Mental Health in Virginia & LGBT



A recent article from the Richmond Times-Dispatch revealed some disturbing facts when it comes to mental health and youth in Virginia. According to Mental Health America, Virginia was ranked 38th among states, down from the previous ranking of 27th. A major reason for this downgrade in ranking was due to the fact that youth in the state who battle depression are less likely to receive treatment compared to other states.

Major barriers currently exist that prevent youth from receiving mental health treatment, including the fact that Virginia only spends 52% of the national average on community-based mental health care according to Bruce Cruser, Executive Director of Mental Health America of Virginia—who was quoted in the article. Currently, the Governor is exploring a number of efforts to improve access to mental health care in the state. Some of these efforts include an expansion of Medicaid and improving access to care.

Addressing mental health of youth is critically important, especially for those who identify as LGBTQ+ who are twice as likely as their peers to say they have been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved. Having one’s physical well-being at risk can have negative consequences on LGBTQ+ youth education. In fact, the latest school climate snap shot by GLSEN revealed that Virginia schools are not safe for most LGBTQ+ youth. Additionally, this impacts the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth in the following ways:

  • Substance Use: Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are more than twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
  • Happiness: Only 37% of LGBT youth report being happy, while 67% of non-LGBT youth say they are happy. However, over 80% of LGBT youth believe they will be happy eventually, with nearly half believing that they will need to move away from their current town to find happiness.
  • Self-Harm: With each instance of verbal or physical harassment, the risk of self-harm among LGBT youth is 2 ½ times more likely.
  • Suicide: Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

Mental health is a major issue that cannot be ignored, particularly as it pertains to our youth who are some of the most vulnerable. The article and aforementioned facts, demonstrate just how important it is for the community to be aware of the impact that a lack of mental health awareness and solutions can have on society. Without comprehensive solutions, the future of our youth is at stake.

Safe Space, Inc., encourages Governor Terry McAuliffe and members of the Virginia General Assembly to pay particular attention to LGBTQ+ youth when making critical decisions about how to improve mental health services for Virginia youth.

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In The News!

On November 4, 2016, Dr. Hunt appeared on British Columbia’s 24-hour news channel, Global News: BC1. He discussed how it has been to teach politics in the year of Donald Trump.  Additionally, Dr. Hunt gave his prediction for the 2016 Presidential Election.  View his appearance here or below.

In The News!

On October 6, 2016, Dr. Hunt was featured in an NPR story entitled, How Do You Teach Politics During An Election That Defies Convention?, by Sam Sanders.  Listen to the story here or below.

The Time Has Come To Deal With The Issue Of Race

I wrote this post a little while ago, but never got around to publishing it.  Hope you enjoy reading it….

A recent poll revealed that 4 out of 10 Americans are okay with Blackface.  Honestly, I am not surprised and I am sure that many other Americans are not either.  This is a serious problem!  One that needs to be addressed in our society.

Halloween or any type of themed party, does not give anyone permission to perpetuate stereotypes about a race, culture, or poke fun in jest about these individuals.  Hiding behind the guise of a theme is just cowardly and ignorant.  It is often said that true feelings and thoughts come out when adults have too much to drink. I believe that same can be said for those that choose to dress up in an offensive manner on Halloween or at themed parties.

The past couple of weeks have been filled with instances where people have showed their true colors—from the person who decided to dress up as Trayvon Martin for Halloween, Julian Hough dressing as a popular black character from Orange is the New Black, and those who wore Blackface to a “Disco Africa,” Halloween party.  Let’s take a moment to put the shoe on the other foot.  I am sure if I as a black man, decided to dress up as a Jewish man who was in an internment camp, people would be outraged.  They would say I was being disrespectful to those that lost their lives during the Holocaust.  And I could not agree more.

We should have that same outrage for those who choose to wear Blackface. Blackface has a stepped history of perpetuating negatively stereotypes of blacks for a laugh.  Considering how blacks in this country continue to struggle for equality, Blackface is the last thing people should be doing in jest. Even if you think we are in a “post-racial” world, it’s simply unacceptable.

In this country we continue to push aside the issue of race, especially when it is brought up by African Americans.   Some will say, “Oh slavery was a longtime ago,” or “the Civil Rights Movement happened x number of years ago. Can’t we just let it go?”  No, we can’t just let it go.

It is our inability to learn from these past events and evolve on the issue of race that hinders us as a society.  Instead, we seek to lock up these past instances of horrific violence and discrimination in a nice little box and store it away in our attic never to be seen again.  But we have attempted to do this for far too long and the time has come for us to really deal with the issue of race.

