Division 44 Presidential Address
Unheard voices, untold stories: A story of successive inclusion in LGBT psychology
By Arlene Noriega, PhD
This has been quite a year for “our community.” The highest court in our country with a stroke of the pen struck down a law that legitimized oppression the LGBT community by repealing DOMA. This decision has opened up the floodgates for federal litigation against state marriage laws, the DOMA decision puts considerable pressure on the states to enact legal reforms—or face the strong possibility that reforms would be imposed upon them by the Supreme Court itself—making the prospect of national marriage equality greater now than ever before. So all is well? While same-sex couples flock to California to be wed legally, in Indiana, it is now a felony for a same-sex couples to apply for a marriage license with a $10,000 fine. Each of the 36 states with DOMAs needs to be fought individually but this has been a major step forward in acquiring privilege in our society.
But who is “our community”? Is it only gay folks, all sexual minorities; do we include ethnically diverse people? Who is our community?
We refer to the LGBT community as if it is one cohesive unit. Each element within this community has its own history and developmental trajectory. Each individual within each group has their story, their own personal developmental trajectory and multiple identities that they are each negotiating in their personal and professional contexts. We are bound by the commonality of being a sexual minorities and all that being a minority in this society entails. I personally bristle at the term “minority” because if we harness the power of our marginalized identities together we truly are not a numerical minority. However, the psychological impact of marginalization and stigmatization through overt discrimination or microaggressions of those minority identities are real and powerful, and defy educational background.
As Ruth Fassinger and Julie Arseneau pointed out “while we share the challenges of developing positive identities and healthy communities within that context of oppression, there are significant dimensions of experience that differentiate these four sexual minority groups [in the LGBT community].”
There are always significant consequences to the marginalization within groups. Subgroups perceive privilege on the basis of a dimension of their identity and use the power inherent in that privilege to further marginalize those that they are associated with on the basis of another dimension of their identity.
While it would be hard to control for all sources of oppression, I would postulate that oppression and marginalization from those you perceive to be united with on one dimension of identity may be even more psychologically damaging than that which comes from external to you, the mainstream. Using trauma psychology as a guide, the violation perpetrated by someone “close to you” is more psychologically damaging than that which is perpetrated by a stranger.
I organize a social networking group in Atlanta for lesbians, bisexual women, transgender women…queer women in general. We have a very diverse group of female-identified individuals. At one of our monthly dinners recently I observed as three women, who identified as lesbians, went to sit at a table where there were already 3 trans women sitting. After sitting for a minute in front of the trans women, the lesbians looked at each other briefly, a few words were exchanged, and then got up abruptly and said they did not want to eat Mexican food and left when they had entered a well-known and popular gay Mexican restaurant. One of the trangender women remarked, “What? Do I smell?” Her humor at this microaggression lightened the situation and the evening proceeded without incident. While the incident only lasted about three minutes it made a significant impact on me. Later in talking to my trans friends, one of them commented, “that is an everyday occurrence. We so just want to be included.” Our colleague Kevin Nadal has done a excellent job analyzing and documenting these microaggressions in our LGBT community in his book, That's So Gay . Using Kevin's taxonomy my friend experienced disrespect due to other's discomfort and apparent disapproval of her gender identity, but it did not come from a group of straight women—it came from lesbians, those who share their sexual minority status.
As I sat down to write this address I reflected on this incident and how it highlighted for me what every civil rights movement in our society has attempted to achieve, trying to win acceptance and inclusion when one does not perceive themselves as having power or privilege. And while we are more comfortable explaining oppression and misuse of power and privilege from the mainstream, what happens when they come from someone perceived to be one's own, but who have more power and privilege. The experience is one of the marginalized using their power and privilege in other domains to marginalize others.
So I wondered about how we as psychologists behave with one another when put into similar circumstances, particularly those of us in this field of LGBT psychology. As psychologists who work and study LGBT psychology, are we above this behavior or do we reflect the same biases and prejudices that are pervasive in society? We talk about LGBT psychology as if it were one entity, one community, but is it?
To this end, I asked a sample of individuals instrumental in the development of this Division, The Society for the Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues, to comment on the issue of inclusion in the formation and evolution of this Division. As I go through the process of inclusion in our psychological community as a Division I am struck by the huge impact played by each individual's personal narrative and identity development. This is a story of how generally individuals used their power and privilege to shepherd those with less power. While at times with personal resistance, while at times with a misunderstanding, while at times with unintentional blindness based in privilege—but the story is about heroes who championed those with less power.
