Degrees of LGBT Sensitivity

In addition to addressing issues of accessibility, it is important for program administrators and staff to create a supportive environment for LGBT individuals. The impact on the client of anti- GBT bias and internalized homophobia should be considered when developing the treatment plans of LGBT people with substance abuse problems. Few programs provide education to staff about LGBT people, and many programs may be unaware that they have LGBT clients. Some LGBT clients may be too frightened to come out during treatment or feel they have been given permission to be open about their sexual identity (Hellman et al., 1989). Staff attitudes are crucial in helping clients feel comfortable and safe; training counselors about homosexuality will help clients feel safe.

Substance abuse treatment programs can be rated on a spectrum from LGBT-hostile to LGBT affirming. Exhibit 4–1, which was adapted from Neisen (1997), provides a brief overview of the components identified on the spectrum.

It is hoped that only a few programs are openly hostile toward LGBT people; it is essential that any LGBT individuals seeking help for substance abuse problems are not treated at these programs. Unfortunately, many substance abuse treatment programs are unaware of the importance of sexual orientation and operate as if everyone is heterosexual—unaware that LGBT people exist. In such settings, LGBT people most likely will not talk about their sexual orientation or gender identity and will not be able to integrate their sexuality and acceptance of a gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender identity into recovery. Internalized homophobia/transphobia and coping with anti-LGBT societal bias most likely will not be discussed.

Some substance abuse treatment programs may be LGBT tolerant, that is, aware that LGBT people exist and use their services. Such awareness is usually due to an LGBT staff member. Even so, accepting one’s sexual orientation and dealing with homophobia most likely will not be addressed.

LGBT-sensitive programs are aware of, knowledgeable about, and accepting of LGBT people. Many well-established programs are training staff about LGBT concerns to make them LGBT sensitive. The material in this document is part of that effort. LGBT-sensitive programs acknowledge the existence of LGBT people and treat them with respect and dignity. These programs usually care for LGBT people in the same way that they treat other clients but recognize the difficulties and challenges facing LGBT people in recovery. Some programs may also have specific therapy groups for LGBT people.

Fewer programs are LGBT affirmative—that is, they actively promote self-acceptance of an LGBT identity as a key part of recovery. These programs affirm LGBT individuals’ sexual orientation, gender identity, and choices; validate their values and beliefs; and acknowledge that sexual orientation develops at an early age. An LGBT-affirmative program, the Pride Institute, released data showing a very successful treatment rate when acknowledging one’s sexual orientation is considered a key factor in recovery (Ratner, Kosten & McLellan, 1991). At a 14-month followup with verified reports, 74 percent of all patients treated 5 or more days abstained from alcohol use continuously, and 67 percent abstained from all drugs. These data can be compared with data from four similar, sometimes LGBT-sensitive but non-LGBT-affirmative treatment programs with unverified reports taken at follow-ups ranging from 11 months to 24 months after treatment, which had abstinence rates of 43, 55, 57, and 63 percent.