Unfortunately, there is no easily solution of how this should be accomplished.  Nor, do I have the best possible way to start the discussion.   But it is definitely something that we need to tackle as a collective community.  We need to understand that dealing with race will not be an easy conversation and will be difficult at times.  It will require brute honestly, self-reflection, and emotions.

While I may not know the best way to start the conversation on race, I can tell you what I do to push the discussion forward in my own little way.  As a college professor, I make it my mission to expose my students and encourage them to see social issues from another groups prospective.  I often play devil’s advocate and will bring a minority perspective into class discussions to challenge the prevailing societal notions.

Although this may not seem like a big deal, it is very important.  I am challenged with preparing the next generation of leaders to lead an ever changing and more diverse country, and world.  If we are not able to learn from past instances, mistakes, have open dialogue that propels discussion about how to address current and emerging problems, then we are in big trouble.  So the next time you or someone you knows thinks it will be a good idea to wear Blackface or some other form of offensive costume, take a moment to think of the larger implications outside of the number of likes you’ll receive on your Instagram page.

Career Academies Are A Right Move For DC Schools

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Let’s face the facts, we live in a changing world where the road to economic stability and success is closely tied to quality education.    Quality education to means providing students with the tools and knowledge to be able to make a difference and fulfill the needs within our society.  This can occur immediately after high school, college, or graduate or professional school.

Not everyone who is economically stable or successful has attended a top ranked university, college, or community college.  Nor does every profession require our youth to take one of the aforementioned roads.   But the Career Academies that were introduced last week provide students with the necessary tools to directly enter the workforce or continue their education after high school.

Therefore, why wouldn’t a program that provides our youth a pathway from high school to employment, be important?  Well, DC Council member, David Catania, for one is not of a fan of this program he has called it, “anemic” in comparison to the youth of the city who have dropped out or our unemployed.  Moreover, he feels that “if a city can find $150 million to build a soccer stadium, we can certainly find money to make a commensurate investment in our young people?”

Well, Mr. Catania, aren’t we investing in some of these students with this program?  It may not be the equivalent of soccer stadium funding, but $2.8 million is not something to turn your nose up at either.  It’s funding that will be used to prepare students in three areas of demand in which the District needs workers—hospitality, engineering, and information technology.   It will in no way solve the all the problems of the educational system, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

For this very reason, I agree with Mayor Grey who supports this program and has stated, “Our goal is to be able to get people to work and reduce our unemployment levels over time.”  A lot of talk is always had about the bad reputation DC schools has and how test scores don’t reflect the money poured into the system.  However, when an innovative or new program is introduced some run for the hills screaming why the program will not work and how money could be spent “more” wisely.

Moreover, many residents of this city and outsiders complain that the youth of DC are inadequately prepared to work or pursue higher education.  Programs such as the career academies help to resolve this issue and provide the youth with  opportunities for a great future.  Second, the programs help to fulfill desperately needed jobs within the city.  Third, this provides an alternative career path for those students who feel that college is not the route they want to take immediately and gives them the skills necessary to enter in demand fields immediately following high school.  Finally, it will  allow those who want to continue their education to be able to do with the skills necessary to have success in college and beyond.

Simply, detractors of the DC educational system cannot always have their cake and eat it too.  There is no harm in providing students with a variety of options and the ability to take their economic stability and success into their own hands.  Isn’t it better to have another option available to students who would otherwise dropout because they don’t feel that the school system is preparing them to enter the work force or obtain higher education?

Instead, of being quick to already doom the program as a waste of money or not enough to solve the problem, we need to give it a chance to see if it will indeed work.  And take all of that negative energy and put it into fixing other parts of the school system so it is effective as whole and not just in parts.  We owe that to the youth of this city.

Obama: Leader of Change and Progress

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In the wee morning hours of November 7th, I like many Americans had my heavy sleep deprived eyes glued to the TV as President Obama addressed his supporters and the nation. Make no mistake about it; this was a moment for history. The first African American president in the history of the United States had been reelected to a second term, cementing his rightful place in history and showing the world that his initial election was not a fluke.

Let’s face it, President Obama was facing tremendous pressure in his reelection campaign. Would he end up going down in history as the first African-American president who was only able to serve one term? Would he still have the same support he had in 2008? How would his handling of the economy and stance on social issues sit with voter when they went to cast their ballots?

Therefore, President Obama’s decision to come out in support of same sex marriage so close to reelection was even more important. This decision showed us that President Obama was a leader who talked-the-talked and walked-the-walk. More importantly, his advocacy has shown Americans that equality is an issue that has been ignored for too long and now is the time to start making change.