In The Beginning—There Were Gay Men
In an interview documented by StoryCorps, Doug Kimmel recalled:
In someone's living room in California in 1973 a small group of psychologists from the California Psych Asso. got together to talk about starting a gay psychologists group. They worked on a gay affirmative presentation to present at APA that year in Montreal sponsored by the Division of Humanistic Psychology. The presentation was well attended but what was important is what happened after this presentation. In one of the hotel rooms several were to get together to discuss the quality of life for lesbian and gay psychologists. 75-100 people showed up! Lesbians appeared to be included from the very beginning. This was the beginning of AGP, later ALGP, the predecessor of this Division.
Talk about becoming a formal division of APA began in someone's living room in 1981 in California and a Task Force was put together. In those days the signature of 550 members of APA who said they would join were needed. They achieved that in 1984. The request came before Council for approval and the President of APA at the time was Janet Spence, who was very supportive. She pointed out, that in order for this request to pass it did not require an absolute majority of all members only of the voting members. She invited those who were not willing to support the new Division to step out of the room. This led to a number of abstentions and the vote squeaked through forming the 44 th Division of APA, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues.
Gay Men Brought In Lesbians—But Not All Liked It!
Kris Hancock was there from the beginning she sent me this to share her thoughts regarding Gender Inclusion in Division 44: One Woman's Recollections
In order to understand the inclusion of lesbian issues—and lesbians—in Division 44, one needs to keep in mind the times and the organization that, in some ways, gave birth to the Division: the Association of Gay Psychologists. The 1970's were dramatic, tumultuous years in the women's movement. “Separatism” was not uncommon. I remember a women's music festival I started to attend in which male children were refused entry. I heard about women who decided that they would be lesbians for political reasons. I must admit that separatism was never something that made a lot of sense to me—nor did deciding to be a lesbian. I had always known I was a lesbian—even when I didn't have a name for it—and knew that everything else felt like “pretend.”
At my first APA convention in New Orleans in 1974, I witnessed a conversion therapy demonstration at the Exhibits. When my partner and I searched, we finally located a suite that supposedly was for a group of gay psychologists. We heard there was a party and went to the suite. We got as far as the door because, when we looked inside, it looked like it was a party for gay men. We felt no anger really—we just decided to do something else.
Several years later, when I was in graduate school, I was fortunate enough to have Steve Morin (later Division 44's first President) as an instructor at CSPP. After I graduated, he encouraged me to come to a party during APA (in Los Angeles I think—maybe about 1981) hosted by a group called the Association of Gay Psychologists. Their EC consisted of Tony Russo, Allan Pinka, Beverly Goff, Bronwyn Anthony, Jill Blacher, Carol Becker, and Arthur Robbins. I soon learned that there had been some conflict on this board related to gender issues. I forget how this happened but the next thing I knew I was on this EC. At the Washington DC convention the following year (1982), the two other women who were supposedly on the EC did not show up—one resigned and the other one didn't come to the convention. I was suddenly shouldered with responsibilities I didn't know how to address. I got lots of support from the men on the EC. Tony Russo was the Chair at the time and I will never forget him for helping me through. Also, staying at the suite were two young lesbians—one of whom was a graduate student or recent graduate named Chris Browning. The three of us had a hectic but fun time putting together the women's party. The party went pretty well although we were roundly lectured by a young lesbian psychologist named Laura Brown for even being part of such a male-dominated organization (meaning AGP). This flew in the face of the support we had received and so we set out to demonstrate the support for women in AGP. We went to the next AWP meeting and actively recruited members. We changed the name of the organization to include lesbians and developed a gender parity policy for leadership. The membership of lesbians in the Division increased to almost 50%. Following this, I was actively recruited, wined and dined by several gay men on the EC to become the association's first female Chair in its 10-year history. With a lot of coaxing and promises of support, I accepted and was the Chair of ALGP in 1983. I believe it was about this time that Chris Browning also joined the EC. I recall that Robin Buhrke was on the EC by the following year (1984) as membership chair.
Two other situations were brewing at the time: (1) the discussion of creating an APA division (and efforts were underway for this in 1982) and (2) AIDS. Even before I became Chair of ALGP, I remember visiting the hospital with other EC members in Toronto. Joel Hencken, the former AGP newsletter editor, had AIDS. I remember the fear and mystery surrounding this visit and how the discussions of the gay male EC members began to focus on this rather terrifying situation. In the next few years, we began to lose gay men—from AIDS and from suicide. We went to a lot of funerals.
The efforts to form the Division—headed by psychologists such as Steven Morin, Marty Rochlin, Bronwyn Anthony, Alan Malyon, Doug Kimmel, and others (I helped, too)—culminated in enough signatures to apply for divisional status. In 1984, the Division was approved. The EC consisted of Steve Morin, Marty Rochlin, Adrienne Smith, Alan Malyon, Bronwyn Anthony, Joyce Brodsky, Hal Kooden, Alan Pinka, and me. The following year, I was the Division's first full-term President. There was no problem instituting gender parity as a policy in leadership for the Division. There were tensions that sometimes developed between some male and female EC members—but, in time, they subsided. The Division used gay humor and camaraderie and it became fun to be on the EC.
