Araya Baker

@araya-baker-1 | contributor
Araya Baker is a counselor educator, suicidologist, and policy analyst who promotes disability, education, and health equity, across borders, faiths, generations, identities & movements.
Araya Baker

5 Stereotypes About Therapists That Further the Mental Health Epidemic

Recently, a vocal mental health advocate posted a series of tweets mischaracterizing licensed mental health professionals as gatekeepers who spread biased distrust of crisis workers, peer counselors, and other typically non-licensed advocates. These tweets ranted about “snooty therapists,” and implied that a majority of licensed mental health professionals leverage their “pedigree” to brand themselves as experts, and pit themselves against others. While the name of the account’s owner is irrelevant, it is significant the platform broadcasted such embellished stereotypes to more than 10,000 followers. This is one reason why I am writing. Another reason is the subtext — from my perspective — was that pervasive elitism makes finding a decent therapist a lost cause. This premise is factually untrue, not to mention carelessly misleading. In the U.S. alone, there are nearly half a million clinicians — about 106,000 clinical and counseling psychologists, 120,000 professional counselors, and 188,401 clinical social workers. To be sure, my sole intention is to illustrate a portrait of therapy that is more balanced, grounded, and nuanced. I am not interested in grandstanding or performative polemics or rebuttals. And, for good measure, I am also not defending all therapists. There are plenty of therapists whom I consider colleagues, but not comrades. Furthermore, I do not deflect from owning my positionality in a discourse about the power dynamics between therapists with professional education and training, and other mental health advocates whose expertise comes mainly from lived experience. I do not privilege my perspective over theirs, especially since my own lived experience with the mental healthcare system stretches back over 15 years. With all that said, I take issue with the aforementioned thread, from the standpoint of a public health advocate. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, groups that are culturally minoritized, economically disenfranchised, and/or geographically isolated suffered most from a lack of mental health infrastructure. Two years later, the pandemic has deeply compounded this dire situation. During 2020, for instance, rates of anxiety and depression in the U.S. climbed 26% and 28%, respectively. And, unfortunately, roughly 175,00 children in the U.S. lost a primary caregiver, with Black and brown children disproportionately impacted, predictably. This pervasive collective trauma — on top of preexisting mental health stigma — should compel mental health advocates to frame critiques of mental healthcare conscientiously, and encourage help-seeking behaviors whenever possible. Misconceptions Now that my intentions are clear, let us delve into teasing apart some misconceptions I noticed. 1. Counselor education is not a cult-like, fundamentalist hazing process that disparages other healing modalities, such as faith-based interventions, Indigenous wisdom, or peer-led groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. After a decade in the field, I have never met a single therapist who advocated therapy to the point of proselytizing. In fact, one objective of clinical supervision is to mentor therapists into releasing guilt and shame about clients who drop out because therapy is just not for them. Furthermore, many counselor education professors and researchers embrace community psychology, and also model an appreciation for decolonized, community-centered orientations of counseling that predate the Western world’s professionalization of it. Equally important, process research — the study of the processes of psychotherapy as they influence the treatment outcomes and/or the client-therapist relationship — confirms that the vast majority of counselors adopt an eclectic or integrative theoretical orientation. The most common rationales include valuing the client’s needs above the therapist’s preferences, and viewing the client-therapist relationship as the single most important factor in the efficacy of therapy, across theories. And, correspondingly, outcome research which the American Psychological Association (APA) defines as “a systematic investigation of the effectiveness of a type or technique of intervention, or of the comparative effectiveness of different intervention types or techniques” — findings suggest that a trusting therapeutic alliance is more critical to positive positive therapeutic outcomes than any one specific theoretical orientation. Therapists are not selling therapy as the best or only option for folks to seek healing and wellness. 2. Therapists are as multidimensional as the next person. A therapist can be a farmer, gymnast, mountain climber, pastor, pole dancer, politician, or anything else. Given this fact, we should not assume that openly identifying as a therapist — online or in person — is a choice to be seen as professional-first. Nor should we assume openly identifying oneself as a therapist is ploy to flex power over other advocates and colleagues. Yes, it is true regulated professions tend to project an air of exclusive gatekeeping. It is also true, however, the stereotype of therapists being serious and stoic comes primarily from the media. Play therapists, for example, use toys while working. And while therapists keep it professional in the therapy room, their full self is never not there. From the perspective of outgroups, ingroups always appear more homogenous than they actually are. 3. Many therapists possess a strong awareness and understanding of the limitations of their profession. As the eloquent James Baldwin once said, “The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” Counselors in training, in the process of being pushed to innovate and propel the field forward, cannot help but realize that, as with anything, there are shortcomings. They may have even experienced some of them personally. A therapist who is a reasonable and well-rounded person can easily advocate for the healing power of therapy, while also holding in mind caveats. 4. Scapegoating therapists for the limitations of therapy does not actually challenge the disproportionate power that psychiatrists, as well as licensure and professional boards, have in steering the profession. Psychiatrists, for instance, are overrepresented on the APA board of trustees that publishes the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). State health departments, along with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standardize counselor education curricula, and dictate licensure requirements. Many therapists take issue with all of these bureaucratic institutions. Moreover, the counseling field first emerged to offer an alternative, ​​egalitarian power dynamic to the patient-expert medical model, and to treat the whole person, not just symptoms alone. The intention was to affirm clients as the experts of their own lives, and to position the provider as a guide, rather than an impersonal authority figure. Since the 1950s — when the profession shifted to talk therapy, from esoteric psychoanalysis and sterile behaviorism — politically progressive therapists have advocated for legitimizing relationship-building and trust-building as essential ingredients of ethical counseling. Additionally, these radical therapists ushered in a healthy skepticism toward pathologizing individual symptoms that, upon closer inspection, are byproducts of inequitable social conditions and sociopolitical structures. “The Radical Therapist,” a journal that emerged during the anti-war movement of the early 1970s, “voiced pointed criticism of psychiatrists during this period.” Led by a group of psychiatrists and activists, their motto was “Therapy means social, political and personal change, not adjustment,” reflecting the stance social injustice lies at the root of many cases of mental illness, as is the case for the national homelessness crisis, for example. One issue of The Radical Therapist’s stated: As powerful as therapy can be, it is seldom enough to offset the weight of the culture. If the political environment of the nation and the immediate subculture of the client is moving rightward, then the radical therapist’s job will be a tough one indeed…All of this (radical therapy) presumes a long, gradual building of a larger movement… 5. Not all therapists are business-first “therapreneurs.” In fact, I would guesstimate a majority of therapists work at nonprofit community health or crisis centers, not in lucrative private practices that decline insurance. If TV and film were actually realistic, shows and movies would portray therapists conducting sessions in the spare meeting room of a shelter, or an unused classroom. Institutions rarely ever offer counselors enough funding or space, a phenomenon that reflects a degree of under-appreciation similar to that of public school teachers. Reflections Before Sharing Social Commentary Before leading public health advocates and officials speak authoritatively on public health matters, self-reflection is a necessary step. It is essential to ask ourselves whether we possess a credibly-sourced and well-rounded understanding of the issue at hand. To be sure, credible information does not exclude lived experience. The personal narratives of lay healthcare consumers and advocates are essential to advancing innovation and reform — just as the psychiatric survivors movement did. And, equally as much, the stories of culturally minoritized folks are critical to repairing legacies of mistrust implanted by institutional betrayal from healthcare and social service agencies. Still, even with liberal parameters for what constitutes credibility, all leading public health advocates — whether clinicians, community organizers, outreach workers, or peer advocates — have a duty to consider the impact of messages framed in an unbalanced way. Otherwise, we risk perpetuating fear and stigma, and inadvertently discouraging help-seeking. Particularly amidst widespread increases in rates of COVID-related anxiety, grief, and trauma, the consequences of biased or incomplete psychoeducation, however unintentional, impact us all. Key points: Counselor educators emphasize that therapy is not a fit for all concerns or individuals, and do not pit therapists against other specialists. Many therapists have personally experienced barriers to care, in addition to the limitations of treating structural trauma with therapy. Not all therapists are “therapreneurs” — many are employed by public agencies with inadequate funding or space for their role. Scapegoating therapists fails to address the disproportionate power that licensure and professional boards have in steering the profession.

