultimately, this internalizing, self-blaming anamnesis leads him to see no alternative but to take his life. How many young men and women have similar stories?

How could this narrative be different? Certainly the patient’s own anamnesis would need to be different. I see this process often in therapy, as my clients who struggle with substance abuse, social anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness begin to relate their symptoms to rejection by family or church, harassment, and constantly feeling the need to hide their identity and their relationships. A light bulb goes off, and suddenly there is a chance for hope, where before there was despair.

But even more than that, the cultural definition of homosexuality as an illness, a problem, and a deviation from the norm would need to change. Because even if a client’s anamnesis is transformed – even if he is able to say to his treatment providers, hey, I’m absolutely fine with being gay, it’s other people’s homophobia that’s causing my distress, that won’t be enough if his providers have a different story. Unfortunately, some practitioners continue to use conversion therapy despite the preponderance of evidence indicating that such treatment has little lasting effect on sexual orientation and can cause depression, anxiety, and suicidality, and despite the fact that numerous professional organizations including the American Psychological Association have deemed it unethical and harmful. Even among those practitioners who do not practice this abusive and overtly heterosexist form of therapy, biases and microaggressions based on sexual orientation still take place all too often (see for example my recent blog article reviewing research on this topic). Problem is, these same institutions of power that are now deeming conversion therapy and sexual orientation microaggressions unethical only stopped defining homosexuality as a mental illness a short 38 years ago.

Now a new but painfully familiar battle is being fought over the definition of acceptable gender identities. In our strict Western binary in which only “male” and “female” are acceptable categories, individuals who define themselves as both, or neither, or whose internal gender experience does not match their biological sex and who decide to transition, are still deemed by many to be deviant. They often cannot even receive treatment without receiving a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” (previous TJP blog article Transcending Diagnoses provides more information about the struggle to change this diagnosis and its criteria in the next version of the DSM; see also this recent article from The Bilerico Project in which the proposed DSM-V diagnosis “Gender Dysphoria” is discussed.) Yet how culture bound this is! This map shows the many places around the globe where gender is not constricted by the binary, where genders other than male and female are honored and not pathologized. This interactive map is fascinating and full of information; I hope you’ll take a look. Yet these individuals and cultures are generally not at the table when the folks in charge determine Western definitions of “normal,” so transgender individuals in our country are still harassed, discriminated against, and denied crucial medical and social services. The third segment of “The Sissy Boy Experiment” draws a clear parallel between conversion therapy and efforts to change gender identity in children who exhibit cross-gender behaviors.

While I have been focusing on sexual orientation and gender identity, an individual’s anamnesis is similarly impacted, interpreted and distorted when we look at ethnicity. What is defined as normal is largely defined by White, middle class, Western, Eurocentric men. So, for example, being emotionally expressive, relationally focused, and angry are all deemed unhealthy, while being logical, autonomous, calm and detached are seen as normative. It infuriated me when on a recent episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” a Black krumper who was clearly at the top of his game but expressed a lot of anger (both in his words and in his dance) was sent home, while another Black break dancer who in my humble opinion was no more talented or proficient in his style was sent through to the next round of competition. The latter young man was smiling, humble, a little obsequious, and deemed “adorable” by the judges, while the former was reprimanded for his arrogance and “frustration”. Not only was this a great example of the ways that personal discrimination can lead to systematic access to or denial of resources, since being on this show and advancing to later stages of the competition can lead to jobs and opportunities, but it also seemed to indicate a lack of understanding (or denial?) by the judges regarding the style of dance, krumping, demonstrated with great proficiency by the first dancer. Krumping IS about anger – at injustice, at racism, at systemic oppression. It’s a street dance giving the dancer a way to express anger, rage and frustration in a non-violent way. So to critique a krumper for being angry is, well, sort of missing the point. Also notable on this particular evening was the fact that the judging panel that night was all white; I wished there was one person of color, or one white ally, to argue with the head judge (a white, British, middle aged male executive producer) in favor of keeping the krumper for another round.