It is important to note that the consciousness within ALGP about race and ethnicity was also developing. At the 1984 convention, Susan Gore led a discussion in the suite on race and participation in association activities. Invited participants included Hortensia Amaro, Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues, Althea Smith, and Oliva Espin. I should point out that a good part of the effort to be inclusive of race and ethnicity in the Division came with Chris Browning. As ALGP Chair in 1985, this was a main focus of hers. She brought this sensibility to her Presidency of Division 44.
I don't know what else to say. Access to old ALGP newsletters will really tell you a lot—not just newsletters from the Division. ALGP gave its values, policies, culture, and people to Division 44. AIDS left its mark as we lost so many men in leadership—Alan Pinka, Allen Goodman, Joel Hencken, Arthur Robbins, and many, many more. It was devastating and actually brought lesbians and gay men closer together in many ways. The horrible stigma associated with that disease at the time was fueled by homophobia. It was heart-breaking and took quite a toll on leadership in the Division. Anyway, my experience inclusion was not conflict-ridden. I was invited and the experience was one of encouragement, respect, and support. As I respected and enjoyed these men—many of whom where contributing to the field in amazing ways—so they too respected and enjoyed me. My biggest allies in my early governance training were gay men—some of whom were more actively feminist than I was and I felt like I was invited into a family. There was no anger, no fighting. Only love and support. I will always remember this.
As Kris mentioned not all women wanted to be a part of AGP, even if the L was added! Laura Brown recalled:
What happened is that lesbian feminists were clear with our pre-AIDS days gay brothers that we needed to be included. Most of the men were fine with this; a few weren't, and became less active. There was a vote to include “lesbian” in AGP's name, which succeeded, and when 44 was founded it was an automatic include. Steve Morin did much to further this effort, as did Doug Kimmel; they each showed early leadership on lesbian inclusions.
Other than my pushy personality, there were no real challenges in feeling included in AGP. I include myself where I want to be, so I'm not a very good example of someone feeling excluded; I didn't want to have much to do with AGP because as a lesbian feminist, almost a separatist, I didn't feel much in common with gay white men.
Interestingly, my presidency was my first involvement in [Division] 44 past my involvement in getting the petition through COR. I was actively solicited by Steve Morin to run because he was worried about what the other candidate might do; she really deserved to be president of 44, she'd been much more involved than I was. My primary division in APA has been 35, because, as I said last week to Esther Rothblum and Nanette Gartrell, the parameter around my life is more about feminist, and much less about lesbian. I'm a feminist first. 44 is important to me largely because of what it does to empower people who have been marginalized, but less personally important.
Laura was not alone in her allegiance to AWP and Division 35 primarily. Yet, she commented on the Division's commitment to using its privilege to empower the marginalized.
In an interview videotaped by Beverly Greene for the Oral History Project, Sue Gore indicated that “coming out professionally was really more about being a feminist than being a lesbian.” She stated, “I remember APA and I thought all these old white men in these white shirts preaching like God and they believed it of themselves and that was just incredulous to me. So that was the misfit there. It was not about sexuality as much as it was about patriarchy.”
“Before AGP became ALGP I became involved and quickly became part of leadership. I am an organizational junkie. I love figuring out how organizations work so I helped AGP with visibility. I helped with fundraising. I remember a couple of dances we did that were fun and getting more people involved, the gay as well as the non-gay. I got tired of APA and realized the work that Div44 was doing was good work and I ran for President. It was so good that I did not get it because I would have been embedded more in that system."
The current incoming President, Michael Hendricks, recalls how adding the “L” came about:
I first became associated with Division 44 in my second or third year of my clinical psychology doctoral program. This was in 1987-88, I had been a student affiliate of APA for about six months, when a friend, who worked for APA, took me to one of the Division's events at Convention. At that Convention, I met many of the founding members of the Division, among them Kris Hancock and Doug Kimmel. I recall one particular discussion among what I now view as luminaries in our field about privilege and the responsibilities that come with privilege. Specifically, that discussion focused on the decision to place “lesbian” before “gay” in the Division's official title--then the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian and Gay Issues--when the Division was first formed as a division of APA.