Araya Baker

Mental Health Advocacy Needs to Address Injustice and Inequality

The vigor of World Mental Health Day often comes and goes so fleetingly, and far too predictably. Across social media, scores of people post crisis line numbers and encourage networks to reach out if necessary. And yet, the next day, most default right back to complicitly upholding cultural, institutional, and political conditions that criminalize, disenfranchise, and immobilize certain groups. To combat this widespread tendency, the discourse around mental health advocacy must become increasingly centered in a clear starting point. To me, that baseline is an understanding that neglecting active citizenship and civic engagement perpetuates the disparities we claim we want to eradicate. When we neglect to operationalize this vision into concrete political strategy, however, nothing changes. Dominant ideologies and institutions continue inflicting chronic and compounded  trauma on stigmatized and victim-blamed groups. Not only that, but political apathy reproduces, by default, social hierarchies of disparate privilege and power, furthering the elusive myth of a meritocratic American dream, when, in actuality, America is arguably the most inequitable developed nation. In the 1970s, partly in response to the anti-war movement, The Radical Therapist emerged. One particular issue of the journal posited: “… As powerful as therapy can be, it is seldom enough to offset the weight of the culture. If the political environment of the nation and the immediate subculture of the client is moving rightward, then the radical therapist’s job will be a tough one indeed… All of this (radical therapy) presumes a long, gradual building of a larger movement…” Put differently, what makes mental health advocacy sustainable, if mental health advocates continue bypassing the realities of inequity and injustice, and neglecting the actionable, politicized advocacy required to secure collective, intergenerational liberation? As Nelson Mandela once proclaimed, “We need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.” So let’s take a look at how we can broaden and deepen conventional notions of “ mental health advocacy” so that its outcomes better align with democratic and humanitarian values, instead of adapting to oppressive conditions. Real mental health advocacy is a courageous and ethical worldview that centers community welfare and human dignity — individually, institutionally, and societally — even in the face of relentless exploitation and injustice. Real mental health advocacy is applying a lens of intersectionality to our discourses on identity and oppression, committing to working through the tensions inherent in building coalitions and hashing out intracommunity conflict, as well as checking our entitlement when we expect other oppressed groups to care about our oppression, as we dismiss or invalidate theirs. Real mental health advocacy is taking the time to understand the concepts and frameworks that explain and illustrate how societal welfare is inextricably linked to how invested we are in ending a colonial legacy of capitalist-driven, hetero-patriarchal white nationalism and fundamentalism. Real mental health advocacy is denouncing authoritarian, neofascist, white supremacist terrorist groups that weaponize eugenics and religious fundamentalism, as well as media outlets that fabricate conspiracies that scapegoat minoritized folks who are Black, Indigenous, POC, disabled, LGBTQIA+, immigrants, non-Christian, and/or women. Real mental health advocacy is not shirking active citizenship because we may not benefit directly, or because liberation probably may not come to fruition in our lifetime, or because we can rationalize our apathy by victim-blaming others — until, of course, the problem hits home. Our fate and struggles are linked. Real mental health advocacy is a Congressional budget that spends less on imperialism and warmongering, than initiatives that prioritize legislating inflation-proof livable wages, universal healthcare, childcare, and eldercare, and affordable/universal housing; abolishing the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline with rehabilitation over-incarceration and mass education about institutional white supremacy; and dismantling every structural barrier to wellness, from medical racism to voter suppression — and checking local and national officials who obstruct this safety net. Real mental health advocacy is a “big-picture” understanding that cynicism does not excuse defeatism, or neglecting to contribute what one can offer to better their community and resist the corporatocracy and ruling class that obstructs social change. Every bit of effort matters — the greater our solidarity, the greater chance of survival for everyone. Real mental health advocacy is a lifelong commitment to [un]learning, listening and receiving feedback as much as lecturing, understanding how impact can trump good intention, and minding that you do not trample over others in pursuit of your own liberation — and, most importantly, when we have misspoken or misstepped, remembering to remain humble, receptive, and focused on constructive solutions toward personal and social change.

Araya Baker

What Generational or Downward Envy Is and How to Recognize It

Many of us could likely name older relatives who never admit fault or apologize, never receive feedback without finger-pointing, never tell the full story without selective omission and never uplift others without sprinkling backhanded compliments or passive-aggressive sarcasm. Elders with more covert narcissism might be known for gossiping, turning relatives against one another, manipulating conflicts via guilt or the silent treatment and most commonly, playing innocent when people return what they first dished out. “Respect your elders” sounds benign at face value, but the ageism inherent in that adage can also rationalize an older-younger power dynamic that is nonreciprocal, exploitative, overbearing and silencing. Ageism, or prejudice and/or discrimination motivated by perceived age or generation, works against older or younger people alike. Here, it refers to biases that pathologize younger people as innately directionless, lazy, naive, needy, rebellious, selfish and shallow. These stereotypes uphold the tradition of justifying status quo conventions and hierarchies, no matter how inequitable and oppressive they may be, solely for the convenience of high-ranking elders. In pre-modern times — predating formal education and accessible higher education — the views of elder patriarchs dictated the social order. Their monopoly on community resources and institutional authority, often combined with unified resistance to sociopolitical progress, ensured their dominance and legacy. This partly explains backlash to many progressive, youth-led movements. Yet, while people generally frame generational power struggles in terms of self-preservation and fear of the unknown, downward envy is also a severely under-discussed factor. The challenge of checking downward envy. Downward envy, first conceptualized in the context of the workplace, is defined as “the painful feeling of inferiority caused when supervisory leaders perceive that subordinates have something the supervisor desires, but lacks.” But downward envy creates power struggles in numerous environments. The assassinations of Marvin Gaye Jr. by his father, Marvin Gaye Sr.  and Selena Quintanilla by her former manager Yolanda Saldívar are only but two examples of this commonplace dynamic. Younger victims are up against not only the fragile egos of elders, but also spectators’ disbelief elders, even at their ripe age, could still grapple with insecurity and self-comparison. Some suggest as narcissists age, they become more close-minded, self-centered, immature, alienating and inflexible, in addition to developing higher levels of paranoia and victim-playing. Sometimes, speaking up only provokes backlash. Elders — broadly, anyone endowed with disproportionate access, authority or status — often collude to preserve their reputations, working to make an example of the young person who dared expose a truth they planned to sweep under the rug. They may scramble to hush the exposure of any character defects that detract from their clout or public facade of all-knowing competence and enlightenment. And if minions have enabled their god/superiority complex, self-righteous denialism may ensue regarding the facts of a conflict, even despite evidence. It takes courage to challenge someone willing to negate your perspective with mere seniority. You might be up against public shaming and passive-aggressive invalidation, rumors and alienation, along with intimidation and silencing. But even if your survival depends on acquiescing to them putting you in your “place” for now, you don’t have to believe that’s where you belong. Here are examples — of projections about who you are, what you know, what you’ve seen and where you’re going — to look out for. 10 signs of downward envy. 1. Being committed to doubting your skills and underestimating your (self-)awareness. One way to undercut a younger person’s credibility is to magnify a minor shortcoming in their work, then frame it as a lack of intelligence or skill. A deficit-based lens negates their efforts entirely, even for the slightest blindspot or slip-up. Incompetence gets emphasized repeatedly, until it constitutes the dominant narrative. 2. Conflating correctness or truth with age, prominence/stature or title. This tactic can look like factors irrelevant to the validity of the younger person’s point, like generation or organizational rank getting weaponized to squash any challenge to the status quo, or any exposure of authority’s incompetence and willful ignorance. Many younger people are stereotyped as immature, and therefore lacking in sufficient or relevant life experience to have formed any opinion at all. 3. Punishing you while granting favoritism to allies, peers and non-threatening subordinates. As previously mentioned, downward envy can look like holding younger talent to an unrealistic standard. What’s worse, though, is when elders enforce this strictness while publicly exempting their circle of “favorites,” almost as if to rub it in the younger person’s face. The younger person will often get called difficult or nosy for calling out very blatant and hypocritical double standards. 4. Gossiping or joking at your expense to taint others’ first impressions or positive interactions. The point here is to thwart opportunities for others to experience the fullness of who you are, and possibly like and support you. So, behind your back, they plant seeds of doubt that would color others’ first impressions. The flip side is taking every opportunity to openly mock younger talent, normalizing disdain toward them. This treatment could freeze up younger folks who struggle with assertiveness. 5. Calling you a know-it-all or show-off. Elders with fragile egos may seem to enjoy humbling folks as they receive congratulations, based on their assumption no one else can handle attention without getting a big head. They may project their arrogance/insecurity and feel threatened by anyone else’s confidence. They may call an accomplished young person egotistical or “fake,” even when they’re far from it, or belittle and downplay every noteworthy thing they do. 6. Deeming you unready to move up — again. Obstructing a young person’s promotion can look like repeatedly demoralizing them. Elders might constantly move the goalpost or raise the bar, holding them to ever-changing standards. They’re never “ready” enough because no improvement is ever enough. Meanwhile, mentorship is withheld, and they’re labeled impatient for inquiring when things might change. 7. Minimizing your impact by highlighting your path’s limitations, especially in contrast to theirs. This looks like disparaging a young person’s passions as insignificant while elevating other interests as more impactful or worthwhile. The elder person discredits the young person’s career or hobbies by framing their personal preferences as the superior standard. Never mind the young person’s fulfillment or that there may be more to what they do/share about it than meets the eye. 8. Dismissing sincere apologies devoid of self-ridicule. Often, no apology is ever enough when an envious elder enjoys seeing a younger person grovel at their feet. And apologies not accompanied by excessive vulnerability — often to an undeserving audience — don’t count. From my experience, don’t hold your breath for their apology. 9. Framing your reactions as “craziness” and “drama” while ignoring their petty provocations. Elders with narcissistic tendencies might grant themselves permission to push people’s buttons relentlessly, and yet they expect compliance and composure from whomever they push over the edge. Otherwise, you might be labeled “sensitive” or a troublemaker, as if they’d tolerate their own passive aggression and obnoxious mind games. 10. Parodying your gestures or voice/accent in a condescending or infantilizing way. What seems like simple teasing is often subconscious, repressed disdain bubbling to the surface. Take note. Key Points Downward envy is a feeling of inferiority caused when a leader sees that a subordinate has something that the leader wants but lacks. Downward envy can create power struggles in many settings, including in cases when younger people are up against the egos of narcissistic elders. Signs of downward envy include magnifying minor shortcomings, conflating correctness with rank and obstructing a younger person’s promotion.