His reelection coincided with a number of major victories for LGBT equality across the country. For the first time, all of the ballot measures dealing with marriage equality came out in favor of marriage equality advocates and allowed them to place a check mark in the victory column. Social conservatives were handed a defeat as they tried to remove an Iowa Supreme Court judge who had voted to legalize gay marriage in 2009 (despite the fact that they had previously succeeded in removing three judges in 2010). Additionally, 118 out of 180 gay candidates endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund won their respective races—including Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin who becomes the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate.

In many ways the LGBT community and advocates owe part of these victories to President Obama and his administration. Now I know some are saying that is absolutely absurd and are ready to write negative comments about how misguided I am. But I ask you give me a second to make my point.

I am in no way trying to demean the efforts by millions of Americans who have fought for years to obtain equality for the LGBT community. The successes to date are directly a result of their blood, sweat, tears, hard work, and determination. However, we have to look no further than the Civil Rights Movement to see how the support of an administration can mean the world to the quest for equality.

The election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 not only marked an era of change but a new era for progressives and their goals. President Obama with his mantra of change ushered in a new way of thinking and a more progressive government needed for modern times. President Obama was not about to let the old way of thinking get in the way of creating a greater America for all. As a result, we have witnessed an administration that has done more to extended equality to the LGBT community than any before it.

While some may counter and say that President Obama has not done enough, we cannot discount all that has been done for the LGBT community. I personally would have liked to see an end to work place discrimination with the passage of sexual orientation and gender identity inclusive Employment Nondiscrimination Act. We have far too many LGBT workers either suffering from high unemployment or are a decision away of losing their jobs simply for being who they are. But we all must acknowledge that all of the issues affecting the LGBT community cannot be solved in four short years.

The president’s support of LGBT issues and his evolution on marriage equality are a tremendous boost to progressives everywhere. Regardless if LGBT equality may be the “sexy” issue, leaning too far left on these issues could have ended up being a political liability. Even in the face of a reelection campaign where social issues may not have been the biggest hot button issue, President Obama’s decisions on these issues could have cost him some critical votes. Yet, he chose to stand on the side of equality. He did not waver. He did not back down.

That is simply what we ask of a leader—to stand up for those in need and ensure that they are treated fairly and equally with the rest of society—especially the President of the United States. President Obama has done just that. He should be commended for that. He could have buckled under the pressure that he has done much for the LGBT community but did not do nearly enough in other areas like immigration.

When the leader of the free world throws his support behind something, people take notice. Knowing that the president makes equality a priority helps to elevate reservations that some may have when it comes to progressive measures. I am sure that some voters who were on the fence about LGBT equality were swayed with the fact that the President of the United States was able to evolve on equality issues, so why shouldn’t they?

Simply, we need to be thanking President Obama for his unwavering leadership when it comes to LGBT equality. He has allowed equality to be the topic of conversation for a number of people who otherwise would not because his presidency has galvanized people politically. His leadership is ushering us forward, not back. Full LGBT equality is closer because President Obama has had the courage to make it so.


Why black LGBT Americans should support President Obama

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This past month marked the very first time I truly felt like a card carrying member of the Democratic Party.  I know this may come as a surprise.  After all, I am an African American man who just earned his doctorate and is at the beginning of what is sure to be a long successful career.  I am a beneficiary of the things that the Democratic Party fights for.

However, I am a gay African American man.  In the black community, I am seen, but rarely spoken of because of the unwritten Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy when it comes to LGBT individuals. In the larger LGBT community, issues that affect me and other black LGBT individuals and family often do not find their way into mainstream conversations.  More importantly, LGBT issues have never really been top agenda items for Democrats on the national level.

That all changed last month in Charlotte, North Carolina, the state where a ban of gay marriage passed not that long ago.  For the first time Democrats had made sure to include marriage equality in their party platform and have numerous speakers talk about extending rights to members of the LGBT community.  This wasn’t an isolated incident.

LGBT inclusion in the platform and prime time speeches comes on the heels of a number ofmeasures to improve life for LGBT Americans by the Obama administration.  The embracing of the LGBT community is something that should not be forgotten by the black LGBT community this November.  Especially since, Black LGBT individuals and families suffer disproportionately from policies that make access to economic opportunity, education and health care challenging.  And the fact that black LGBT youth face unfair criminalized in the juvenile justice system.

Having a supportive administration can go a long way to reverse the trends that are currently plaguing the Black LGBT community.  For example, under the leadership of President Obama economic barriers have been broken by allowing members of the LGBT community to serve openly with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Additionally, the administration has made obtaining affordable housing attainable via a new HUD rule that prevents discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  These are just two areas that greatly affect black LGBT individuals and families that are improving because of the leadership of President Obama.

For these reasons, we need to stand with President Obama and give him the opportunity to keep improving the lives of the LGBT community for four more years and beyond.  More importantly, we should be reaching out to everyone we know, especially those in the Black community who may feel they don’t need to vote or are considering not voting because of President Obama’s evolution on marriage.