So in the end, I guess I agree with the quote from Cutting for Stone, but only with a big IF. “In the anamnesis is the diagnosis” - but only IF both the teller and listener are not bound by culturally prescribed definitions of health. Otherwise, the definitions of the dominant paradigm will prevail.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Ben Cohen tour: Mixed messages from a straight ally

- by Stacey Prince

International Rugby star Ben Cohen recently announced his retirement, and is now becoming well-known for an entirely different reason: he has dedicated himself to eradicating homophobia and bullying in sports, and has started a foundation (The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation) dedicated to this cause. As the first straight athlete to do so, he is garnering lots of press and admiration; see for example this recent article in the New York Times in which he is profiled along with US wrestler Hudson Taylor who has devoted himself to the same issue. On Friday, May 27 Ben came to UW as part of his Foundation’s inaugural tour, and appeared at a Town Hall meeting at the University of Washington. On the panel with him were UW Center for Leadership in Athletics Professor Jennifer Hoffman, Associate Athletic Director Shannon Kelly, and David Kopay, who came out in the 1970’s shortly after retiring from the NFL, becoming the first professional male athlete in the Big 3 (football, baseball and basketball) to do so. The event was moderated by the amazing Jennifer Self, coordinator of UW's Q Center (a center for support, resources, advocacy and mentoring for LGBTQ students), who added a feminist, queer and anti-oppressive analysis as well as good humor to the event.

I was excited to attend, as I have a strong focus in my own work on reducing homophobia in general, and bullying in particular. But as the conversation unfolded, I found myself becoming uncomfortable with some of the messages that were being conveyed, and also maybe more importantly, with what wasn’t being said. I thought it might be helpful to try and unpack some of my reactions here.

First, I of course thought that it was fantastic that this conversation about homophobia in sports (and in general) was happening, and that it was happening in this particular setting, a large, mainstream state university with prominent sports teams and programs. Many on the panel (particularly former NFL star David Kopay, for whom the progress is likely especially salient since he came out some 30 years ago) commented on how much progress has been made toward acceptance of LGBTQ individuals. The sensation I had was one that I often have at such events: marveling at how far we’ve come, but also how far we haven’t. For example, the fact that people locally and globally are so excited about Ben Cohen’s foundation is because he is unique: the first straight male athlete to take a stand to end homophobia in sports. The fact that it’s 2011 and he is the first shows how far we haven’t come, and makes me sad.

Further, he is often admired for taking a stand on this particular issue, which is not a "straight person’s issue," and asked why he does so. Why would a successful, popular straight athlete decide to work on homophobia? This makes him a hero. This, too, makes me sad – because homophobia is a straight person’s issue in the same way that racism is a white person’s issue – it’s just that we see the marginalized group members (gay men and lesbians, people of color) fighting for their own issues so much more often. The fact that he is such a dedicated heterosexual ally is something to be celebrated, certainly; the fact that it is so unusual that he is revered as a hero is sad.

The next area I was concerned about was his message to kids. I know he wants to be a role model for students in high school and college, but he is in a very different boat than most. As a highly successful, widely respected world class athlete, he has little to lose by taking this stand. As he says in the NYT article, “I can say something and it can be so little to me, but it can be so powerful for tens of thousands of people." But what about high school kids? At a time when peer pressure is at its height, and gender conforming behaviors are valued, a straight kid who allies himself with a gay peer runs the risk of being bullied himself. Part of what makes me cry nearly every week when watching the TV show Glee is how touching it is to see those straight kids stand up for their gay friend Kurt – yet this is a fantasy world which does not approach reality for many, many gay high school students. I think it’s fantastic that some kids will see Ben Cohen’s website or hear him talk and will be inspired to take a stand against homophobia, but we need so much more than this – for example, comprehensive anti-bullying programs in schools, real sanctions for when bullying does occur, and parents supporting their kids’ acceptance of gay peers – before kids are going to stop torturing other kids and driving them to depression, isolation and suicide.

Another part of Ben’s message I felt uncomfortable with was a refrain that he repeated often in different forms that went something like this: “when so-and-so came out it was so not a big deal, because he is such a stellar athlete”. This sounded to me a lot like what some of my therapy clients who are men and women of color call the “black tax” – the idea that, in order to be accepted, they have to work extra hard, perform extra well, and be super successful. Ben’s message that stellar athletes will be accepted rang of the “gay tax,” and also suggested that what was happening in these cases was more of an overlooking of the person’s sexual orientation, due to their athletic prowess, rather than true acceptance. A comment from an audience member that the gay rights movement just needed some top athletes to “come out and act normal” didn’t help matters. The conclusion seemed to be if you come out but you're really good at what you do, and you act straight and don't make any waves, it will all be fine. Is this what we want our LGBTQ high school and college students, and their heterosexual classmates, to hear?

