This is a featured article from TAASA’s Fall 2015 Newsletter, authored by Braden Weinmann.
The mission of the Concho Valley Rape Crisis Center (CVRCC) is to create social change within the Concho Valley by providing prevention, education, advocacy, and a safe place to foster healing for survivors of sexual violence and gender discrimination. To fulfill this mission more comprehensively, the CVRCC Board of Directors and Staff decided to hire a part-time LGBT+ Services Coordinator to serve as a liaison between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender individuals and the services provided by the CVRCC.
My name is Braden Weinmann, and I took on the position of LGBT+ Services Coordinator in order to facilitate transformation of the climate and attitudes towards LGBT+ individuals in the Concho Valley area. I was born and raised right here in San Angelo and have developed a love for the friendly and hospitable nature of its citizens. However, I know that not every community member feels safe or comfortable with sharing their true identities with others for fear of abandonment or abuse. I want to help the Concho Valley community to understand that individuals identifying as LGBT+ are people with the same wants and needs as anyone else. While I can already perceive a shift in attitudes, I believe there are still more than a few myths surrounding the LGBT+ community that should be dispelled. My hope is that through education and community dialogue, the CVRCC may facilitate a community-wide initiative to help LGBT+ individuals feel safe and secure in living their lives in the open. Although some people prefer “closeted” lifestyles for various reasons such as safety and convenience, I believe the risk of backlash should not necessitate this choice.
Unfortunately, being LGBT+ and expressing an LGBT+ identity may draw unwanted negative attention. On average, LGBT+ individuals experience disproportionate rates of many types of abuse and violence. Physical, verbal, sexual, and emotional abuse are unfortunately common experiences, especially for LGBT+ youth and LGBT+ people of color. LGBT+ individuals also express suicidal thoughts and actions at a higher rate than the average population, likely explained by harmful stigma and societal pressure to either stay closeted or even make attempts to change one’s true sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Some people still believe in the efficacy of ex-gay therapy and conversion therapy despite the vast majority of social science and health and human service organizations denouncing the practice based on the Hippocratic oath to do no harm to patients and clients (American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, etc.).
In order to foster development towards our goal of creating a warm and accepting Concho Valley, the CVRCC will start hosting events specifically for LGBT+ individuals and their supporters, families, and friends. These events will be safe space events where individuals are free to express as much or as little of their identities as they wish without fear of discrimination or harassment. We will include support group meetings where LGBT+ individuals may come to get her and share their lived experiences with their peers, social events such as book clubs and crafts, and meetings for parents and friends (which will possibly include Abilene’s chapter of PFLAG-Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). We plan to facilitate the creation of a Concho Valley PFLAG group. Starting small with support groups and social events will hopefully segue into events on a larger scale including LGBT+ pride rallies and family diversity picnics.
The global attitude regarding expression of sexual and gender identities is developing into a more positive state. However, LGBT+ individuals can still benefit from grassroots initiatives in their home regions. West Texas commonly and traditionally includes conservative values which sometimes explicitly or implicitly silence LGBT+ individuals attempting to simply seek fellowship and support. For some, being LGBT+ in West Texas is an isolating experience. Our community wide initiative will seek to draw LGBT+ individuals together to take advantage of such resources as finding friends and allies at game nights and receiving victim assistance and guidance after instances of sexual or other types of abuse and violence. The CVRCC offers services to all individuals in the Concho Valley, which is further evidenced by our LGBT+ initiatives. Eventually, we will see a reduction in stigma and violence towards LGBT+ individuals in the Concho Valley area upon successful collaboration between the CVRCC, other community health and education agencies, LGBT+ individuals, and their allies. Our mission is to create social change, and LGBT+ advocacy is one important facet of championing a healthier and safer Concho Valley community.
TAASA and its member programs resolve to be responsive to all victims of sexual violence regardless of gender or sexual orientation, including LGBT+ individuals. For those interested, CVRCC is having their Pride Week June 12-18, 2016.