I grew up not knowing what 'gay' meant and I
never knew any 'gay' people. I try to ignore the fact that I am
uncomfortable with them, but I have to face that I have some problems
treating them the same as heterosexual clients. It is not that I see them as
sinning, just 'different' and I feel really bad. The main problem is that I
have no problem talking to a female heterosexual client about her boyfriend,
but I do have problems talking with a male about his boyfriend. I would also
like to know how to steer other clients away from gay bashing and teasing.
The clients I work with are 14-20 year old street kids. Any suggestions?
Much thanks for your time.
Unfortunately we all have biases and stereotypes that follow us into our workplace...what is your bias? is it a lack of understanding? a lack of education? figure out what is really bothering you and then you will be able to start to change it...whether that is through education or whatever....as for talking to your youth about their boyfriends, why not try using a gender neutral term like partner...as what you are talking about is relationship, not what sex they are...
I was impressed by the honesty of your query and I am sure you are not alone in coming to terms with similar changing values in our societies. These things are not easy to learn "in theory" and you might do well to get to meet a colleague near you who works with GLBT clients, as a start to discovering the common issues and the different issues of people.
I would like to help! My name is Nate Whittaker and I am a Senior at the University of Minnesota. I do not identify as GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender), yet I have been known to identify as "Queer" which includes family of gay individuals and allies! My father, two aunts, a cousin, and numerous friends of mine are gay or lesbian. I am a strong advocate to the GLBT community here in Minneapolis and in Los Angeles where I lived for a period of time. I am a Multicultural Relations Major here at the U of MN.
To answer your question, I wanted to begin with a question that you should ask yourself and one that could be directed towards your clients with homophobic tendencies. The question is "How does Homophobia/Heterosexism affect ME as a "straight" person?" The question is difficult yet helps us to understand how we, as "straight" people, have been affected by these oppressions. For instance ... it is difficult for you (and many) to talk to gay couples about their relationships, but easy when it is a heterosexual couple. Also, how often is a "man" able to embrace another man? Even when I (as a male) need an amount of embracement from another male, I cannot do so without drawing attention to myself. Furthermore, think about the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the toys we buy our children, the careers you choose, etc. Sometimes the question I stated above forces us to think about the things we miss out on and are passionate about.
Secondly ... work on your FEAR. The more GLBT individuals you know and come to love, the more you will appreciate their culture and fight against the oppressions of the GLBT community. Ask them questions, meet their lovers, their families, their friends. Visit their places to "hang out" (with their invitation) and do NOTHING to prove your heterosexuality.
Third ... confront homophobic/heterosexist behavior! In the United States, it is not unusual to hear the comment "That's so GAY." When used, most people do not know what their language is saying to a larger audience. Tell them to state "what they really mean." Also, know that homophobia/Heterosexism is all around us. Watch for it, know it, and know that "gay jokes" are an easy way for us to engage in Homophobia ... It's just a joke right? Almost never!
Finally ... Educate yourself! There is a great amount of literature out there for you. There are people! People (GLBT or NOT) who care and want to help.
A closing thought: Know that unlike the oppressions felt
by a particular Ethnicity ... GLBT individuals have no "gay ethnicity" to
fall back on. Not only do many GLBT people feel the oppressions of our
society, they are also oppressed by their families! You have the chance to
be their "shoulder to cry on" and I commend you for asking your question!
One of the aspects that I, as a gay man, appreciate about your question is that you are aware of an issue you have and are seeking solutions. If you really have a problem with homosexuals, then being a child and youth worker is going to be fraught with despair (especially working with street kids as gay youth usually make up a huge portion of street kids); it sounds more like you have just not had a lot of exposure to homosexuality. Fortunately for you, and the kids you work with, you are gaining the exposure now! There is a wealth of information out there (literature galore about gay youth and services for gay youth) that you could embark on a great education. A good starting question to ask yourself is "how do I deal with other clients who are 'different'?".
PS: What has your supervisor said about this situation?
Thank you for the feedback, it is much appreciated and gives me yet another whole whack of stuff to think about as a person. Thank you for helping me towards being a more effective child and youth care worker! Have a great day.