An area that was touched on but not plumbed as much as I would have liked had to do with the intersections of homophobia, sexism, and racism in sports. For example, several folks commented casually on the fact that homophobia seems less of a problem on women’s teams than men’s. Yet a deeper analysis of this discrepancy was only hinted at by Jennifer Hoffman, the Center for Leadership in Ahtletics assistant professor. No-one mentioned the underlying sexism inherent in this phenomenon – the fact that gender transgressions are much more of a problem for men than for women, whether we look at kids or adults, athletes or non-athletes - because men acting feminine is far more threatening to the status quo and therefore must be corrected and brought back in line (usually by other men) than women acting masculine.

Despite the fact that being gay is a much bigger deal in men’s sports than women’s, homophobia is still a factor in women’s sports, too, often running hand in hand with sexism. For example, the panelists did comment on the unfortunate fact that female athletes are often made to pretty themselves up for promotional photos and non-athletic professional appearances. Similarly, the panelists chuckled over the fact that one recent women’s softball team was admired and commented on for being great athletes and good looking to boot (as if that was an exception). The assumptions about gender identity, gender expression, sexism, homophobia and transphobia inherent in these issues was a topic that would have been interesting to explore, but was maybe a bit beyond the scope and intention of this event.

Perhaps some of my problem and my criticalness came from being a member of the disenfranchised group being discussed. After all, I wasn’t really Cohen’s target demographic: his comments seemed largely directed at other heterosexuals. Yet as is often the case at these events, the room appeared to be more than half filled with gay folks (I am basing this primarily on observing same-sex couples who were clearly together, people identifying themselves when asking questions, etc.) including myself. I was reminded of a training I did recently focusing on white privilege, after which several people of color who had attended came up to me to tell me that they had heard most of what I’d presented before, and that workshops such as the one I had just led left them with little by way of tools or strategies to cope with privilege and oppression themselves. This was humbling feedback for me to receive, and on Friday as I sat listening to Ben Cohen I understood it at a more visceral level.

I hope you will excuse me if I sound critical – as I said, I am thrilled that there are Ben Cohens out there, that UW decided to host this event and Microsoft to fund it. Even if it is somewhat limited, what he is saying is so important. If his work gives one athlete, one kid, or one parent the strength to stand up to homophobia, that would be great. I just hope that some day we won’t have to get so excited about a heterosexual ally (or any dominant group member) working towards equality.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The dangers of pseudoscience

- by Stacey Prince

Last week Psychology Today published an article claiming that Black women are less attractive than women of other ethnic groups. The author, Satoshi Kanazawa, has a history of disseminating racist and sexist conclusions based on weak pseudoscience. After a widespread public outcry, Psychology Today removed the article from their website. However, the damage had already been done, and many readers may not have been aware of the on-line retraction. By publishing Kanazawa’s article in the first place the magazine gave validation to a racially biased finding and its underlying message that Black women are less valued than women of other ethnicities. It’s shameful that Psychology Today gave a platform to this author, who has a history of promoting other equally biased and discriminatory beliefs (click here for a summary). It’s also shameful that this widely read magazine, which puts psychological findings in an accessible, non-academic format and is read by millions, chose to reference conclusions that are so scientifically flawed. In addition to the fact that “Black” is not a definitive category in the first place and that he did not consider the confounding effect of social bias, Kanazawa's conclusions were drawn from another, separate study on adolescent health and behavior that did not even purport to measure the construct he was trying to draw conclusions about. You can read a thorough critique of his findings here.

The problem is, many people reading Psychology Today will not necessarily have the critical analytic skills to understand that Kanazawa’s conclusions are unfounded, and will take them at face value. Those of us who went to graduate school or took undergrad scientific methodology classes have some valuable skills for evaluating research findings, whether they appear in trade or academic venues. For example, we know that correlation does not imply causation, that selecting an appropriate, representative sample is key, and that tiny statistical findings, even when they have significant ‘p values,’ do not necessarily translate to concrete real-world differences. Even if you haven’t had formal training in evaluating research findings, there are some basic things to look for that are “red flags” warning of pseudoscience. This recent article highlights a few such red flags, including being wary of studies that purport to generalize findings from a small and/or non-representative group of participants to everyone, those that try to quantify something that is highly subjective, personal and culture-bound (such as physical attractiveness), and those that don’t reference any conflicting data or possible limitations to their findings.