Araya Baker

Tennessee Officials Need to Better Protect LGBTQ Youth

On May 18, the city of Springfield granted $1 million to Bransford Community Center. Twenty “Tennessean” articles have chronicled the precarious start-up trajectory of Bransford, which is projected to occupy the site of an historic but now demolished high school from which my grandmother graduated. Its stated mission is to “instill hope in all Robertson County residents, regardless of their race, socio-economic status or age.” Sounds inclusive and welcoming, right? Yet, from June to September of last year, Bransford founder and board president Robert Gardner took to Facebook Live — here’s a montage — to preach recurring Bible lessons and sermons replete with anti-LGBTQ conspiracies, disinformation and stereotypes. Notably, Gardner, a retired engineer who now leads City of Faith International, attributed inclusion to a “Jezebel spirit” of false prophecy, and likened LGBTQ families to the Antichrist. And just last week, Pastor Gardner’s Men’s Conference featured David Perry, a Selma pastor who once starved a dog for two days to teach a Bible lesson. Why should we care about complicit leadership in a town of just 17,000 people and 13- square-miles ? Mayor Ann Schneider did not acknowledge my concerns about Robert Gardner, nor did Alderpersons Bobby Trotter or Emily C. Green. And Alderperson Lisa DiVirgilio Arnold blocked me from her public Facebook page. On two occasions, I illustrated for all of these officials — each of whom swore an oath to govern to the best of their knowledge — a snapshot of the structural trauma Tennessee’s LGBTQ children endure. Yet, in rural and small-town America, the pervasive dependency on church to cope with limited outlets and social mobility can deter local government officials from confronting pastors who disguise Bible-bashing as sensational, yet convincing, propaganda. Elected officials often keep quiet for the sake of re-election. This governmental complicity, compounded by a widespread lack of diversity, can threaten constituents from marginalized groups, who often discover that their outward differences and hyper-visibility render them vulnerable to collective scapegoating. Not to mention, evasive officials who skirt around inclusion only fuel the fire for LGBTQ folks in Tennessee, where the General Assembly recently passed the most anti-trans bills nationwide. Let me paint a picture for you. In Middle Tennessee, children who either come out as LGBTQ or get stereotyped as LGBTQ comprise 40% of homeless minors, and 78% of those experience further abuse in the child welfare system. Considering that 80% of Tennessee is Christian — and Pulaski is home to the cross-burning KKK — surmising that religious extremism plays a role is not far-fetched. Unsurprisingly, The Trevor Project — the only around-the-clock crisis and suicide prevention helpline for LGBTQ youth — recently told NBC that Tennessee youth contacted The Trevor Lifeline 2,400 times during the pandemic. Meanwhile, only 9% of Tennessee’s LGBTQ students described their school’s curricula as inclusive, according to a 2019 report by GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Tennessee. Forty-four percent, however, reported overhearing staff disparage self-defined gender expression, and 25% reported witnessing heterosexist bias toward LGBTQ romantic orientations. Even worse, the non-discrimination clause of Robertson County Schools, which governs Springfield’s schools, omits both LGBTQ students and educators as a protected class. The final blow is that appealing to state-level officials would probably be futile: Bransford’s board includes state senator Kerry Roberts and state representative Sabi Kumar. Recently, Kumar and Roberts, both Republicans, voted in favor of HB 0580, a bill opposing public school lessons on systemic racism. Roberts publicly opposed an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum in April and has also voiced that eliminating higher education — a “liberal breeding ground” — would “save America.” I communicated to Springfield leaders that for some children, drop-in and educational spaces like Bransford serve as the only refuge and buffer from family and religious abuse, or community and school violence. I warned of pastors failing to neatly compartmentalize fundamentalist bigotry strictly to the parameters of religious leadership. And I reiterated that advocates and educators who refuse to foster welcoming spaces of respect and safety traumatize their community at large. While Springfield officials did not acknowledge my concerns — as their taxpayer-compensated positions should have obliged them to do — they did epitomize how complicity and denial perpetuate institutional bias and systemic injustice. Their inaction and passivity can harm any minoritized population just as much as blatant prejudice and discrimination. Tennessee needs leaders who will take a stand and support young LGBTQ people, especially young queer people of color, a demographic antagonized by myriad socially-constructed barriers and pitfalls. On the whole, elected officials in Springfield may be good people. I would hope so. Nevertheless, niceness and sympathy — while consoling on a personal level — do not translate into protection on an institutional, legislative or cultural level.