While there were several more men present than women at that discussion, the crux of the discussion centered around two factors. First was that lesbians at that time were more a “hidden minority” than were gay men, and there was a consensus that if research, advocacy and treatment were going to acknowledge and address lesbians and their issues, they needed to have more visibility. One way to create that visibility was to place them more prominently in the name of the Division. The second factor was a desire among those present (at least among those who spoke up) for more participation of lesbians in the Division and how to make the Division a hospitable place for lesbians. Putting the “L” first was in that way a deliberate attempt to invite active lesbian participation.
This conversation stuck with me as a template for the Division's response to the issue of privilege. The impact of putting the “L” first made it clear that the organization would prioritize and celebrate their most marginalized. This had an impact.
Judith Glassgold wrote:
I joined the Association of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists, and then Division 44, as a graduate student. Both organizations provided me a safe place to be an “out” psychologist. This support was all the more necessary as I the only open student in my program and had to deal with some professors who used biased texts and clinical supervisors who thought “homosexuality” was a mental illness.
Division 44 was a safe haven and the only place to grow as a lesbian psychologist. I remember vividly then-President Adrienne Smith, one of the fore-mothers of affirmative therapy and political activism in psychology, making me feel welcome and encouraging me to play a role in Division 44. There weren't formal ways to create a pipeline for students into leadership roles, that came with time, and there are still gaps in professional mentoring, but Division 44 became my home during my “professional youth” and becoming involved in leadership is a way of thanking those who supported me and paying it forward for future generations.
While the Division eventually became a safe haven for “out” psychologists, during the early years of the Division many were still fearful about what “coming out” would do to their careers and advancement in leadership. In spite of the progress it continued to be a difficult time period. Bonnie reminds us that in moving forward in any civil rights movement progress is slow and involving a degree of risk.
Bonnie Strickland wrote:
“In the mid eighties no one was out in APA except a few brave souls who established AGP. Their efforts led to the Division which was a welcoming home for all of us and our allies. I joined immediately. I was running for President in 1985 and hesitant about what to do. I wanted to be out to my lesbian and gay friends but was frightened to be exposed to those who would never vote for a lesbian. Interestingly, I was walking to a convention meeting with a graduate student who remarked. “How is it you're in the gay community but closeted to everyone else?' I don't know how that came about except that gay and lesbian colleagues protected me and turned out the vote.”
People Of Color Are Actively Recruited
Besides the inclusion of lesbians, there were other dimensions of identity that were being addressed during this time. Psychologists of color, and diverse ethnic backgrounds, were being heard. Terry Gock offers his perspective of the inclusion of lesbian and ethnic minority psychologists.
My recollection of the early years of Division 44 is that gender parity was emphasized and written into the structure of the Division pretty much right from the beginning with the election of officers and the appointment of committee chairs and co-chairs being mandated to follow gender rotation. I think we have Kris Hancock and others to thank for with the leg work they had done in ALGP. There was also a great emphasis on balancing racial/ethnic diversity within the E/C and the committee chairs/co-chairs. However, there were not too many people of color who were members or in leadership positions within the Division in the earlier years - I suspect that was partly because there were not many “out” lesbian and gay psychologists of color in those days. Racial/ethnic diversity training for all E/C members, however, was structurally incorporated into the midwinter E/C meetings from quite very early on. The inclusion of these two dimensions (gender and cultural diversity) came BEFORE bisexuality - at least in Division 44, if not in LGBT psychology as a discipline.
Division 44 has always been a professional family and home for me. It has made an honest effort to include and address racial/ethnic diversity issues pretty much right from the early years of its existence. It certainly has not been doing it perfectly (no one has), but I see our Division to at least have been willing to struggle with it.
The first ethnically diverse president was 8 th president of the Division: Connie Chan. Connie recalls her experience as an early Division 44 president and as the first woman of color president:
Division 44 was always focused on lesbian and gay-affirmative issues and advocacy and worked towards gender parity and inclusion from the beginning. Cultural issues and concerns around inclusion for race and ethnicity were not as prominent as LGB issues but there was an openness and a desire to be as inclusive whenever possible. As a woman of color president, my goals were to bring our Division into the forefront of incorporating cultural and racial awareness into our norms for psychology, our language, our mission, so that LGB issues could stand for the rainbow of inclusion we desired. Overall, I believe we have been successful in presenting a welcoming place for inclusion of race, gender, transgender, and culture in our Division. We still have further to go to make all issues part of our LGBTQ mainstream, but our rainbow umbrella has provided shelter for many previously marginalized groups. For that I will always be grateful.
Division 44 elected their first Latina (Cuban) president in 1992. Oliva Espin was the second person of color to be President of Division 44.
“I remember when AGP added the L. But when Division 44 started, from the very beginning, the rotation between men and women as presidents was established. AGP (or ALGP) was not APA, as you know. In the 1980s I was asked to run for Council by Laura Brown (who I think was President or Past President then, not sure). While I was President the EC did some anti-racism training. I remember appointing some people (of color) or encouraging them to run for office (e.g., Angela Gillem).”