Unfortunately there is a long history in Psychology (as well as other sciences) of pseudoscience being used to support inaccurate and harmful racist, sexist and homophobic conclusions. For example, the claim that Black people are less intelligent than individuals of other ethnicities based on IQ testing has been roundly debunked, due to the extremely contextual nature of the skills that are actually assessed by such tests, skills that are largely impacted by social and cultural factors including affluence, access to quality education, and nutrition. Despite this, supposed differences in IQ based on race (which itself is a socially constructed concept) have been used to justify slavery and eugenics. Such pseudoscientific findings also uphold the myth of meritocracy - the belief that life presents a level playing field to individuals of all social groups and that everyone can get ahead if they just work hard enough, thereby blaming the individual when success is not forthcoming and ignoring systemic inequities. You can find a very useful summary of scientific racism here. Similarly, conversion therapy (efforts to change an individual's sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual) is promoted, often with conservative religious motivations, based on faulty and flawed studies, despite the fact that it has been shown to have significant negative mental health effects for many clients (click here for an excellent review).

Of course, it is also true that empirical evidence can be incredibly useful in advancing social justice – take, for example, the use of data on children of gay and lesbian parents in testimony and amicus briefs to support legislation legalizing adoption by same-sex couples. On the other hand, it can be harmful. The dissemination of findings like Kanazawa's, for example, has the potential to encourage poor self-esteem, eating disorders, and internalized oppression in Black girls and women, let alone biased treatment by others. It was irresponsible of Kanazawa to write the article in the first place, but it was even more irresponsible of Psychology Today to publish it. So, the take home message for readers and consumers of research is this: don’t believe everything you read, and try to develop and utilize critical thinking skills when digesting research findings, whether in mainstream media or professional journals. If you are a therapist and your client brings up research such as this, you can be of great assistance by helping them to analyze the validity of the findings. If you are a mentor or research supervisor, you can help your students understand the social context in which knowledge is accumulated, uncover researchers' underlying assumptions, and when necessary be able to challenge conclusions that are held up as "knowledge" by the powers that be in their community.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Here's an interesting update: In a landmark case in the UK, a psychologist has been found guilty of malpractice and her license suspended for "treating" a gay man for homosexuality. While this was only an internal sanction of a licensing body rather than a legal ruling, it is still a huge step. In this case the real science regarding conversion therapy - including the fact that it is harmful to more than half the clients treated, causing depression and suicidality, and lack of sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed - overcame the pseudoscience offered by proponents of conversion therapy, often to veil their underlying religious and values-based motivations.

Here's another update: Psychology today has published an apology on their website, and say they are taking measures to ensure that something like this does not occur again. I would love for them to publish or discuss those measures as I think it would be helpful to all of their readers to understand how to watch out for inappropriate and offensive misuse of science in the media.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reel Grrls, Real Justice

- by Stacey Prince

OK, so perhaps by now you've heard the story: small non-profit Reel Grrls in Seattle provides media production workshops to young women from diverse communities. Not only do the young women learn skills in areas such as cinematography, animation, and script writing, but they also gain invaluable support and friendship from female mentors at a time of life that can be vulnerable and difficult to say the least. Plus, they make amazing films!!! Here are two examples that are particularly relevant to TJP readership. "Disorder" enters the the imaginative inner world of a young student struggling with a learning disability, and the mockumentary "Coming Out..." takes a humorous look at homophobia.

Reel Grrls is supported by grants and recently media giant Comcast pledged $18,000 to support their summer 2011 programming. A couple of days ago Reel Grrls tweeted about Comcast's recent hiring of FCC Commisssioner Meredith Attwell Baker. Immediately a Comcast executive shot off an email stating that they were going to yank the funding because Reel Grrls was creating a "negative digital footprint" about Comcast (here's the Washington Post story). After a whole bunch of media attention, Comcast retracted its retraction of funding and apologized, but the latest news this afternoon is that Reel Grrls has decided not to accept the money - a very classy and principled decision, in my opinion. Here is a quote from the organization's Executive Director, Malory Graham: Given the serious questions Comcast’s initial decision to take punitive measures on our organization raised about the ability of corporations to stifle public discussion, we have decided to redesign our summer camp to focus on developing films about free press issues.