Araya Baker

10 Ways Religious Leaders Harm LGBTQ+ Folks

As Catholic author Karen Armstrong put it, “If your understanding of the Divine made you kinder, more empathetic, and impelled you to express sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was bad theology.” Of 4.2 million homeless youth in America, 40 percent identify as LGBTQ+. Half report anti-LGBTQ+ religious conspiracies and rhetoric motivating their homelessness. Knowing this, some pastors continue advancing hateful rhetoric, as if God deems LGBTQ+ people to be so inherently despicable, filthy and sinful, harming them doesn’t hold the same weight as harming non-LGBTQ+ people. Research on the traumatizing effects of conversion therapy has resulted in in 20 states outlawing it , and yet 77,000 LGBTQIA+ kids are experimented on annually, with a total of 698,000 survivors. Pulpit bullies usually target those perceived as “different” or “weaker,” taking it for granted that these persons won’t speak up about being humiliated, ostracized and sabotaged, often publicly and relentlessly. Seeing through their conspiracies, hate-sermons and victim-playing makes you doubly vulnerable. Not only do they play God; they also receive constructive feedback as an attack, they feel entitled to respect they haven’t earned, they speak authoritatively on communities and topics after only skimming the surface and they’re willing to mischaracterize you and your identity to preserve their calculated, charismatic persona. You’re just the extra in their self-titled show. But here’s a handy playbook of all their conniving, reactionary and self-deceptive schemes. Many of the tactics listed here mirror those theorized by psychologist Dr. Marlene Winnell, who conceptualized religious trauma syndrome, as well as red flags mentioned in “Churches That Abuse” by Ronald M. Enroth, and “33 Signs of Spiritual Abuse,” written by Stephen Lambert, author of “Charismatic Captivation — Authoritarian Abuse & Psychological Enslavement in Neo-Pentecostal Churches.” 1. Dismissing survivors of anti-LGBTQ+ violence as “angry,” “negative” or “sensitive.” In the words of psychologist Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, “When the house is on fire, we don’t tell people to watch their tone as they yell for help. Be mindful of trying to dictate how people respond to trauma.” Labeling LGBTQ+ people as “too negative”  — for not sugarcoating bullying and violence they never deserved  —  absolves pulpit bullies of a guilty conscience. After LGBTQ+ people respond to hate-sermons by sharing firsthand accounts of anti-LGBTQ+ violence, suddenly pulpit bullies punish them for speaking anything but “love, light and peace,” as if they ever did themselves. Therapist Whitney Goodman cuts through this “positive vibes only” denial, also known as tone-policing, by asking clients, “Are they negative, or is it hard for you to look at the issues they’re complaining about or discussing? Or do you not like what they’re pointing out in you?” 2. Playing the victim to discredit undeniable evidence of browbeating and playing God. Community organizer and writer Terrance Thomas noted, “Accountability feels like an attack when you’re not ready to admit how your behavior harms others.” After getting checked for their fixation on invalidating LGBTQ+ people, pulpit bullied often play the victim. They’ll publicly downplay and minimize their deliberate, repeated and unapologetic disrespect —  like preaching that God has abandoned LGBTQ+ people, or LGBTQ+ people are the Antichrist  —  but then mischaracterize LGBTQ+ people as angry, “in their feelings” or unstable, for declaring enough is enough. They might also portray themselves as righteous crusaders under attack, even after LGBTQ+ people have clarified again and again that critiques of anti-LGBTQ+ religious rhetoric aren’t intended to denounce or generalize all churches or pastors, just a harmful practice. They’ll still turn others against those who speak out, still abuse authority to bully LGBTQ+ folks into hopelessness and worthlessness, and still blame any psychological damage inflicted on their target’s “identity crisis.” 3. Pretending human scribes of the Dead Sea Scrolls conceived every idea or question for all time. Motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer once shared, “The ultimate ignorance is the rejection of something you know nothing about, yet refuse to investigate.” Pulpit bullies authoritatively speak on LGBTQ+ issues, despite having little to no experience with LGBTQ+ people. Many don’t even live near LGBTQ-affirming groups or organizations. Point out this contradiction, and they’ll likely retort, “Stay in your lane! There is only one truth, God’s Word!” Yet, predictably, this willful ignorance applies only to LGBTQ+ issues. These same folks see no problem with their floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of modern, “secular” works on other contemporary issues. Another word from Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis holds true here: “When truth is revealed, we are left with the choices of allowing ourselves to be transformed, or retreating into denial.” 4. Rebuking LGBTQ+ activists as “secular” and “worldly” idolaters, while finessing government benefits and political networks. Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “You can pray until you faint! But unless you get up and do something, God isn’t going to put it in your lap.” Most pulpit bullies agree. When launching their own activist initiatives beyond church walls  —  community centers, soup kitchens and shelters  —  they garner support through “secular” channels, like capital campaigns, public grants and partnerships with local politicians. Yet, accusations of abandoning prayer, losing faith and trusting in man’s intellect more than God get hurled at LGBTQ+ activists, whom they label “carnal,” “secular” and “worldly.” Suddenly, they can’t comprehend “faith without works is dead,” and they favor spiritual bypassing, or using faith and prayer as a means to rationalize away apathy and complacency that keeps us, or our community, in a rut. 5. Slandering LGBTQ+ Christians as “deceivers,” “false prophets” and the Antichrist. As novelist Zora Neale Hurston prophesied, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” Pulpit bullies often lead with an autocratic style, enforcing strict conformity, scorning critical thinking, alienating dissenters and demanding repentance based on favoritism. Informed and self-secure LGBTQ+ folks, whose strong character and wisdom threatens a pulpit bully’s ego, don’t fare well in this controlling, judgmental climate of double standards. They make too much sense when calling out holier-than-thou doctrine and hypocritical leadership. Instead of learning from LGBTQ+ congregants who can hold their own in discourse about activism, politics, theology, mental health, trauma and other subjects, pulpit bullies often vilify them as enemies of the Church, booksmart know-it-alls, deceitful prophets or “lost souls.” 6. Obsessing over LGBTQ+ repentance, yet shutting their eyes to anti-LGBTQ+ hatred and violence. As long as weaponized scriptures harm a person or group that an “anointed” pulpit bully deems beneath or below them, they’ll overlook the distortion and manipulation of the scripture to make others feel defective, inferior or subhuman. Favoritism often dictates whom they believe deserves grace, as they hold LGBTQ+ folks to the strictest standard of repentance. Pulpit bullies don’t see anti-LGBTQ+ murders and violence as sins because they regard LGBTQ+ people as subhuman anyway. In their eyes, a homophobic murderer is more decent than a gay activist uplifting community. They’ll also never preach repentance to the child abusers who abandon their LGBTQ+ kids. They might even consider denouncing anti-LGBTQ+ violence as “celebrating sin,” as if Jesus condoned hate. Yet, as the author, Franciscan friar, and spiritual teacher Richard Rohr spoke of Jesus, “His harshest words of judgment were reserved for those who perpetuated systems of inequality and oppression and who, through religion itself, thought they were sinless and untouchable.” 7. Weaponizing fantastical and unworkable conspiracy theories. For decades, evangelists like Myles Munroe have circulated one of the oldest conspiracy theories  —  a “gay agenda” to destroy the family. In actuality, LGBTQ+ folks mentor, foster and adopt the child welfare system’s millions of kids more than any other demographic. Not to mention, children of LGBTQ+ parents often do better in school, and demonstrate empathy and emotional maturity earlier in life. Another widespread conspiracy stereotypes LGBTQ+ kids as “anti-authority.” Yet, in the words of pastor Carlos A. Rodriguez, “You’re only rebellious in the eyes of those who can’t manipulate you.” Research shows authority figures bully LGBTQ+ young people just as much as peers. A recent study revealed that police harass young Black men perceived as gay at a rate of 42%, more frequently than their heterosexual counterparts. And until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association pathologized “homosexuality” as “sexual deviance” and“sociopathic personality disturbance.” 8. Cloaking and masquerading hate-sermons in code words and metaphors. Cherry-picking scripture to alienate and invalidate LGBTQ+ people can be subtle as distorting the affirmation of LGBTQ+ Christians as “diluting faith,” a la the Doctrine of Balaam, or the “doctrine of compromise.” Comparing LGBTQ+ people to the Nicolaitans, whose “sexual immorality” connoted incest and ritual rape, is another tactic. Some commonly used code phrases include “carnal,” “defilement,” “delusional and reprobate,” “double-minded,” “fleshly desires,” “lustful,” “Jezebel spirit,” “unnatural use of the body” and “vile affections.” Even repeatedly using “a homosexual” versus “gay, LGBT, or queer person” can serve to pathologize LGBTQ+ folks as compulsive, sly perverts. Yet, no human being is first and foremost a “___sexual” (e.g., a heterosexual)  —  first and foremost, we’re all people. 9. Stereotyping LGBTQ+ people as beasts, diseases, insects, vermin or possessed demons. Dehumanization is the fourth stage of Gregory Stanton’s 10 Stages of Genocide. Dehumanizing a maligned group involves repeatedly equating them with filth, impurity and immorality, thereby desensitizing others to efforts to humiliate, torture or exterminate them. Conspiracies and propaganda normalize dehumanization via biased textbooks, caricatured political cartoons, clickbait headlines, extremist campaign slogans, hate radio stations, as well as sermons that scandalize. The dominant group or ruling class manipulates these channels to indoctrinate the masses into blaming a supposedly alien, sub-human minority group for all of society’s ills  —  in other words, a “gay agenda.” LGBTQ+ people witnessed this recently when the Trump Cabinet’s Bible teacher blamed COVID-19 on gay men “igniting God’s wrath.” During the 1980s, it played out when anti-LGBTQ+ evangelicals distorted the early AIDS epidemic into a homophobic punishment from God, and again in 1993, when tele-evangelist Billy Graham said AIDS was a judgment of God. Nevermind that after just 72 hours on the streets, pressure sets in to resort to survival sex for food and shelter, which greatly contributes to HIV/AIDS disparities among LGBTQ+ people. 10. Sensationalizing LGBTQ+ acceptance and inclusion as “End Times” or a generational crisis. Martin Luther King once observed, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday.” To change that, King tasked his right-hand-man, Bayard Rustin, an openly gay unsung Civil Rights hero, with leading plans for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There, King’s “I Have A Dream” speech  —  attended by 250,000 and aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC  —  incited momentum for a series of landmark civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which desegregated all churches. Even further back, Akkadian and Sumerian texts document transgender priests as far back as 4,500 years ago. And pre-colonization, many Native Americans reserved the special communal roles of counselor, spiritual healer and storyteller, for each tribal nation’s “Two-Spirit” citizens. Queer and trans folks have always existed, yet have endured persistent erasure by most societies throughout history. Today, 70 nations hunt and prosecute LGBTQ+ citizens and leaders, and 12 governments have legalized extermination by execution. If a supposed “gay agenda” to brainwash kids by “promoting choice” or “redefining the family” actually did exist, it’d be quite fatal in every region of the world. In America, previous generations of LGBTQ+ trailblazers, many Black and Brown, sacrificed tirelessly to afford today’s LGBTQ+ youth more language, legal protections, opportunities and representation. Fortunately, they do indeed feel more whole and empowered than ever. Even despite widespread bullying, a greater proportion of their generation accepts them  —  because when you know better, you do better. Related readings by Araya Baker: 6 Ways the Church Can Address the LGBTQ+ Suicide Epidemic Focus Your Repentance Inward, Not on Antichrist Conspiracies Stereotyping LGBTQ+ Family 20 Affirmations and Readings for Those Raised in Anti-LGBTQIA+ Church Families Dear Pastor: Sermons On Queer Folks’ “Delusional”, “Reprobate” Minds Drive LGBTQ+ Suicide