Angela Gillem reported:
Ever since I joined and was briefly involved as a committee chair, Division 44 has been an important resource and professional space for me. I was welcomed with open arms back in (I don't know what year that was) when I became co-chair of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee with Reggie Nettles. I always looked forward to the EC meetings because they were both fun and productive, a wonderful combination. My experience of co-coordinating the very challenging 2005 NMCS as Division 44's representative was incredibly supportive.
Instead of blame and criticism, I received tremendous support from Division members, which endeared me to the Division even further. Earlier in my experience with the Division, I found Division 44 to be a very White male space and, as a result of that perception, I took a hiatus from attending the social events. However, my more recent experience at the suite party was a little different. The attendance was still predominantly White male; however, I didn't feel invisible or like an alien in that space as I have at some times in the past.
I found myself engaged in conversations with folks I didn't know. Members seemed to make more of an effort to engage across difference. Don't get me wrong. I think the Division has a way to go, but I think we are moving in the right direction and with more effort, it can become a more welcoming and comfortable space for all members.
How have we done in the inclusion of ethnically diverse psychologists in Division 44? Some ECPs and students offer us insight into the impact of our efforts thus far.
Kirstyn Yuk Sim Chun wrote:
I have felt very accepted in Division 44. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming! It has been amazing to have such a vibrant LGBT community in the midst of my professional life, allowing me to be myself even while pursuing my career goals. I know the pioneers who came before me were not so lucky and made great sacrifices, and for this I remain deeply grateful. Of course, it would be nice to see more LGBT people of color in the Division and more discussion of racial/ethnic issues on the listerv. But it seems many in the Division are aware of these areas of growth, and I have been heartened by progress that has been made in having more people of color in leadership positions in recent years. I hope we as a Division can continue to focus on building coalitions with other marginalized groups to combine our efforts in advocating for social justice for all… this is essential for progress, and it would also be very validating for those of us who identify as multiple minorities.
Karla Anhalt wrote:
Division 44 has been my home in APA. I felt comfortable in this Division before my involvement in a service/leadership position. When I started to work more closely with the Division leadership, I was pleasantly surprised that backgrounds beyond my sexual orientation were affirmed and celebrated. A few years ago I participated in a training on class/socio-economic status that was sponsored by Division 44. It was a freeing experience for me, as I could speak about how notions of class had impacted my Jewish, Mexican, and immigrant identities and my lived experiences in the U.S. and Mexico.
Although there is much work to be done, the commitment to embracing the multiple identities that make us human is genuine within Division 44.
Nadine Nakamura wrote:
Division 44 became my first professional home as a graduate student. The Committee for Racial and Ethnic Diversity within the Division is what indicated to me that this was a place that would acknowledge and support my multiple identities. Through my involvement as a member of CORED and later as a co-chair, I have continued to feel supported
within the Division.
David Rivera wrote:
Division 44 has become my unexpected professional home. I say unexpected because from the outside the Division didn't appear very racially or ethnically diverse, and as a Latino gay man I did not believe that there was much space for me within the Division. However, since I was invited to serve on the executive committee as co-chair of the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Diversity, my first impression has been challenged and is changing.
We have to hear and understand that although people of color are recruited and those in power want them to be there, without others that look like them and act like they do the experience feels isolating. Yet, there is the kind of individual that has the resilience and personality structure and level of identity development that in the face of this isolation and advocates to gain power for the more marginalized identity. Our current students give us a current model of what this looks like.
Ethan Mereish said,“ I was really excited to join the division but I was disappointed to see the lack of racial/ethnic diversity. Nonetheless, I know the division values diversity and I look forward to being part of it!”
Said Danny Phillips, “I was appropriately cautious when joining Division 44; I did not see myself reflected in the leadership and I was afraid my interests would not align with those of the Division. My perspective shifted when I met the co-chairs of Cored in 2011 who insisted that I was exactly the type of student the division wanted to recruit and retain. As I end my term as student representative, I can safely say that while I may not see myself reflected in current division leadership, I will continue to work at creating a space for students who look like me and who share dimensions of my identity, thereby allowing them to step out of their own selves and create their own visions. I believe this is the only way Division 44 and APA will grow as an organization.”
Christopher Martell offers us insight that into a secondary or nonvisible aspect of his identity that served to make him feel marginalized. It is possible that the process of inclusion is also mediated by one's own integration of one's various identities. Yet, as an organization we must have an awareness of more hidden, secondary dimensions of diversity that serve to marginalize individuals.
