I was recently invited by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) to speak at their LGBTQIA+ round table. In a Canadian context, I am more used to using the terms LGBTQ2S+ community so please be aware that the acronyms used may vary depending on the culture you’re part of. If you don’t know what the acronyms mean. I’ll explain them in a later post.
How did I come to speak at this event? First of all, I am trained as a coach and counsellor. Second, I am also non-binary and demisexual (while I have privilege due to being white and able-bodied), My intersectionality shapes my relationship with the coaching and counselling world. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I experience these worlds as being “inclusive.” I’ve given up counting how often I’ve tried to build bridges with cis people and how often the bridge was never built. I can do my part but a bridge needs to build from both sides. How willing are you to build a bridge?
Inclusion requires that we understand and dismantle oppression
A couple of months ago, I had a conversation with a cis colleague. He wondered why I had such firm boundaries to let him into my life. He asked me whether I never would just go into a bar and casually hang out with him. My non-binary identity wanted to ask him whether he has any idea how people might respond if I say my pronouns or state that I am non-binary. It’s usually where the conversation suddenly ends (if they trying to be polite). I’ve learned to set firm boundaries to protect my emotional and psychological well-being - and to protect myself from oppression as much as possible.
If I attend a professional training, I usually notice quickly how little awareness cis coaches and counsellors have about gender diversity. In the past, I tried to create a bridge by inviting them in by offering them a conversation if they want to learn more about gender diversity. If I was lucky, there were maybe one or two people who accepted this offer. In general, there was no response. I sometimes wonder where this lack of curiosity comes from.
Oppression affects the Wellbeing of the LGBTQ2S+ Community
I care for my community, however, oppression casts a shadow on our well-being. The suicide rates for queer people are generally higher than for the dominant group. If I look at the community of non-binary and transgender people, they are even higher. About 25% to 55% of non-binary and transgender people attempt suicide (white people are generally the lower number, Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour the higher ones since they face double discrimination due to transphobia and racism). It’s not because we are all crazy or weird but because we are targeted by a profound level of oppression. I feel sad about this reality. Oppression is not ok.
I chose to speak at the round table for ICF with the hope to connect with those cis people who want to build a bridge and make a difference. Inclusion is not possible if we don’t start to dismantle the complex dynamics of oppression and our different roles in it. This is a life-long growth journey that takes personal effort and accountability. How willing are you to take this step?
In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
Inclusion requires Anti-oppressive/ Anti-racist Practice
The first step is that we take apart the dangerous myth of sameness and acknowledge that oppression is real and we experience the world differently depending on our intersectionality. This also means that psychological safety depends on privilege. The more privilege an individual has, the safer they are. If an individual doesn’t belong to the dominant group, they have less safety. The so-called “safe space” doesn’t exist. We can only create safer spaces where we actively intend to dismantle oppression and social power dynamics. We as coaches and counsellors need to learn to navigate this as healthy as possible.
Cis / straight owned spaces aren’t safe for gender and/or sexually diverse people
A colleague recently asked me whether spaces owned by (white) cis women can ever be healthy for me as a non-binary person. I told her that it depends. In my past experiences, many of them were not. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t live in an ideal world. I am aware that it would need uncomfortable conversations to be part of these spaces. They become harmful if the people belonging to the dominant group don't take responsibility for what is theirs. The reality is that I can’t change my experience of oppression. I can only change it if cis people are willing to collaborate and change. As a cis or straight person, you need to put effort into learning and growing as an individual to break the cycle of oppression against gender and sexually diverse people. Good intentions are not enough.
First steps you can take if you are cis and straight coach and/or counsellor
- Use the correct pronouns as a first step and be aware that this is not enough to fully respect gender-diverse people
- Challenge your biases and prejudices that you have against people belonging to the LGBTQ2S+ community
- Acknowledge that oppression is real and that you play a role in it.
- Educate yourself about the complex dynamics of oppression and reflect on what this tells you about your privilege
- Continuously work towards understanding your privilege more deeply
- Read stories from gender and sexually diverse people and use them as an opportunity to self-reflect
- If a gender diverse or sexually diverse person calls you out, use it as an opportunity to grow (instead of dismissing their comment)
I hope that this gives you some ideas on where you can start your journey to increase the level of inclusion for people belonging to the LBGTQ2S+ community.