Araya Baker

20 Affirmations and Readings For Folks Raised in Anti-LGBTQ+

I recently wrote about my disappointment in a pastor I know who interpreted Romans 1: 26-29 in such a way that seemingly substantiated the claim that G-d hopelessly and impatiently “abandons” LGBTQIA+ folks for “vile affections,” “reprobate” minds and “self-delusion” akin to anti-mask COVID -deniers. In 2020 alone, there have been myriad examples of clergy scapegoating LGBTQIA+ people. Predictably, the Trump administration’s cabinet pastor blamed gay men for inciting “the wrath of G-d,” linking gay men to disease the same way evangelists did during the early AIDS crisis . And an evangelical group has spread a conspiracy theory that associates LGBTQIA+ people with the coronavirus ( COVID-19 ) pandemic. But instead of focusing on anti-LGBTQIA+ spiritual leaders, I want to underscore that anti-LGBTQIA+ violence is a “sin.” Just today at the time of writing this, I read a news story of two men who considered it their religious right to terrorize a gay couple holding hands. The attackers screamed that the couple would “burn in hell” as they beat them. If you reviewed police reports of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate crimes, almost immediately you would notice the pattern of attackers invoking G-d and scripture to justify their aggression and violence. I, myself, have filed three police reports for hate crimes. During one incident on the street, the perpetrator screamed that I was an “abomination” and spit at me. Another time — in Philadelphia’s Dilworth Park, the night after the legalization of same-sex marriage — four drunk and high men nearly jumped me. These men also seemed to rationalize their bullying with dogma that pathologizes and vilifies LGBTQIA+ folks. And as the gang of four howled slurs and jeered threats, neither park security nor city police lifted a finger, and not a single person asked, “You OK? Want to sit here until they leave?” The Christian thing to do. Yet, anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma kills straight folks, too. Never has a violently anti-LGBTQIA+ person ever paused to confirm the identity of whomever they attacked. Only stereotype-based assumptions informed their motives. This explains why in 71 countries — many which profess “Christian values” — a whisper is all it takes to imprison, exile or even execute people simply based on their rumored or suspected LGBTQIA+ identity. So, let’s set the record straight: My critique of anti-LGBTQIA+ religious dogma comes not from a supposed sensitivity about the scrap of “rights” I have — it was only last month that the Supreme Court extended the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s employment discrimination protections to LGBTQIA+ people. It comes not from a supposedly popular, trendy “gay agenda” — when I came out at 15, sophomore year, I had none of the language, legal protections, media representation and role models that affirm LGBTQIA+ youth today. It comes not from a desire to try on a “rebellious” persona — I have intuited my queerness since age 3. And it certainly doesn’t come from sexual compulsion — as young as age 7, long before puberty, other kids and even adults mocked my queerness before I could even name it. My critique of anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma comes from the full story that most clergy — but, again, not all — refuse to tell when they speak on LGBTQIA+ folks without having ever engaged any LGBTQIA+ clinic, civic/community center, cultural institution, family, youth group or nursing home of pioneering elders who shaped history. My vocal dissent comes from the fact that living in a conservative, anti-LGBTQIA+ region can take off 10 years of a queer man’s life expectancy, primarily because of a high anti-LGBTQIA+ homicide rate that rarely makes the news, and of course, disproportionate suicide rates traced back to minority stress and social stigma . When Christian leaders teach that LGBTQIA+ people are inherently dirty, defective, delusional and damned, they convince believers that 750 million people worldwide, and over 14 million Americans, deserve dehumanization and persecution. Anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric desensitizes churchgoers to anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, and emboldens them to pathologize activists like me as “false prophets.” And when they’re not even aware of having been indoctrinated and socialized to see me as less holy, they can also feel sinful and “guilty by association” for defending me as an ally. But is it not “sinful” to stage an unprovoked, bloody attack on a couple holding hands? In the aforementioned story, the homophobes are the real “sinners.” So, if you use the pulpit to speak authoritatively on LGBTQIA+ people, tell the full story. Call out the delusion of those who distort and misconstrue scripture to rationalize torture. Condemn their “reprobate” minds. Use G-d’s word to denounce oppressors, as much as you do innocent people who are oppressed. To be clear, I’m not generalizing all Christians and all churches. LGBTQIA-affirming clergy certainly exist. There’s Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza , author of “ Activist Theology ;” Kevin Garcia , author of “ Bad Theology Kills ,” as well as Dr. William Barber II , Bishop Yvette Flunder , Rev. Otis Moss , Rev. Kyndra Frazier and Dr. Rudy Rasmus , to name a few. However, the fact remains that few churches condemn anti-LGBTQIA+ violence, even when folks kill in the name of G-d. Attributing the LGBTQIA+ population’s high rates of addiction , HIV/AIDS , homelessness and suicide to a sinful “lifestyle” — that’s more commonplace. Blaming oppressed individuals, not the dominant culture or society’s inequitable systems, enables guilt-free complicity and allows one to delude himself into believing a Pride Parade is sufficient atonement for centuries of harm. But as Malcolm X once explained: “If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out that’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the blow made. And they haven’t even pulled the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.” Moreover, sermons should not prompt preteens to frantically call crisis lines , hoping to be talked down from a suicide attempt. From my perspective as a former crisis counselor for 1-800-273-TALK and the Trevor Project, every single anti-LGBTQIA+ sermon should be balanced with the fact that half of all kids kicked out on the street are LGBTQIA+ , and half of all homeless LGBTQIA+ children come from religious families . Or the fact that a mountain of research on conversion therapy — informed by the testimonies of over 698,000 survivors , including 77,000 LGBTQIA+ kids experimented on annually — has resulted in 20 states outlawing it . Or the fact that until 1973 , “homosexuality” — the humanizing terms “gay” and “lesbian” didn’t yet exist — was classified as a mental disorder akin to pedophilia. Or, why not use the pulpit to mention the fact that 40% of gay Black boys reported attempting suicide in 2012, and nearly all cited religious homophobia as a major stressor? Or, that without gay Black pacifist Bayard Rustin , Dr. King’s right-hand-man who organized the March on Washington for the “I Have A Dream” speech, neither the Voting Rights Act of 1965, nor the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, would