So let us pause for a moment. The story so far has been that gay men extended their power and privilege to women by actively recruiting them and together they used their power and privilege to address issues of racial diversity and perhaps not sequentially but at around the same time the recruitment of people of color also began. Was this story of inclusion an easy one, like any movement involving human diversity, for some it was easy and others much more challenging. And an important determining factor is not just a willingness to be inclusive but creating infrastructure changes to support that inclusion, such as gender parity in leadership.
Christopher Martell wrote:
As a white male, I have always had a fair amount of privilege. In that sense it was easy to feel included in Division 44 from the start. I wonder if my Working-class background limited me more in my own mind then by being excluded in Division 44. On a larger scale, it seems like LGB T advocacy groups often unintentionally exclude people from the working classes. Fundraising events, for example, require large sums of money for dinners or black-tie events. Of course this is needed, but without a range, black-tie dinners and so forth set up the same hierarchy of classes that excludes people who cannot afford fixed rates or fancy events. Thus, someone enters a room and those in the room do not appear to look as they do and we may feel that we do not belong. However, even for those that do belong based on race may sit in that same room feeling that they also do not belong based on other identities that are not so apparent.
However, we know that this is only information from those who have stayed with the Division and we have little information from those that have not stayed or advanced in leadership. Those of us with privilege and power within the Division are responsible for extending that power through inclusion to those with other identities perceived to have less power and therefore less privilege.
Ruth Fassinger emphasizes that inclusion has been continuous process in Division 44.
“I am a relative latecomer to Division 44—I was not there in the early days when so many true pioneers like Kris Hancock were establishing and building AGP into ALGP and then into Division 44. I am a fortunate beneficiary of all of their work and sacrifice, and Division 44 has become one of my several “homes” in organized psychology," she said. "It gladdens my heart to see that the path to inclusiveness continues to be forged in the Division! But it also concerns me that we have not yet figured out how to build organizational loyalty within the Division and yet also honor all of the other professional commitments that our members exhibit. We still have much work to do!”
So how DO we build organizational loyalty? Let's answer that in little bit. First, let's continue our story of inclusion. We begin to see the emergence of Division 44 as a place a safety and a home for gay and lesbian psychologists, and for those gay and lesbian psychologists of color. But did all queer psychologists feel that this entity was a safe place?
For a division centered on one dimension of diversity: sexual minority status, I would propose that it was easier to consider inclusion of ethnic minority issues for example as it did not challenge the integrity of their division…whether people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds are included (or other social class differences) it did not affect that it was still a “GAY” organization. But what happens when the process of inclusion challenges that.
Let us continue the journey of inclusion for the Division. The first part of this journey seemed more purposeful that those white men who started the division for the most part wanted the inclusion of women, lesbians actually, and those ethnically diverse. But what happens when the division is challenged for further inclusion…
A Difficult Challenge To Inclusion: Bisexuality
Sari Dworkin wrote:
It was the middle 1990s. I felt the pit of my stomach dropping out when I, with voice quivering, said to the EC at a midwinter meeting, “We need to include bisexuality in the name and mission of the Division. It's time to include bisexuals.” The silence was palpable and the stunned looks on everyone's faces made me want to crawl into a hole. But I continued with the fact that bisexuality is a genuine sexual identity. I am a bisexual woman. The only home for bisexual psychologists and the only place to research bisexual issues and to train psychologists was Division 44. The main reactions I remember was a gay male stating that after so many years of being secure in his gay identity bringing bisexuality to the table may cause him to reevaluate his own identity and that was threatening.
One member brought up the fact that we may end up with a bisexual member of the EC wanting to include their other sex significant other in EC events. Actually that caused a woman on the EC to announce that she was bisexual and in a relationship with a man. Too late to go back on that fear.
Another member talked about how changing the name and mission of the Division will be difficult since the founders of the Division have a huge stake in how it was founded. “It's their baby.” The outcome was support for me to go out, have one to one discussions with current and former officers of the Division and to poll the membership. The task seemed overwhelming and yet I had to do it. Never liking to work alone, I teamed up with Ron Fox. Five years later the name and mission was changed to include bisexuals and bisexuality.
Ron Fox commented:
Being involved in Division 44 has been awesome in so many positive ways, and it's been an honor to be connected with such an outstanding group of individuals and to see the journey that we have been going on with each other around a lot of issues and inclusion is one of them. At the moment though, I'm kind of in shock because when I think consider what you are asking, I realize that I don't think that anyone outside of the bi group has actually asked me what my experience has been!
