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Keys to helping LGBT families struggling with substance abuse

October 15, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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The children that they parent are always adopted, they are two men living in a wealthy neighborhood, they have the same opportunities as heterosexual parents.  Those are all false statements about lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgenered (LGBT) families, according to Michael Shelton, board member for The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and their allies (NALGAP).

Shelton spoke at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in a session about LGBT families struggling with substance abuse.  He gave the attendees an idea of how big this population is by providing the following statistic:

“A 2010 census found that approximately 1/3 of lesbians and 1/5 of gay men are parents.”  With this, he said that the number is definitely higher than that today. 

Another common assumption when it comes to LGBT parents is that they primarily conceive through reproductive technologies.  However, that notion is incorrect.  Shelton said that today, the majority of children living with LGBT parents were born into prior opposite-sex relationships.  That being said, “There recently has been a decrease in that, and an increase in reproductive technologies and adoption,” says Shelton. 

Even though the media portrays LGBT families as white, gay men living in a wealthy neighborhood with adopted children, Shelton set out to give the correct information.  A common misconception about LGBT families is that they are affluent.  However, LGBT families make about 25% less than traditional families, according to Shelton.  He also told the attendees that the majority LGBT parents are people of color.  “African-American and Latino LGBT couples are twice as likely to be raising children, in comparison to their white counterparts,” he said.

Shelton recognized the “astounding progress that has been made over the past four years” which includes the following:

·        7 states plus D.C. now have laws allowing same-sex marriage

·        Adoption rights

·        “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has ended

·        The “Every Child Deserves a Family Act” is currently being debated in congress.  If this passes, states will no longer get federal funding for their adoption programs if they do not stop discriminating against LGBTs.

·        As of 2011, hospitals receiving federal funding can no longer discriminate against LGBT families regarding visitation.

·        Unprecedented coverage of LGBT bullying at the local, state and national levels.

·        The federal government has released “The Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People.”  Shelton said this 350-page document that discusses the health and mental health needs of LGBTs has been called a “groundbreaking document.”

·        Housing and urban development has also improved for this population


These aspects of life that have been improved for the LGBT community are a major step in the right direction, but Shelton added, “We still have a long way to go.” 

“If you’re a white LGBT person of middle class or above income, life has probably gotten dramatically better over the last four years,” he said. “For everyone else, we cannot take that for granted.”

Continuing with that thought, he said that “transgender individuals of any stigma, LGBT people of color, LGBT youth, LGBT immigrants, and low-income LGBT people might be doing worse over the last four years and may have been put deeper into the closet.” 

Another piece of information that the general population may not be aware of is where these LGBT families tend to reside.  Shelton said that most white LGBT families move to communities where there is a high level of other LGBT families.  On the contrary, LGBT families of color move into communities of color, regardless of how few LGBTs are there. 

He discussed a 2007 study about substance abuse treatment agencies and their promotion of specialized programs for LGBTs. In this study, 854 agencies that had previously indicated they provided LGBT-specific services were contacted via telephone. Of these 854 treatment centers, 605, or 70.8%, admitted at the time of the phone call that no specialized programs existed at their center.  

Shelton says that he and the rest of NALGAP, are not expecting over the next ten years—although it would be wonderful if it did—to see some sudden increase in the number of specialized programs.  “It’s just not going to happen,” he said.  “The political will is not there, the financial interest is not there, and really the clinical interest is not there.”

“So instead, we at NALGAP promote that every treatment facility, should offer safe and respectful treatment environments staffed by individuals offering affirmative treatment,” he stated.  The following are some tips he provided for treatment centers to consider:

·        Each agency should actively seek out a diverse workforce, including gender and sexual minorities.

·        No tolerance for words such as dyke, fag, homo, and “he/she” jokes

·        Staff should receive training on sexual orientation and gender identity at the at the start of employment.

·        Training should be ongoing.

·        Workplace should be generally supportive of sexual orientation and gender diversity.

·        Forms, brochures, and materials should not all assume heterosexuality as the norm.

·        The facility should promote and advertise its LGBT services.