exist. Or, that two of the three Black Lives Matter founders are lesbian Black women . Clergy can argue until they’re blue in the face that the Bible contains the one and only truth, and any evidence of religious-motivated hate crimes is deceptive, secular or worldly. But these facts about people killing in G-d’s name, and distorting scripture to rationalize the sins of oppression — they’re undeniable, verifiable and well-documented. And as for LGBTQIA+ people’s supposed “sensitivity,” I’ve never heard it expressed more eloquently than this: “No, people aren’t more sensitive now … We, as a people, know better now. Therefore, we, as a people, are trying to do better now.” If you believe LGBTQIA+ overcomers are hypersensitive, perhaps you actually just dislike getting corrected with constructive criticism and feedback, and feel entitled to a pass. Perhaps you can’t see how your own sensitivity leads to backlash and consequences, by refusing to empathize with the oppressed, unless you’re affected. Perhaps people are mirroring your attitude. Writer Amy Dentana once said, “People often say ‘stop being angry and educate me’, not understanding the education is in the anger.” As I described in “6 Ways the Church Can Take Accountability for Their Part in the High LGBTQIA+ Suicide Rate,” perhaps you aren’t truly listening without centering your ego and privilege over others’ pain. In actuality, folks trampled on most by society often possess deeply profound insight on forgiveness, healing, hope, patience, perseverance and resilience. The most Spirit-filled believers typically have “seen it all.” They don’t pretend to be perfect or to have never struggled. These survivors-turned-healers are mischaracterized as false prophets, only by the dismissive, holier-than-thou, willfully ignorant folks committed to misunderstanding them. Christians raised on anti-LGBTQIA+ dogma should always remember that “agreeing to disagree” over the best gospel singer isn’t the same as standing on the wrong side of history. At some point, one must acknowledge the hypocrisy of believing a rapture will spare them, while creating hell for LGBTQIA+ people right here on earth. If having been raised in an anti-LGBQIA+ church family is your current struggle or past trauma , keep reading. I wish you the best along your journey toward healing and reclaiming your divinity. Affirmations 1. I am not a bad person for needing to cut off or distance myself from willfully ignorant childhood friends, family members or spiritual leaders. 2. I am not defined by my ability or willingness to “reproduce” and I don’t owe older generations godchildren, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. 3. I am not defined by the “gay agenda” conspiracy theory used to hypersexualize, scapegoat and stereotype LGBTQIA+ people. 4. I am not “easily offended” or “sensitive” for calling out those who masquerade anti-LGBTQIA+ bias as “agreeing to disagree” or “playing devil’s advocate.” 5. I am not “forcing” myself on kids by living openly and being public about my relationships. 6. I am not obligated to downplay the toll of religious trauma or spiritual abuse on LGBTQIA+ people’s mental health , to spare the feelings of family members who are in denial about church homophobia. 7. I am not obligated to follow in the footsteps of anyone who raised me, to fulfill their dream for me. 8. I am not obligated to shoulder the burden of educating relatives who refuse to proactively Google free, accessible resources on allyship, or LGBTQIA+ culture, history, identity, politics or social services. 9. I am not obligated to wrangle with anyone whose insight is limited by confirmation bias — favoritism for prejudiced misinformation over credible, valid sources that challenge, debunk and invalidate biases and stereotypes. 10. I am not paranoid for perceiving and calling out passive-aggressive disrespect (e.g., backhanded compliments, sarcasm and snickers, sermons that disclose private information “accidentally,” etc). 11. I am not “sinful” for seeking out LGBTQIA+ friends and role models who share my life experiences, nor am I wrong for wanting to escape abusive and controlling relatives who misconstrue this as “lust” or “temptation.” 12. I am not “too much” for openly discussing hate crimes and other forms of oppression I’ve overcome. 13. I am not unreasonable for expecting family to extend their acceptance to the entire LGBTQIA+ community for the sake of affirming my dignity, honoring my healing and protecting my safety and welfare. 14. I can and will be an attentive, empowering, supportive adoptive parent whose kids appreciate my commitment to offering the unconditional love I was denied. 15. I do not need to overachieve or overcompensate to prove my goodness or worthiness to those committed to invalidating or mischaracterizing me. 16. I may feel confused while navigating society’s heteronormative, heterosexist, patriarchal dominant culture, but I am not confused about who I am as a gender nonconforming and/or non-heterosexual person. 17. I reject the misattribution of my depression or poor coping mechanisms to my identity itself rather than the cultural, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized oppression I was socialized into since childhood. 18. I reject the generalization that all LGBTQIA+ spaces are drama- and drug-filled, hypersexual and party-centric, and know that internalized oppression and shame often causes in-fighting and maladaptive coping. 19. I repel closed-minded people by embracing my authenticity and unique essence, instead of assimilating my mannerisms or presentation, compartmentalizing and conforming my politics, and/or shrinking my personality. 20. I will thrive without an apology from relatives who have gossiped about or teased me about my gender expression, whether during early childhood, my preteen or adolescent years, or young adulthood. Recommended Readings Black Church Homophobia: What to Do About It? The Black Church, The Black Community, and the Politics of Homophobia Children of Same-Sex Couples Do Better in School Damned to Hell: The Black Church Experience for College-Educated Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals Gay Men On Campus: Smart, Studious, Involved Homophobic? Re-Read Your Bible How LGBT Adults See Society and How Society Sees Them How Religion Is Killing Our Most Vulnerable Youth HRC Report: Startling Data Reveal Half of LGBTQ Employees Remain Closeted At Work Kids Meet A Gay Conversion Therapy Survivor Killing Spirits: How Black Churches and Families Harm Through Homophobia, Transphobia, and Heterosexism Lack of Trust in Law Enforcement Hinders Reporting of LGBTQ Crimes Mom, I’m Not A Girl: Raising A Transgender Child People of Color Are Far More Likely to Be Victims of Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes The pink triangle prisoners: The Nazis’ persecution of gay men during the Holocaust Recent Murders of Black Trans Women Reveal A Nationwide Crisis, Advocates Say Research Brief: Black LGBTQIA+ Youth Mental Health Romans 1 Isn’t Anti-Gay The number of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate groups grew 43% in 2019. White House says that’s “a far-left smear.” Texas Churches Make Infamous Anti-LGBT Hate Groups List Trump Administration has Attacked LGBTQIA+ People 125 Times Since Taking Office Why Gay Parents May Be the Best Parents 18 Anti-Gay Hate Groups and Their Propaganda

