Sunday, February 27, 2011


- by Stacey Prince

Social scientists and the media often talk about oppression as if it fits into neat, divisible categories. People are described as either gay, or African American, or Muslim; they experience transphobia, or ableism, or sexism. We have been guilty of this on the TJP blog at times, too, talking about issues such as transphobia or racism as if they are separate from other aspects of identity and oppression. It's much more challenging to try and describe the complex realities of people's lives, but most of us are not just one thing - we are a multifaceted mix of identities, social group memberships, and areas of privilege and marginalization.

Individuals who are members of more than one marginalized group often experience a compounding of barriers and constraints. They may experience conflicts between the values held by members of their different target groups. They may also be more likely to experience horizontal oppression (oppression within target groups toward other group members) or pressure to align themselves with one identity over another.

In order to explore these issues, consider the intersection of being lesbian or gay with other marginalized identities. In the article Queering the New Year: We are (all) family, Ben de Guzman, a gay, Asian American Pacific Islander, explores the sometimes conflicting values between a mutual interdependence fostered among the many members of his large extended family on the one hand, and wanting to be out and assert his visibility as a gay man on the other hand. "When we come out, it's not just to parents and siblings," he says, "sometimes it's to an entire clan." He describes how homophobia and discrimination continue to divide many Asian American families and communities, and how working on increased acceptance in one's family can be a tightrope walk of asserting one's identity while honoring family and cultural responsibilities.

Consider next the challenges faced by LGBT individuals who are undocumented immigrants to the United States. In Undocumented gays aim to open closets, gay college student Jesus Barrios talks about the struggles he has faced since his family moved to the US from Mexico when he was 3. He describes the anxiety and pain of keeping one secret (his undocumented status) from nearly all of his friends, and another (being gay) from his family - the isolation this created, and the fear of disappointing the people he loves. As he opened the "double closet," he was fortunate enough to find sources of love and support, both within his family and institutionally (for example, with the help of a supportive high school guidance counselor he was able to go to college) but it's been a difficult journey.

Also, he notes how the two movements he is passionate about - gay rights and immigration rights -- intersect in so many ways. In both cases, laws are enacted that restrict rights and devalue people, hate crimes are aimed at individuals in both groups - and yet in the experience of this young man few of the activists supporting immigration rights such as the Dream Act also participate in LGBT events, whether as allies or gay themselves. This was part of his decision to come out of the "double closet," and he hopes that by telling his story he and other LGBT undocumented immigrants can begin to work together toward their common goals.

Not all undocumented LGBT individuals have as hopeful a story as Barrios. Many experience rejection at home and in their communities. In the US, undocumented immigrants are less likely to seek help if they experience discrimination or violence because of their illegal status. Since sex with same-gender partners is illegal in 80 countries and punishable by death in a few, some gay immigrants fear not only deportation but also police brutality, harassment, violence, and even death. For example, this article describes an Iranian student who, after participating in a protest against harsh immigration laws in Arizona, feared execution if he came out and was deported back to Iran.

It doesn't help to be in a relationship: because the US government does not recognize same-sex unions, even getting married in states with full marriage equality does not afford undocumented LGBT individuals any additional protection against deportation or help in gaining legal residency. This article indicates that about 24,000 US same-sex couples contain at least one immigrant partner. It tells the story of one such couple in which the Venezuelan-born, immigrant partner may face deportation after overstaying his visa. While heterosexual marriage does not guarantee legal residency, it does help their case.

Not only are target and agent group memberships complex and multifaceted, but they can also change over time - for example, when an individual moves from working to middle class, or a previously able-bodied person becomes disabled. The last intersection I would like to consider in this article is LGBT individuals who are seniors. The recently released documentary "Gen Silent" explores the lives of 6 LGBT seniors. The sad and frightening conclusion of the documentary is that many LGBT seniors are going back into the closet as they face decisions about long-term healthcare and housing at the end of life. The film explores how discrimination faced by these individuals in the years before Stonewall continues to impact them, causing long-term mistrust and anxiety about being out. This is compounded by their here and now experience of bullying by other seniors, along with discrimination and even efforts at conversion by healthcare professionals. As a result, many are hiding their lives and gay identities in order to survive in the care system. For some, their isolation is further compounded by the fact that they are estranged from their families of origin. There is hope in the sense that the LGBT community is beginning to address the problems faced by seniors and to develop communities where LGBT seniors can be out and live safely and comfortably, but until those communities are readily available and affordable many seniors face the terrible choices documented in this film.

Writing this article got me thinking about my own intersections, as well as those of the clients I work with in my psychotherapy practice. As a Jewish, lesbian woman, I have noticed how infrequently I bring up my Jewish identity and issues of anti-Semitism in groups and communities I am in, even groups whose focus is to reduce other forms of oppression. At home with extended family, while I am very comfortable in the expression of my Jewish identity, I'm less vocal (though still out) about my membership in queer culture and participation in queer politics. Integrating all of these pieces, in different contexts and communities - while still owning and acknowledging my privilege as a white, middle class, able-bodied individual - is tricky, and it's a dance that I often adjust and modify unthinkingly and unconsciously. For my clients, I am reminded of how important it is to offer a space where they can explore not only the target group membership that may be most prominent for them at a given time, but also the intersections between memberships, and the ways that those intersections can result in internal conflicts or external choices that are challenging to navigate. At the same time, like Jesus Barrios in the story referenced earlier, it's helpful to be reminded of the ways that different marginalized communities can work together toward liberation.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Women's Healthcare at Risk

Recently the Republican-dominated House of Representatives voted on a measure that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Much has been made of this measure and its political and symbolic meaning, driven by conservative Republicans who are anti-abortion, but also seen as a part of a larger strategy to repeal the healthcare reform law.