Wow. Seriously, Comcast? Isn't Reel Grrls doing and modeling exactly what we want young women (and young men, and adults for that matter) to do? Think for themselves, think critically, be able to evaluate the news and cultural context around them and be empowered to do something about injustice (including criticizing it)? If you want to show your support, stand up against censorship and help Reel Grrls keep their programming going, please visit their website.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Here's an update: Reel Grrls raised $22,000 from over 600 individuals' donations, as well as national recognition for their principled decision to, at least for now, politely decline Comcast's funding. They will be able to move forward with their summer programming, with a focus on free speech issues. Unbelievable - what a great example of community response to show support and help this small non-profit stand up to censorship!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Psychology: Exile or Liberation?

Mental Health Blog Party

May is "Mental Health Month" and the American Psychological Association's Public Education Campaign is organizing a "Mental Health Month Blog Party" to educate the public about mental health issues. The badge at the top of this article indicates that I’m participating. Although much of what we have posted here has been about, or at least related to, mental health, I hesitated to participate in this APA event because of what this connection to APA might signify to our readers. One of the tensions we have held within TJP leadership is whether Psychology as it is practiced in traditional, academic institutions (such as graduate programs and APA) is an appropriate or effective place to locate work toward liberation, or instead whether it maintains the oppressive structures and hierarchies that we are trying to resist and revise. I ended up deciding to participate strategically and with intentionality, with the goal of exploring the complexity and multiplicity of "psychologies," rather than taking an either/or perspective. Often I have been in situations where there is an adversarial discussion between those coming from a place of community activism and organizing, versus those coming from more mainstream or institutional settings. The assumptions about one another can lead to not finding common ground, when maybe in fact it's actually there. So, I am going to continue holding the dialectic here that TJP has struggled with all along, reviewing some of the major criticisms and limitations of traditional psychology, but also highlighting some of the liberatory work that's being done by individuals and organizations in psychology. This can only be a brief review, but I hope it will stimulate some thought and discussion.

Many critiques have been leveled regarding the ways that mainstream psychology maintains oppressive structures. To highlight just a few:

- Mainstream psychology upholds the values of the dominant (white, male, heterosexual, middle class, Christian) culture. One example of this is that psychology upholds autonomy and individuation as more mature levels of emotional functioning than interdependence, despite the fact that many women, some non-white ethnic groups and non-Christian religions, and many non-Western cultures place a high value on interdependence, community, and relatedness. As long as individuals with relational values and worldviews are compared to those white, male, Eurocentric “norms” of behavior and emotional functioning, they will be viewed as less mature and less evolved.

- Behaviors that are resistant or rebellious toward dominant group members are often labeled as deviant. Examples include children getting angry with adults, People of Color who point out discrimination being diagnosed as paranoid, and women who express too much anger being labeled as unfeminine. This focus on the individual ignores the power dynamics at play in each situation and pathologizes what might be viewed as normative behavior if the lens were widened to view the behavior in context (for the above examples, context might be an abusive parent, racially based discrimination, and sexism in the workplace). This also applies to more global identities or sets of behaviors, such as being gay, lesbian or transgender, all of which have at one time or another been institutionally codified as pathological in the highly utilized and internationally referenced Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

- Prevailing treatment approaches, including cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, and humanistic, have all been intrapsychically (or, at most, relationally) focused, and have tended to myopically ignore community, cultural, and systemic factors, including power and oppression, that might be playing a large role in the individual’s functioning.

- For many members of marginalized groups (including LGBT individuals, POC's, and immigrants) acculturation is emphasized over maintenance of one's culture - despite empirical evidence strongly suggesting that people who both maintain aspects of their origin culture and acquire some aspects of the dominant culture have the best mental health outcomes. In fact, in many cases forcing individuals to detach from their culture is legal and institutionalized (e.g., Spanish speaking children being forced to speak English in school, most businesses and schools only honoring Christian calendar holidays, etc.) although the latter actions may not be perpetretated directly by psychology or psychologists.

- The science of psychology has largely been conducted by members of dominant groups, who hold a great deal of privilege including whiteness, higher education, and financial security. Further, research has often been conducted on skewed samples who are themselves often members of those same dominant groups - yet conclusions from those studies are sometimes generalized to members of marginalized groups.