Improving the lives of LGBT individuals and families is the right thing to do.  Equality is not meant to be extended to select members of society, it is meant to be extended to all members of society.  President Obama, his administration, and the Democratic Party understand this. They have worked together to help remove some of the barriers that prevent Black LGBT individuals from being productive members of society and be able to achieve the American dream.

And guess what the world has not ended!  Shocking, isn’t it?!

Michelle Obama said it best in her speech at the convention, “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it…and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.”

Improving the lives of LGBT individuals has been neglected for too long.  We have a supportive administration that wants to change this. So now is the time to rally everyone you know and get out the vote for President Obama.  Each vote for President Obama is a vote to ensure that the American Dream is no longer denied to the LGBT community.

Making Sense Of The LGBT Community’s High Rates Of Substance Use

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Last week, the Center for American Progress released a new issue brief on “Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use” and what can be done to reduce these rates.  Specifically, the brief mentions that an estimated 20 to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.

According to the brief, there are three main factors that contribute to these higher rates of substance use in the gay and transgender population.  The first factor is minority stress that comes from social prejudice and discriminatory laws in everyday life such as employment, relationship recognition, and health care.  Second, the lack of cultural competency in the health care system not only discourages gay and transgender individuals from seeking treatment, but can lead to inappropriate or irrelevant service.  Finally,targeted marketing by alcohol and tobacco companies are exploiting the fact that bars and clubs are not only safe spaces for socialization for gay and transgender individuals but provide easy access to tobacco products and alcohol.

As a result, gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with the challenges. The data that are available about substance abuse show just how much of an impact this is having on the gay and transgender population.  For example, gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual counterparts.  Additionally, twenty five percent of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5 to 10 percent of the general population.

The brief also mentions a number of administrative and legislative recommendations that if employed could help to reduce the high rates of substance abuse within the gay and transgender population, including several outlined by the Center for American Progress last year that the Department of Health and Human Services could take.   The legislative recommendations included the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, The Respect for Marriage Act, and the Health Equality Act.

Antiquated Family Policies Hurt LGBT Families of Color

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Today, a coalition of public policy and family advocacy organizations released “LGBT Families of Color: Facts at a Glance,” which sheds light on the disparate impact of outdated laws and family policies on LGBT families of color and their children. The publication explores the challenges that LGBT Families of color face on a daily basis and dispels the myth often perpetuated in the media that LGBT families are largely white and middle class.

According to “LGBT Families of Color,” there are roughly 2 million children in the United States being raised in LGBT families and 41 percent of these families are people of color. Both black and Latino same-sex couples are more likely to raise children than white same- sex couples. Black lesbians for example are twice as likely to be raising children as their white lesbian counterparts. The report also notes that:

Children of color, in particular, are more likely to be raised in diverse family configurations that include de facto parents and are more likely to be raised by LGBT parents. Therefore, antiquated laws have a disproportionately negative impact on children of color.

An alarming number of LGBT families of color are living in poverty. For example, 32 percent of children being raised by black same-sex couples are living in poverty compared to 7 percent of children raised by married heterosexual white parents. Yet many of these families, simply because they are LGBT, are denied access to safety net programs and federal and state tax benefits that would improve their economic situations.

LGBT families of color also experience higher rates of unemployment, or underemployment, which disrupts their access to quality healthcare since the majority of Americans rely on employer-sponsored health plans. Nonetheless, access to coverage does not always bridge the gap for these families, since most of these plans do not cover same-sex partners or their non-biological children. LGBT families of color, who are already economically insecure, may have to face the steep cost of purchasing private insurance to cover their families (or simply go without).

Stigma and discrimination further erodes these families’ overall wellbeing. The fact sheet touches on the dual burden of social stigma and discrimination LGBT families of color and their children face. These families are not only subject to racial/ethnic stereotypes and discrimination – they also face invisibility within the boarder communities to which they belong. Moreover, their children may be bullied or harassed based on their own race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity—or that of their parents.

Fortunately, some common-sense solutions can be employed that would help to eliminate or reduce the legal inequalities and social stigma that hurt LGBT families of color, especially their children. They include:

– Legally recognizing LGBT families of color via parental recognition laws at the state level; allowing same-sex couples to marry; and providing pathways to immigration and U.S. citizenship for binational and immigrant LGBT families.

– Providing equal access to government-based economic protections such as safety net programs by adopting a consistent and broad definition of family within these programs (i.e. domestic partners).

– Providing equal access to health care and health insurance, as well as medical decision-making authority for all families.

– Protecting LGBT families of color and their children with non-discrimination employment and public accommodation laws and anti-bullying policies.