What hasn’t been written about as much is the devastating effect the cuts to Planned Parenthood would have for women of color and low income women. Millions of women and families rely on Planned Parenthood not just for reproductive medicine and birth control, but also for preventive health care, including annual exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings, HIV testing, health education, and more. In fact, it is estimated that 97 percent of the services received are non-abortion related. Cutting funding will therefore eliminate primary healthcare services for millions of women who do not have private insurance and have no other means to obtain healthcare.

These cuts will disproportionately impact African-American women. Planned Parenthood has estimated that 15 percent of its patients are African-American, many of whom are uninsured. Also, African-American women tend to have more chronic illness and disease, and many chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension get discovered during routine wellness visits and annual exams. Therefore many women with undiagnosed, treatable chronic illness will lose critical opportunities to have their chronic illness detected and managed. In short, says Willie J. Parker, MD, Medical Director at Metropolitan Planned Parenthood in Washington, DC, cuts to Planned Parenthood funding are “destabilizing the safety net that many people of color rely on. A hit on Planned Parenthood really becomes a hit for African-American women”.

To read more, click here, and see our Call to Action below if you want to tell your legislators how you feel about this measure.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Floods of change

- by Stacey Prince

History is unfolding before our eyes. I can't think of anything more important to write about this week than the happenings in Egypt. Who knew that a movement created by the people could overthrow a powerful and dictatorial government that had been ruling with oppression for 30 years? The people would not be suppressed, intimidated, or beaten into retreat; they perservered and made change happen. The beautiful Arab idiom which states that "a flood begins with a mere droplet" has been quoted in many recent articles. I love that image, and it causes me to wonder, where else are droplets falling into pools which run into streams which join rivers which overflow to a flood? I hope that TJP can be a droplet that is part of a growing movement in which healers of all kinds - psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, activists, advocates, physicians, body workers - look beyond our offices and our guild's needs and make it our jobs not just to heal psyches and bodies from the injuries of oppression, but also to confront, resist, reduce and eliminate that oppression at its source. Many droplets can lead to a flood of change.

Democracy Now coverage of Egyptian Revolution

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What is psychology's role in social justice (and vice versa)?

- by Stacey Prince

The title of this article expresses questions that TJP’s leadership council has grappled with and that I’m sure will continue to be at the heart of our discourse for quite some time. I recently attended the National Multicultural Conference and Summit, where I hoped to further challenge myself and deepen my thinking on these questions. I am reporting back now with mixed results.

The first Multicultural Summit met in 1999, and the conference has taken place every other year since then. I was excited that it was in Seattle this year, both because it was easier for me to attend and to share the city I love with out of town friends. Although an official American Psychological Association (APA) event, the Summit traditionally has both a different focus and a different feel. Unlike an APA convention where one might find a few offerings on multicultural psychology, oppression, and social justice, the Summit is a conference where these topics are the explicit focus. Also, it typically has more experiential and participatory components, versus the receptive, lecture style, heavy on the powerpoint offerings that are characteristic of APA. Finally, the Summit has historically been a space where “difficult dialogues” on topics such as privilege and power within our profession, horizontal oppression between marginalized groups, and tensions between various aspects of our profession (research versus practice, for instance) are not only not avoided, but actually welcomed. For all of the above reasons, I was relishing the opportunity to explore areas that are of great relevance both for me personally and to TJP.

To read entire article click here.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

People's Movements and Transformative Practice

Introduction by Liz Goodwin, with link to PMA Resolution, 2010

At this moment, protests continue in Cairo. An Egyptian Revolution is underway and President Hosni Mubarak's thirty year rule may in fact be coming to an end. This massive demonstration shook the world as it unfolded in the last week and reports, videos, twitters and photos circulated. It's clear that the movement is unique, a people's led, with youth or younger generations heading it up, high levels of organization, deep persistence, and people from all walks of life present.

Many write, sing, and speak about how inspiring this demonstration is to witness. And leaders of the revolution describe it as peaceful, even as the media and governments all over the world describe violent looters, count deaths, and paint terroristic pictures. Even so local protests join from afar and the reverberation is felt politically, socially, and economically across the globe.

Tonight - as I listen and watch women sing among tens of thousands of seated resistors or see photos like the one of a woman kissing a soldier on his cheek – I feel the reverberation. I am actually left wondering – yet again - about our process with TJP and where we are in our effort to form and sustain a project that situates transformative healing practice in larger movement based work. This is a concept we are exploring as a leadership council. We recently came to understand our structure in a new way, as a hub, a place where discussion and practice and experiential process around liberatory healing work can happen and get supported. We intended to retreat this month with organizations and individuals in the community who work at, or think at, this crossing. But without a viable space and other logistical questions unanswered, we decided to push pause - again.

This time our pause involves a new layer of conversation about how we might practice an environment of transformative practice. As a council, we are reading literature on this and returning to the question together in February. I wanted to share with you one of the documents we'll be reading - built out of this year's 2010 Social Forum People's Movement Assembly for healing and justice work. To read more about the PMA process and other resolutions, click here:

“Transformation,” as this resolution describes, “is an ongoing practice, a process where "one identity or self passes away and a new, radically altered one emerges. The new way of being is more integrated, resourceful and aligned. This is apparent to others in your presence, your actions and your increased capacity to respond based on vision, rather than reaction. This process is repeats itself and deepens through continued engagement in transformative practices and processes. The old, previous “form” sheds again and new emerges again."

To read the PMA resolution, click here.