Araya Baker

How the Church Can Address Their Part in the High LGBTQIA Suicide Rate

My life’s work is combating the disproportionate, high suicide rate in the LGBTQIA+ community. Nearly a decade ago, National Youth Pride Services — a leadership development non-profit aimed at empowering LGBTQIA+ Black youth — surveyed gay, Black boys about their mental health history. Four out of 10 reported a suicide attempt, citing a lack of family support, mentors, school inclusion and spiritual affirmation. Those findings compelled me to apply for a master’s in counseling. Today, I am an openly queer, Black therapist, as well as a former crisis counselor for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and The Trevor Project , the national 24-hour crisis line for LGBTQIA+ youth. I have also educated child welfare workers on protecting LGBTQIA+ youth in abusive foster families, as a trainer for the Los Angeles LGBT Center , the world’s largest LGBTQIA+ facility and service provider. Yet, directly undermining my mission to eradicate mental health disparities are churches that propagate anti-LGBTQ religious dogma. For LGBTQIA+ Christians, self-acceptance can complicate finding a “church home.” Sermons explicitly communicate some churches’ expectation that LGBTQIA+ members go back in the closet, or remain closeted, while other churches do so covertly through the promotion of conversion therapy, or subtle alienation, hostility and shame. Raising this issue can elicit deflection and defensiveness from many non-LGBTQIA+ Christians and church leaders, even despite impeccable tact. To quote activist and writer Terrance Thomas, “Accountability feels like an attack, when you’re not ready to acknowledge how your behavior is harmful.” One’s tone is never palatable enough when exposing denial and willful ignorance. But my sense of urgency around LGBTQIA+ suicide will not let obstinance deter me. So, in practical, concrete terms, here is how I envision the Church — the universal body of believers — taking accountability for anti-LGBTQIA+ religious rhetoric that fuels the LGBTQIA+ suicide rate. 1. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like LGBTQIA+ Christians being trusted to give constructive feedback regarding homophobia, with their genuine concern, good intentions and sincere investment in the Church acknowledged. But doing so first requires non-LGBTQIA+ Christians to unlearn stereotypes mischaracterizing LGBTQIA+ people as sinners, with deceitful ulterior motives. 2. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like church leaders reciprocating the benefit of the doubt, fairness and non-judgmental listening which they often expect others to extend by default. When engaging LGBTQIA+ survivors of spiritual abuse , this means listening to understand, not solely to respond, as well as not tone-policing how they express justifiable mistrust. Empathetic listening means checking self-centered reactions, such as interjecting “but not all Christians;” mentioning your church’s uniqueness to suggest LGBTQIA+ Christians’ concerns are exaggerated generalizations; or invalidating plain, undeniable truths that lack a sugarcoated delivery, and burst your bubble, as a bishop, choir director, church mother, first lady, preacher’s kid, etc. In the words of writer Amy Denata, “People often say, ‘Stop being angry and educate me,’ not understanding that the education is in the anger.” 3. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like respecting LGBTQIA+ people’s multidimensional humanity and multi-layered complexity — in other words, not reducing LGBTQIA+ culture and identity down to a “gay agenda,” hypersexuality or misconceptions about mental illness . Can you acknowledge that LGBTQIA+ people are arguably the most “pro-family” American demographic, being more likely than most others to adopt and foster the estimated two million abandoned and neglected children either on the streets or in the child welfare system? Can you acknowledge that some of the most attentive parents and supportive educators are LGBTQIA+ individuals who constantly strive to offer the unconditional love they never received? Can you acknowledge that reducing same-sex relationships to lustful “fleshly desires” hypersexualizes and stereotypes LGBTQIA+ people? 4. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like openly affirming and including LGBTQIA+ Christians. That entails acknowledging how “neutrality” and passivity betray and oppress, despite non-action seeming untraceable. When publicly asked about LGBTQIA+ inclusion, “agreeing to disagree” or side-stepping with vague non-answers, allows people to fill in the blanks with hate. As activist and author Arundhati Roy so eloquently stated, “The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.” I highlight the repercussions of complicity in “ Activism As Prayer: Three Calls Action for Christians to Embrace Biblical Justice . ” 5. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like church leaders admitting that they often fall prey to confirmation bias — favoritism for prejudiced misinformation that seemingly substantiates bias, over credible, valid sources that debunk and invalidate pre-existing stereotypes. Circumventing this pitfall necessitates a willingness to examine implicit biases, inherited beliefs, and socialization, to acknowledge blind spots and shortcomings, to admit fault, and most importantly, to actually listen to LGBTQIA+ people. The Heterosexual Privilege Checklist offers a great introduction. The task of unlearning or relearning also involves studying the Bible in conjunction with texts from other disciplines, such as child psychology, family studies, gender studies, public health and social work. The difference between wise and smart is an interdisciplinary mindset that integrates and synthesizes knowledge. Moreover, if obsolete Biblical languages matter to divinity schools, it should also matter that Akkadian and Sumerian texts from 4,500 years ago document transgender priests . Theological training should also include exposure to recent LGBTQIA+ history. For example, Bayard Rustin — a notable gay, Black Civil Rights leader, and Rev. Martin Luther King’s right-hand man — planned the March on Washington for the “I Have A Dream” speech. An even more recent fact is that two of the three Black Lives Matter founders are lesbian Black women . 6. The accountability I want to see from the Church looks like acknowledging that authority within the Church is not license to “play G-d” by hierarchizing sins, or to declare that G-d seeks revenge through personal and societal tragedy, like grief, pandemics or terrorism. Clergy should critically examine motives behind maniacal characterizations of G-d and scriptural interpretations that read like a horror story. As a vocal leader in the LGBTQIA+ community and the mental health field, anti-LGBTQIA+ dogmatism unfairly increases the demand for my time and work. Yet, my ask is so reasonable and so unintrusive: stop rationalizing toxic theology that scapegoats LGBTQIA+ people. At a certain point, a global, billion-dollar institution’s callousness and recklessness amounts to genocide.

Araya Baker

Affirmations for Hope During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As an activist-therapist whose work is guided by the feminist principle “the personal is political,” I’m keenly aware of the emotional toll of not only pandemic anxiety due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) — new-to humans virus that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications — but also the sociopolitical context driving this public health crisis. Right now, a good number of Americans are feeling overwhelmed by a myriad of complex feelings: exhaustion from breaking news; powerlessness in response to financial precarity and the scarcity of resources; pressure from employers and schools to remain productive; and betrayal and disillusionment about our government’s slow action. Compounded with this constellation of stressors is anticipatory grief, contagion or health anxiety , cabin fever and isolation from social distancing. However, arguably the most stressful part of surviving COVID-19 — for working people, at least — is the realization that “going back to normal” means history could repeat itself, thus retraumatizing us. Consequently, this pandemic has forced American workers to reckon with a sober reality check that many have preferred to numb or remain in denial about, until now: the ugly truth that the “American Dream” of financial security and stability could perhaps always be out of reach, particularly when natural disasters undermine our hard work. This pandemic’s spiraling death toll, and its disruption of our daily lives, have forced many Americans into an awakening of critical consciousness about the ways in which America’s individualistic brand of patriotism serves to mask corruption, inequity and a profit-over-people national ethos. To be sure, the most disenfranchised, exploited and marginalized Americans have long been aware that U.S. schools offer an incomplete political education that intentionally inculcates poor and working Americans with the self-sabotaging conviction that any form of an economic safety net constitutes a crutch or handout. Yet, for the first time in forever, the majority seems hyperaware of the pressure of survival under capitalism, and the dire need for an approach to addressing societal problems that is humane and preventative, not simply eleventh-hour and reactive. Moreover, despite how moving it’s been to witness the recent surge in celebrity philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and mass solidarity with “essential workers” on the frontlines, many of whom are often underappreciated or invisibilized, the fact remains that our collective sacrifice compensates for a government that largely devalues our humanity. The bottom line is that if our legislators ceased extending tax breaks to banks and billionaires, our basic survival needs — food, functional housing and healthcare — wouldn’t need to be tied to employment or a company’s inhumane sick leave policies. For many, this harsh epiphany, along with the fact there’s not yet a light at the end of the tunnel, has been a bitter pill to swallow. As a result, many of us are fretting over where we go from here, especially with election season nearing. Here are a few affirmations I penned to help myself and others weather this storm, and console ourselves as we navigate our way through uncharted territory ahead. 1. Feeling emotionally exhausted as I process the constant flux of this crisis only means I am concerned, compassionate and humanly vulnerable. 2. I rebuke the capitalistic conditioning that drives self-shaming, whenever I prioritize much-needed rest over grind culture and productivity. 3. My inability to focus or stay on task is my system’s natural response to being overwhelmed, and I only dehumanize myself by pathologizing how I adapt. 4. Mitigating my distress with good news, joy, pleasure and self-care is a healing act of self-preservation, not self-indulgence. 5. Small contributions to my community and within my networks are helpful and meaningful, even if I’m not on the frontlines. 6. Muting pandemic-related posts for the sake of my anxiety , or altogether “unplugging,” doesn’t suggest I’m apathetic, disengaged, or self-centered. 7. My method of staying up-to-date with news can differ from everyone else’s. 8. Relapsing into maladaptive coping mechanisms is OK, as long as I consult my own accountability plan, and/or am honest with my accountability buddy. 9. Missing the physical touch or presence of others doesn’t make me needy. 10. I’m never alone, though I may feel forgotten about while social distancing. 11. COVID-19 recoveries are happening every day, and there is a collective effort beyond my awareness that will see us through. 12. I’m allowed to feel simultaneously fortunate/grateful and miserable. 13. Reaching out for help with my financial struggles takes bravery and radical vulnerability. 14. People can relate to my anxiety , existential dread, fear, grief and hopelessness more than I presume, and if/when I open up to others, I’ll be validated. 15. Adjusting to change is difficult, but a new, better “normal” is underway, and my role in bringing it to fruition matters immensely. Struggling with anxiety due to COVID-19? Check out the following articles from our community: If I Get COVID-19 It Might Be Ableism – Not the Virus – That Kills Me I’m Afraid I’ll Be Told to ‘Sacrifice’ My Health for COVID-19 Patients The Problem With Saying ‘Only’ the Elderly and Immunocompromised Will Be Affected by COVID-19 How Can You Tell the Difference Between Anxiety and COVID-19 Symptoms? 7 Things to Do If Social Distancing Is Triggering Your Depression What to Do If the Coronavirus Health Guidelines Are Triggering Your Anxiety or OCD