- Not only is obtaining graduate education in psychology costly, but obtaining psychological services, especially in a private practice setting, is highly costly as well, often prohibitively so - especially for those who are unemployed and/or uninsured. Further, the assessment and intervention strategies offered by psychologists have not always been evaluated for efficacy with marginalized group members .

- For all of the above reasons and more, mainstream psychology (and psychiatry) has been indicted by many as upholding the status quo and maintaining, rather than dismantling, systemic oppression.

On the other hand...

- Multicultural psychology has strived not for universal, absolute norms of behavior, but instead for culturally relevant ones. More recent iterations have also added a critical understanding of power and oppression to the analysis of the role of culture.

- Many in counseling psychology are exploring effective ways to infuse social justice and anti-oppression work into graduate level training, including curricula, clinical supervision, research, and practicum experiences.

- A growing body of research on racial oppression (and more recently on homophobia/heterosexism) has documented the deleterious effects of bias and discrimination (both personal and systemic) on individual well-being, social functioning, health, and mental health.

- APA recently added advocacy skills as the 13th basic competency required for entry into the practice of psychology, thereby lending validation to this important set of skills which are defined as “actions targeting the impact of social, political, economic or cultural factors to promote change at the individual, institutional, and/or systems level” and include promoting client empowerment, as well as professional involvement in promoting change at the level of institutions, community or society.

- Several organizations associated with APA, including Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsyR) and Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI) have tasked themselves with addressing some of the largest and most difficult social issues of our time, including poverty, racial discrimination, genocide, torture, human and civil rights violations, and global conflict resolution.

- Researchers are increasingly relying on qualitative, community based, and participatory action research methods to increase understanding of culture and oppression and to put the purpose and uses of research more in the hands of its participants

- Liberation psychology, originating in Latin America with the work of Martin-Baro and others, has begun to have a foothold in North America. For example, a clinical psychology graduate program (Pacifica University) has a strong liberation psychology foundation, and two of its faculty (Watkins and Shulman) have recently authored an excellent book on the topic. Promoting analysis of the social inequities confronting individuals and empowering them to address those inequities, liberation psychology simultaneously provides an alternative viewpoint to mainstream psychology while still drawing on it.

So what do we do? How do we reconcile this dialectic of strong critiques leveled against mainstream psychology as oppressive, alongside the reformative and transformative work that is being done by many in the field? I would like to end with this quote by Albert Camus: “We all carry within us our places of exile, our crimes, and our ravages. But our task is not to unleash them on the world; it is to fight them in ourselves and in others.” Many people have been exiled by psychology, it’s true – but many others are working to reduce oppression, address the huge social challenges of our time, and work toward liberation. If I have challenged readers to think about the viewpoint that is less comfortable or familiar to them , then I will feel this posting has been successful. I welcome your comments!

Friday, May 13, 2011

TJP Version 2.0

- by Stacey Prince

Leadership council has recently undergone a major transition, and I wanted to share with you about that transition, what we have learned in the past year, and where TJP is going from here. Please click here to read about the changes and plans for the future. I welcome your feedback, questions, and comments!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

They may be micro but their impact isn’t: Sexual orientation microaggressions in psychotherapy

- by Stacey Prince

I recently read an excellent article in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, entitled Sexual orientation microaggressions: The experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer clients in psychotherapy. I will briefly describe it here but I hope this will entice some of you to read the article in its entirety; it’s a great read for psychotherapists, healthcare providers, case managers and anyone working with LGBQ clients.

The article begins with the assertion that, while general affirmation and acceptance of LGBQ individuals has increased, psychotherapy clients still all too frequently report experiences of discrimination and hostility in the therapy setting. Overt forms of discrimination such as the practice of conversion or reparative therapy have declined, but more subtle forms of heterosexism seem to persist. This parallels findings in the area of racial oppression, which have shown that while overt racism has decreased, more subtle and insidious forms of modern racism are still prevalent. Led by psychologist Derald Sue and colleagues, this substantial body of research documented the prevalence of racial “microaggressions,” the term used to describe these more subtle injustices of modern racism.