Especially when I first became involved, most of the talk about inclusion seemed to be centered on the issues that others had and little regarding what my/our experiences were of being and feeling excluded. I know that many members were supportive from the start (you included!), and it seems to me that hearts and minds and the paradigm seemed to expand, and momentum developed as an imperative for inclusion. Somehow, I have a feeling that this probably has a resonance in terms of the experiences of individuals in the other groups too. BTW, you mention inclusion of women, and I would say gay/lesbian women, as with bi women in the next wave.
There was a range of reactions to bi inclusion (and by extension to my inclusion) from the beginning, which for me was the 1990 Convention in SF, where I was asked by Sari Dworkin to help get together a symposium on bisexuality. We did this and it was a success.
At the same time however, the ALGP had a meeting at the convention in the suite, and voted not to include bisexuality in its name or mission, and evidently the Division 44 EC was not very interested in talking about bi issues or members at that particular time. However, Sari had just come out as bi while a out lesbian member of the EC. And, there were some very supportive individuals, and the Division established a Task Force, which is what organizations seem to do when they aren't yet ready to address an issue directly.
One of the awesome sides of being on the Task Force was meeting so many people. One of the difficult sides of this was being seen as the “bisexual,” either in interactions based on the politics of it all or in (mis)perceptions and stereotypes. For example, I remember being asked how I could survive as a therapist or researcher just focusing on bisexuality, as if my training and interests were just in this area. I also remember being asked after about ten years in the Division, oh you're still bisexual? There is more, but that's enough for now because I know that you know how common it is to be confronted with this and other sorts of microaggressions and marginalization. I noticed too that while there were EC trainings on gender, race/ethnicity, and transgender issues, somehow it never occurred to the EC to ask for training on bisexuality and bisexual issues.
When I was approached about running for member-at-large, and I agreed although with a lot of uncertainty of the outcome, given how much ambivalence there seemed to be among the members in the early to mid 90s. However, I was elected, and it showed that there was more support building than I had thought. While on the EC, there was still a lot of back and forth on bi issues, however a consensus seemed to develop, partly through the leadership of senior members of the EC, and that times were changing, and there was the sense that it was a matter of time to arrive at inclusion. My experience was one of greater acceptance. It only took 7 years for bisexuality to be included in the name and mission of the Division.
Now I think we have moved further along in terms of inclusion in the areas that you mentioned in your first email, women (that is, lesbians), then bisexual women and men, people of color, and transgender individuals. I'm proud of what we have done together in Division 44, and how we've all grown, given the challenges that we have all faced as members of one or more of these groups. It seems like the current generation of new members starting about 5-7 years ago have had an easier time in terms of acceptance in the Division.
The inclusion of bisexuality into the LG family was not easy. Beth Firestein offers some explanation for the resistance.
I was most involved in the Division after much of the heavy lifting had been done by Ron Fox and others and the “B” had been added to our name. It felt wonderful to hear about (and be a small part of) the process of opening the eyes and ears of the organization to the needs of our already present and potential bisexual and queer-identified members.
I have always viewed bisexuality as the capacity to love and be sexually and/or romantically involved with people of the same sex and gender. The majority of those who entertain such an identity label have probably actively felt or acted on these in some way, though others may recognize the capacity without ever having fallen in love or having been sexual with both sexes. This is also true of many lesbians and gay men, particularly in repressive and extremely socially and religiously conservative cultures.
I believe the resistance to bisexuality emanates from several sources, some of which are quite understandable. I think a primary source of resistance has been the perceived potential for violation of gay and lesbian “sacred space” wherein lesbians and gay men felt that rare sense of insulation from the heterosexual world. Although I view bisexual identity as clearly more queer than heterosexual, there are certainly circumstances where bisexual men and women are integrated into relationships with the other sex to the degree that they are invisible to both straight and gay communities. I believe this is quite threatening to gays and lesbians and may create the fear of “diluting” the distinctness of the liberation movement.
With respect to the Division, I think within the Division, as in society at large, it is difficult to sustain the visibility of bisexuality within an almost universally binary worldview. Bisexual tend to disappear into one part of the binary or the other and it takes effort to maintain a visible presence and continuously resist the overt and unconscious pressures to “choose”. Without question there has been progress in overcoming homophobia and increasing bisexual visibility, but the gains seem somewhat fragile.
Recently, bisexuality seems to have fallen into the shadows as attention has turned to the issues and needs of the transgender population. While transgender people also clearly challenge the gender binary (and therefore also the sexual orientation binary), there is a certain “sexiness” about transgender people that appears to have trumped the newness and shiney-ness of bisexual people and their issues within the Division. Certainly, it is the responsibility of bisexual members, but also the responsibility of the leadership of Division 44 to ensure that bisexual issues within the Division are not lost or ignored.
