We have our place at the table—Now what?
By Michael L. Hendricks, PhD
I want to first thank the members of Div. 44 for giving me this opportunity to serve as President of the division, my home within APA. This is truly an exciting time for Divi. 44. To be in a leadership position—not only being part of all the remarkable work that is being done, but experiencing up close the creativity, diversity, and dedication of so many students, professional affiliates, members, and fellows of Div. 44 who make this a home for many of us—is an awesome privilege.
As you may recall, when I ran for this office, I proposed that Div. 44 had essentially secured its “place at the table” as psychologists with expertise in LGBT issues. Certainly within APA and also in the broader collection of mental and behavioral health and social science professions our research, policies, expertise and opinions are solicited fairly routinely. This puts us, I believe, on the brink of a new chapter in our history. Before us, we have possibilities that have never previously existed. The decisions we make now will have great influence on our future as a division and as psychologists.
The possibilities we now have available to us exist because those who have been involved in Div. 44 and in the advancement of LGBT psychology more broadly for the past three decades have created for us pathways that had never before existed. Not only did these heroes of LGBT psychology champion the causes of recognition, freedom and equality, they forged alliances and earned respect for the science and practice of LGBT psychology and for those who engage in it. It is because of the very high level of respect that these heroes earned and the strength of the alliances that they formed that Div. 44 is now the “go to” source of information, consultation, and direction with regard to LGBT issues within psychology.
I will say more about these heroes in a future column. Right now, I will focus on laying out my vision for where I would like for us to go—the next chapter. While we are on the brink of a new chapter, we must understand this as a continuation of a journey in progress, rather than some sort of dramatic turn of events. In fact, Arlene Noriega and I have discussed many of these ideas for the last few years and have worked (and will continue to work) closely together to effect them. It is with this continuation of the work of Div. 44, while simultaneously starting a new chapter in mind, that I have framed my presidential initiatives for this year.
One of the challenges that Div. 44 now faces is the “problem” of growth. We are a larger and stronger division than we were even 10 years ago. Indeed, through our membership drive for 2013, we nearly doubled the overall size of the division's membership! We have a host of very active and productive committees and task forces and the division's work spans the four overarching psychology domains of research, teaching, policy, and practice. In the last year, as President-Elect, I focused on the structure within which the broad leadership of the division functions (including elected officials, committee and task force co-chairs, and other appointed persons). With ratification from the membership, we separated the roles of Secretary and Treasurer (which delighted our current Treasurer, Chris Downs), we clarified our succession plan, and we established both a parliamentary procedure and quorum for Executive Committee meetings. These changes now allow the EC to function more effectively and with less time and energy spent on continually figuring out the rules as we do our work.
Another problem that the EC encountered routinely stemmed from the limits of being an all-volunteer group and trying to accomplish more than was actually possible. Essentially, we have for nearly three decades had to juggle both the mission of the division and the logistics of having to effect our decisions. This meant that while the goals and aims of the EC members were laudable, we often got bogged down in logistical details, rendering us less productive than we would have liked. So, last January the EC voted to acquire the services of one of the best staff members in APA's Division Services office as our Executive Director. As Arlene Noriega noted at the EC meeting in August in Honolulu, Chad Rummel has made a tremendous difference in the EC's ability to get things done. I think I recall her saying that it was one of the best decisions the EC has made in some time. What having Chad's services (with access to a host of services within his office) will do for us is to allow us to focus on our mission, while he focuses on the execution of our decisions.
One important focus for me will be to continue the work begun by Arlene in her presidential year of enhancing the benefits of membership for Div. 44. During Arlene's presidency, the division held its first series of webinars on various topics of interest and for which participants may obtain CEUs. My plan is to continue this series, with the goal of holding three each fall and three each spring. Arlene also initiated the development of fact sheets for clinicians who encounter or work with LGBT clients and patients. Under Arlene's guidance, the first two fact sheets—focused on transgender and gender nonconforming adolescents and children—have been developed and will be released soon. I hope to continue the trend of producing two fact sheets per year. In addition, I plan to bring back the Div. 44 tradition of a pre-Convention continuing education workshop, which would be conducted on the afternoon preceding the APA Convention. At this point, I am working with a team of trainers for this workshop and I will have more details to report by early 2014.
Another aspect of this new chapter has to do with maximizing our voice on LGBT issues. Div. 44's members have visibly held positions on the APA Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives (beyond those Representatives whom we elect from Div. 44) and on most of the various APA Committees. Some of our strongest allies have been recent Presidents and Board members of APA. It would now be thought of as unusual and perhaps peculiar if the leadership of APA encountered a challenge that involved LGBT issues or affected LGBT people and did not reach out to consult with the Div. 44 Presidential Trio or the Executive Committee. Outside of APA, a variety of national LGBT-related groups have consulted with Div. 44 on a wide range of issues. In these ways, Div. 44 has made effective use of our research, our policy positions, and our overall expertise on LGBT psychology. But these contacts have been mostly on an ad hoc basis, even if they have sometimes occurred with a fair amount of frequency.
In order that we might be better able to respond to the needs for expertise on issues related to LGBT psychology and to go beyond simply responding to inquiries to contributing more actively to the national dialog about these issues, I have begun to assemble a group of our members who will serve as liaisons to various national associations with LGBT interests. These liaisons—many of whom already have existing connections to the groups with which they will be working—will work directly with our Outreach Coordinator, Greg Sarlo. In turn, Greg will be a member of our Public Policy Committee and will work directly with the current President of the division. This will help to establish a conduit for information and a catalyst for issues that require coordinated action between Div. 44 and these associations.
Within the structure of APA, I have also begun to interact with the leadership of the other social justice divisions, particularly divisions 9, 17, 35, 45 and 51. The APA Council of Representatives just last month voted to embark on a process of revising the governance structure of APA, which could involve rather dramatic changes in how APA governs itself. This process has been called the “Good Governance Project.” What Council approved was a process; not a particular outcome. In the words of our esteemed Council Representative, Terry Gock, “the devil is in the details.” It will be very important that the divisions whose missions include protecting and advancing the interests of various minority groups both in society and within APA ensure that diversity, widely defined, is upheld as a guiding principle in whatever restructuring might materialize over the next couple of years. Div. 44 has a long history of active involvement in the group of social justice divisions. We will continue that involvement, with a particular eye toward the Good Governance Project and how the details unfold.
As I read over this column, I am struck again by how much of what I am proposing is heavily influenced by those who have preceded me as President of the division. While it is certainly an ambitious agenda, most of what I have detailed here is already underway. At the same time, this is a work in progress. I invite comments and suggestions, as well as ideas that might further the mission of Div. 44 from any of you. If you are inclined to want to get more involved, I would be very happy to discuss with you how you might do that. While a significant focus of my initiatives is on advancing the dialog that we have between Div. 44 and other organizations, this cannot be done well without also maintaining the dialog we have with each other. Feel free to contact me.