There are over 14,000 treatment centers in the United States, helping individuals overcome drug and alcohol addiction and start a new life.
A life in recovery from addiction looks and feels fairly different from person-to-person. In a very positive way, an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting (or any other 12 Step meeting for that matter) will generally be an environment of economic and social diversity—expressing the truth that addiction is blind and effects people of all classes, races, religions, genders and sexualities.
However, someone who is a high-powered business person may have a different experience in early recovery than someone who has perpetually found it difficult to secure employment. Similarly, someone who is a part of the LGBTQ community may also have a different experience in early recovery than someone who is heterosexual. Why is that?
The simple answer is, we live in a hetero-biased society. One that favors hetero relationships and gender binaries. In 29 states in the US, it is legal to discriminate against those whose gender and/or sexual orientation is outside the heteronormative lifestyle.
Heteronormative speaks of the experience of heterosexuals and cisgender individuals (those whose gender identity is aligned with their biological sex assigned at birth) as “normal.” This very silenced, yet normalized, state of our society leaves a lot of opportunity for discrimination, bullying and jeopardizes a person’s self-esteem.
Experiencing discrimination on any level can be a root cause of addiction, similarly to those who have experienced trauma at any age in their lives.
How Silence Perpetuates Discrimination
Each person has experiences that can negatively shape their lives and draw them into drug or alcohol addiction, however, studies show that LGBTQ youth are a higher risk of addiction than non-LGBTQ teens.
The challenges an LGBTQ youth faces include but are not limited to – bullying at school, rejection from family and friends, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Homelessness LGBTQ youth encompasses nearly half of the homeless youth population. The Human Rights Campaign states that “26 percent of LGBTQ youth say their biggest problems are not feeling accepted by family, trouble at school/bullying, and a fear of being out/open. 22 percent of non-LGBTQ youth say their biggest problems are trouble with class exams and grades.”
In the recovery/treatment world, it is extremely important that we understand and accept that discrimination has consistently been a part of our American society and that it is a root cause of addiction. A person’s race continues to be the most targeted group of individuals who experience hate crimes in the US. The next most targeted population is the LGBTQ community.
There are many people in America, especially those drawn to the field of social work and therapy, including addiction counseling, who work hard to support individuals process and heal from the effects of discrimination, bullying and bigotry. However, there is no denying that more progress must be made in order for every person to feel safe in their community.
For those of us who have zero tolerance for discrimination, there is an imperative need and responsibility to speak up when we see and hear prejudice. Our silence can be just as harmful as the words and actions of the oppressive mindsets of others. Together we can change the environments we live and work by standing up for what we believe in.
In the treatment industry, equality has to be discussed on a clinical level for all staff members to be prepared to address the language and behavior that can trigger a client to feel unsafe.
At Inspire Recovery, we focus on providing an environment that positively supports zero tolerance of bullying behavior. Our staff is trained on cultural awareness, team building exercises happen on a monthly basis, diversity among our staff is a priority and discussing any issues around discrimination occurs at the leadership level.
When the leadership team is committed to equality, the work environment is strengthened by the underlining transparency that invites all employees to speak up when anything inappropriate is seen or heard.
In a facility where discrimination is not discussed, clients might use inappropriate language to “get a rise” out of their peers or the staff. If the situation is not addressed, a client’s harmful behavior can leave a lasting impression on those vulnerable to offensive behavior.
Sometimes joking around is a form of bullying and can go unnoticed or unreported. There are times when a client may not know who their allies are, and may decide to leave a facility that does not appear to prioritize their emotional safety or address discriminatory behavior when it arises. It is through our silence that we maintain systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and forms of religious intorance.
Lead the Way in Raising the Bar on Equality
If you are an employee at a treatment center and are interested in discussing cultural awareness with your co-workers, you can invite Inspire Recovery to come for a free visit. We will bring our LGBTQ Cultural Awareness presentation and provide time for a Q & A.
It is our mission to help increase LGBTQ cultural awareness and sensitivity within the treatment industry. We feel confident in doing community outreach that allows us to discuss equality and maintaining an anti-discrimination environment at treatment centers. We are committed to breaking the silence around discrimination and hope to inspire others to stand up and speak out anytime inappropriate language or behavior is witnessed. #LOVEWINS