Beth Firestein said it best. It has more to do with the breaking down of binaries and valuing love expressed between individuals in all possible forms rather than judging, compartmentalizing, and maintaining a status of hierarchy or hierarchies of privilege based on the sex or gender of who you love.The inclusion of bisexuality as you saw was quite a difficult hurdle for this Division. But that was not the end of the challenges to inclusion.
And Then Came The “T”
The inclusion of Transgender in the Division appeared to happen theoretically long before the placement of the “T” in the name. This inclusion highlighted a dimension of diversity in the Division not seen with other aspects of previous inclusion: generational differences. Younger members of the Division whether identified as Trangender or not passionately spoke of how easy it is to add a “T” and in fact, in one EC meeting added a T on a document stating, ”it is that easy.” More senior members of the Division while not opposed to adding the “T” were cautious and would explain the tedious process of Division name changes in the APA system. Dimensions of diversity not evident before such as age, experience in the APA system appeared to have an impact in this discussion. As an organization, Division 44 was very late compared to other organizations (NASP, AMA, NASW, ANA) in adding the “T.”
Randall Ehrbar commented:
The Division has meant a lot to me. It has helped me to make important connections with amazing people. Being active in the Division has helped me to be at the table to do important work (like the previous APA trans task force which lead to taking the lead on APA trans non-discrimination policy and the current trans guidelines taskforce), has helped me make connections that led to a couple jobs, and led to meeting my wife. And now, I'm a Fellow recognized for my work on trans issues and am as far as I know, the first out trans Fellow of APA.
When I initially got connected with the Division I identified as a gender non-conforming bisexual dyke. As I went through transition and maintained connections with the Division, I continued to be welcome. Also, some of the people I was connected to in the Division learned from their connection with me and seeing me become happier as a result of my transition. I can think of one person who told me that I was one of the people who helped her realize that men can be feminists and another person who talking with me about how he became more open to trans folk as a result of knowing someone trans.
Lore Dickey commented:
Division 44 has been one of my homes in APA, and certainly the one that most closely aligns with who I am as a person. DIV 44 has often struggled to stay ahead of the community in being inclusive. I have been involved in several efforts to help assure that trans identified people feel at home. There is still much work to be done. It is an important part of the Division's history that our elections are structured to ensure gender parity, however this system still favors the gender binary - female or female-identified then male or male-identified. The gender binary is so deeply engrained in most people's psyche that we often fail to notice we have endorsed its use. As a division, I believe our hearts are in the right place - inclusion for all. And yet there are so many issues that we need to focus on - the work is never done!
Colt Meier stated:
Overall, I have been met with warm acceptance in Division 44 and consider it my professional home. Many people in the Division are already like family to me and I always look forward to our family reunions at Convention and Mid-Winter meetings. I had a wonderful experience as a student representative and felt very grateful to be asked to co-chair the committee for transgender people and gender diversity. I feel that I am very much accepted personally and professionally in Division 44 and look forward to continuing to work with our Division. I think one of the biggest challenges of inclusion for transgender people in our Division is the binary-based male/female gender parity system, even though I realize that the Division has made strides to address this issue. I hope that our senior members will remain open to listening to the voices of students as well as trans people as we try to address issues of inclusion of trans people!
Let's turn our attention to again to the concern raised by Ruth: how do we build organizational loyalty? There has been a theme that has emerged from the various statements provided by these past Executive Committee members. Fostering loyalty is a byproduct of fostering an environment of inclusion and acceptance. It is about creating a sense of family with all the struggles and challenges that being in a family entails. The comments from these EC members highlights that is not just about the final product of inclusion but watching those with privilege and power work through the issues, struggle with their perception of giving up something in the process of including those more marginalized that creates the sense that it is a place of where those marginalized are worth the challenge to that privilege…and in the end, all benefit.
Our multiple identities are in a constant negotiation to gain acceptance and inclusion from ourselves and others. Division 44 as an entity has a vision of inclusion for all sexual minorities and yet how this is executed at times gets muddy and unclear, and yet we continue to struggle with the questions. We need to continue to learn from each other and our students who offer us a broader way of looking at the world and each other that defies labels.
Where Do We Go From Here?
So, where do we go from here? That question leads to a series of other questions. Do we continue to add various groups of sexual minorities in an unwieldy alphabet soup? What does giving up our attachment to the gender binary look like in a practical way? How do we continue to address all of our other identities in a way that is affirming to all. These are the important questions that this Division will grapple with in the very near future.
Perhaps the Division will need to consider changing the name of the Division altogether to a more encompassing unifying concept as we have done with our journal and book series. Then perhaps we should consider being the Division of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity or do we challenge our power and privilege and highlight our most vulnerable: the Division of Gender Diversity and Sexual Orientation. It may be years before we can challenge ourselves to get to this place…but I believe and hold firm that we will get there.