.. sexual gratification from a partner of the same sex (Clark, 1997). This lifestyle is not considered the norm, society and family members usually frown it upon. They have also had to try and overcome hostility from family members when they refuse to accept their sexual orientation. It has become easier for them to keep their choices a secret and do not flaunt their preference in public or on their jobs in fear of being ridiculed.
They feel that their private lives should be kept behind close doors. By not “coming out” they can keep their jobs, housing, dignity, and take advantage of rights given to all citizens in society. But many have chosen to fight back and demand equal rights and treatment form society and under the law. The strengths of the gay and lesbians in their solidarity involve “coming out.” The members of this group that have “come out” have accepted the responsibility of being homosexual in this society. They unite together against the negative labels, criticism, rejection, and discrimination lesbian and gay people experience (McNaught, 1997).
There are several practice issues that gay males, lesbians and bisexuals have in common. In the practice of social work the worker needs to examine their personal values. First they need to explore and cope with their own homophobia. Then examine homophobia from two perspectives: (1) Their own perspective involving soul searching and evaluating values, (2) be aware of the oppressive impacts of homophobia on families of gay and lesbian clients. Be aware of your opinions and professional values.
Remember that the social work code of ethics emphasizes individual client rights to make choices. Professionally and ethically you cannot tell clients what to do or how to act (Ashman-Hull, 1999). Social workers must be aware of unfairness and sensitive issues that face the gay and lesbian population. The social worker may use plans and interventions that target improving the gay and lesbian situation. They can also exert pressure for dissolution of laws and policies. Teaching the client skills such as assertiveness, stress management and problem solving are important.
Referring them to a support group may be necessary. Educating is often beneficial. Abide by ethical principals #2 and 3 especially (right to fair and equal treatment and the right to free choice). Social workers can help them evaluate the circumstances that may result if they “come out” to family members, friends and children. Social workers can help them get information regarding custody battles and what the stresses are involving such action.
The worker may have to empower the client by giving information necessary to write to elected officials concerning laws (Ashmon-Hull, 1999). A worker must have the knowledge of the legislative process by which they can advocate (e.g. .. .arranging for sponsorship of a bill, revising a bill or educating the public). Be aware of the resources available such as legal services, housing, or counseling agencies and then select the best resource system that can help the client.
In summarizing practice issues of social workers they need to address the following issues when working with gay males, lesbians or bisexual individuals. The practitioner needs to be knowledgeable about and nonjudgmental toward these individuals. As a product of society, most of us have been socialized into the stereotypical and prejudicial behaviors we must now identify and work to eliminate. Identifying how our traditional beliefs and values (what we believe to be right and wrong) affect us is not an easy task. Homophobic behavior needs to be viewed in the same context as any other prejudice against a particular minority group (e.g., women, blacks, etc.). The social worker must first educate himself/herself on the subject.
This can be done by reading professional literature and attending workshops, in-services and seminars which cover non-heterosexual behaviors in general and homophobic reactions in particular. The social worker must also become familiar with resources in the gay male and lesbian communities. At all times, social work practitioners need to subscribe to the highest of ethical and moral standards. Professions typically publicize their ethical standards in the form of codes of ethics. According to Jamal and Bowie (1995), codes of ethics are designed to address major issues. These must include the right of client self-determination and respect and support for whatever sexual preference(s) a client has chosen. Being a gay male, a lesbian, or a bisexual, in a homophobic society where they are often stigmatized and ostracized simply for the company they choose to keep, is a difficult burden for even the strongest of individuals. In essence the social workers goal should be to support this unnecessarily stigmatized group (Harrison, Thyer, and Wodarski, 1996).
In conclusion we must realize that there is much variability in gay male, lesbian and bisexual experiences, and these experiences are affected by the sex of the individual (male vs. female), class occupation, personality, geographic location (small town vs. large city) and other factors. Some individuals choose to be open about their sexual preferences and other do not. Of those who do not, many maintain conventional relationships and live outwardly as heterosexuals. Our society tends to behave in a heterosexist manner, i.e., assuming everyone is heterosexual and that only images and models of a heterosexual life-style are permissible.
Same-sex relationships do not conform to this model, and for individuals who are uncomfortable with their own sexuality or with differences from the status quo, homosexuality and bisexuality can be very threatening. As social workers, we must work toward a society which is more accepting of all human differences. Bibliography Alexandar, C. J. (Ed.). (1996).
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