Microaggressions are described as communications of prejudice and discrimination, expressed through seemingly meaningless or even well-intentioned tactics but that actually deliver a hidden message of hostility, denigration, or invalidation. Examples include a white person stating to a person of color “you are so well-spoken” (indicating that their intelligence and articulateness is surprising or an exception), asking an Asian American individual “where are you from?” (assuming foreignness), or stating that he or she is “color blind” (denying the realities of personal and systemic oppression). Microaggressions differ from overt racism in multiple ways, including the fact that they are contextual, more difficult to identify, and that while there may be legal recourse for someone who experiences overt racially based discrimination, it is much more difficult if not impossible to document and take action against microaggressions.

The article I am describing today attempted to expand the microaggression literature to microaggressions that are based on sexual orientation rather than ethnicity. Further, it explored the negative impact of sexual orientation based microaggressions on the psychotherapy process. Psychotherapists are not immune to heterosexism and homophobia, having been indoctrinated in the same societal stigmatization of LGBQ individuals as everyone else, and therefore may unintentionally perpetuate negative bias toward their LGBQ clients. Although previous research has explored homophobia and heterosexism in psychotherapy, this study was, I believe, the first to try to identify and describe microaggressions based on sexual orientation. It utilized focus groups to explore the experiences of 16 self-identified LGBQ individuals in psychotherapy. Using a series of questions informed by the literature on racial microaggressions and previous work on heterosexism in psychotherapy, investigators identified themes, channels, and impact of sexual orientation microaggressions as they had occurred in participants' therapy experiences.

Several themes representing different types of sexual orientation microaggression emerged from the analysis of participant responses. These included assuming that sexual orientation was the cause of all of the client's presenting issues, even when the client was seeking help for unrelated problems; avoiding discussion of sexual orientation (such as avoiding use of gendered pronouns when referring to partners), avoiding discussion of the negative impact of rejection and internalized heterosexism, overidentifying with LGBQ clients, making stereotypical assumptions about LGBQ clients, expressing heteronormative bias, assuming that LGBQ clients need continued treatment even when clients felt ready to terminate; and suggesting that LGBQ clients should expect conflict and discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

The study also investigated channels of communication on which sexual orientation microaggressions were expressed in the therapy setting. Paralleling the research on racial microaggressions, results indicated that sexual orientation microaggressions occurred on multiple channels, including verbal (direct and indirect comments), behavioral (e.g., body language, silence, demeanor), and environmental (e.g., waiting room literature only relevant to heterosexual individuals and couples).

What was the impact of these sexual orientation microaggressions on the therapeutic process? Findings again paralleled research on racial microaggressions in psychotherapy, revealing that clients had a range of affective responses such as feeling uncomfortable, confused, rejected, invalidated, and angry. They were less likely to disclose issues related to sexual orientation out of a fear of being viewed as abnormal. They reported feeling more doubtful about their therapists' competence and the effectiveness of therapy, and were more likely to terminate therapy prematurely.

The authors ended with some recommendations for addressing sexual orientation microaggressions. These included responding in a nondefensive and transparent way if a client raises concerns, processing the impact of microaggressions on the client rather than focusing on therapist intentions (which may have been positive or neutral), and admitting heterosexism to oneself (thereby increasing self-compassion and openness to feedback) rather than maintaining that one is bias-free. They also described limitations of the study, including the somewhat skewed sample (predominantly white, highly educated) as well as all of the fallacies that are associated with retrospective self-report. Another important limitation not mentioned was that neither transgender individuals were not included in the sample; this is an important area for future investigation and my guess is that transgender clients in psychotherapy may experience many microaggressions similar to those described here, as well as perhaps some additional themes surrounding gender expression and transitioning.

In conclusion, even well intentioned psychologists who aspire to provide culturally competent services to marginalized populations are indoctrinated in racist, heterosexist, classist, and otherwise oppressive belief systems. Further, such views may be outside of one's immediate awareness, inhibiting the ability to recognize and redress microaggressions. The power imbalance inherent in the therapist-client relationship, internalized oppression, clients granting and therapists claiming "expert" status, and a host of other variables curtail clients' ability to recognize and call out such experiences when they do occur. The onus is therefore on practitioners to learn about, self-identify, and rectify incidents of microaggression as they occur in treatment. If therapy is going to be liberatory it at the very least has to be non-oppressive, and understanding and owning one's own microaggressions is an important step in practicing ethical, competent, empowering psychotherapy with members of marginalized groups.