Araya Baker

How to Give Your Therapist Uncomfortable Feedback

As a therapist who often engages in mental health advocacy on social media, my timelines are usually a constant stream of articles and blog posts re lated to mental health . Re cently, a think piece on client-therapist compatibility caught my attention, as I had been contemplating whether my own therapist and I were working well together. I couldn’t have come across a more discouraging resource! For almost every problem listed, the proposed solution was to drop out of therapy, or “ghost” — but without first making an earnest attempt at broaching the problematic concern. This misguided advice unsettled me for a couple of reasons. First, I know it’s a privilege to abruptly quit therapy on a whim, under the assumption that a better therapist will be easily affordable and readily available. I’ve witnessed this reality while working at community health agencies, where long waitlists are a given, and clients are designated to therapists by availability, not preference or specialty. Secondly, I’ve observed that clients who ghost are typically those who need support most of all, yet have the fewest options and are the least experienced with therapy. I always wish they had realized I wouldn’t have taken their departure personally, and that I would’ve assisted them with a referral. In many cases of ghosting, dropping out of therapy could’ve been a last resort, but it’s all too common for people to feel intimidated or ill-equipped to advocate for themselves. Maybe if our K-12 schools wo uld offer a mental health curriculum to demystify therapy, more people would feel empowered and informed enough to voice concerns. A savvy understanding of therapy would especially benefit people who have limited options for therapists. Knowing how to offer feedback about awkward, disappointing or uncomfortable moments in therapy, instead of ghosting to avoid confrontation, can save therapy-goers money, time, health and stability. I’m writing because I know many of us must figure out this skill through trial-and-error. This guide picks up where others left off. It addresses common issues that precipitate ghosting, while also debunking the number one belief that drives conflict avoidance: that honesty might get judged harshly or pathologized. Self-advocacy is key to reaping the benefits of therapy. When we reframe “confrontation” as self-advocacy, we’re less likely to let anything deter us from arranging our healing how we need it. 1. Consenting to lead. I once considered ghosting a therapist who would set the agenda for each session without my consent or input. As we got comfortably seated and checked in, they had a habit of minimizing red flags — like my recurrent reports of debilitating fatigue — then segueing to childhood trauma , their interest and specialty. Steering the conversation in a different direction seemed like a power struggle because I didn’t know that I could. On the whole, they weren’t a bad match, and I sometimes wonder what we could’ve accomplished had I spoken up. Lesson: You can grab the mic. 2. Identifying needs. It’s perfectly fine to seek therapy just because things don’t feel right, without having a clue as to what issues need addressing. If all you know is that you’ve been much better before, that’s OK. Therapists can help you figure it all out. That said, be mindful of deferring too much to a therapist’s interpretation of your circumstances or life narrative. The consequence might be that your therapist deems an issue problematic, while you may not desire to change it, or may disagree altogether. It’s important to remember that a therapist’s assessment or perception of your situation is professional, but also subjective. Ultimately, you know yourself best, and you should have the final say on the overarching focus or purpose of your therapy journey. Lesson: You’re the expert of yourself and your story. 3. Specifying goals. The real work finally begins when you and your therapist specify a few goals and steps to achieving them. This stage of implementing life changes is why most people seek out therapy, and yet, it can still prompt ghosting when therapists set goals for you. The consequence is that you’re not fully invested in the target outcome, which can make pushing past stagnation feel like an obligation or punishment, and being held accountable feel like pressure. Someone with a conflict-avoidant disposition might find it easier to bail in this situation, rather than propose readjusting a goalpost to suit their limitations or readiness. Lesson: For accountability to feel supportive, not pushy, your honest input is needed when setting goals and sharing updates. 4. Staying engaged. To make long-lasting, sustained change, we need lots of opportunities to practice new habits and skills. This is where therapy activities and homework are useful. An intuitive, strengths-based therapist will understand that your interests and traits are important factors in the likelihood that you’ll engage with these tasks diligently. Yet, there are also therapists who lazily assign everyone the same generic cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) worksheets, and whose insistence that you try watercolor painting seems more bossy than enthusiastic. And so you ghost, right? No. You just need to convey that facilitating your growth in ways that stimulate you requires purposeful, personalized content selection. Lesson: Early on, give pointers on how you prefer to de-stress, learn, practice new skills and process emotionally, and follow up with firm feedback. 5. Addressing oppression. You’d think there’d be a consensus among therapists that mental health disparities are linked to oppressive structural forces that sanction institutional barriers, economic exploitation, social stigma and targeted violence toward certain groups. Yet, a social justice pedagogy isn’t central to every counselor training program. Some therapists won’t know how to apply an anti-oppressive framework to your concerns, or to the dynamic and interactions between the two of you. When confronted with a therapist’s unconscious biases or blindspots of privilege, put them in the hot seat. Ask them what they’re committed to (un)learning in order to empower you. It’s imperative to stress that the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics prohibits decontextualizing your wellness or identity-related concerns from sociopolitical conditions that impact the collective welfare of communities to which you belong. If, after honest self-assessment, they deem themselves ill-equipped to do so, they’re required to refer you. I delve more into anti-oppressive therapy, in Therapists for Women of Color and Queer People: How to Find One and 52 Mental Health Resources for Disabled People, POC, LGBTQ Folks and More . Lesson: Anti-oppressive therapy necessitates a therapist who genuinely empowers your identity development and pursuit of political liberation. Not every therapist has that capacity, but you’re certainly entitled to it. In all of these scenarios, remember that staying present through the tensions that arise can be both a matter of resourcefulness and an act of self-love.

Araya Baker

Disabled, LGBTQIA+, People of Color or Religious Minority Therapists

This past #WorldMentalHealthDay, I posted a social media status about how imperative it is for folks from minority communities to support therapists from underrepresented backgrounds, like counselors and psychologists who identify as people of color; queer, transgender or non-Christian folks; and/or as individuals who have mental illness or other disabilities. Suddenly, I received 12 inbox messages from Facebook friends, all of them inquiring about how to find a therapist. If this doesn’t speak to underrepresentation in the field, I don’t know what does. Unfortunately, little has changed during the 40 or 50 years since the mental health field first opened its doors and ivory towers to folks besides White men, starting with middle and upper-class White women. Today, more than any other demographic, White women still predominate the field, constituting upward of 75 percent of therapists and social workers. Correspondingly, a 2013 study found that White Americans comprised 83.6 percent of psychologists, while the representation of Black Americans stood at 5.3 percent, Latinx at 5 percent, and Asian-Americans a mere 4.3 percent. Native Americans were not even accounted for. I’ve also found no estimates, to date, of the number of LGBTQIA+ therapists, which means that queer, Black therapists like me are essentially erased and invisible. This poses a huge risk for the millions of queer people of color out there, who desperately want and/or need to know if therapists like me even exist. A number of professionals in the mental health field, much like many educators in the field, believe that clients from minoritized communities gain no exceptional benefits from working with therapists who share with them a certain identity and community. Yet, research on race matching suggests that for some clients, sharing a minoritized identity with a therapist may reduce guardedness, mistrust and self-consciousness. The converse idea — that representation is only surface-deep — isn’t backed with any evidence, and is quite frankly rooted in greed. People deserve to have their needs met. Simple as that. So, my professional ethics and integrity mean I never let clients settle for a therapist who isn’t a good fit, possibly including myself. Still, I felt compelled to raise awareness about the overlooked issue of minority therapists needing support. Institutionalized bias often drives us into private practice, but we also experience discrimination in the competitive rate race of the Psychology Today job market. Oftentimes, without any reciprocity from the communities we aim to serve and advocate for, we can’t get our businesses off the ground or claim our stake in the field. Moreover, when our communities don’t know how and where to find us, the potentially mutual benefit that could happen, can’t happen. Enter: this directory of directories. Please feel free to share this resource guide with others who may need it. I hope it answers the many questions I’ve received. For more culturally relevant information on how to navigate the mental health system and tips on how to find a therapist, you can check out “ Therapists for Women of Color and Queer People: How to Find One , ” follow me on Twitter @Fight4TheYouth or visit my website, jeffbaker.org. Sending light and love, Jeff Baker, M.Phil.Ed. A version of this article, containing the directory of therapists, was originally published on the author’s blog .