Using Alliances and Networks To Improve Treatment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Clients
Rationale for Alliance Building and First Steps
Improve Treatment for Lesbian
Providers who are moving into this service area typically do not have strong ties to LGBT communities or to service organizations that traditionally have provided services to these individuals. It will be important to build alliances both with the LGBT community and with organizations, service providers, and agencies in the community at large.
Once the decision has been made to introduce or strengthen treatment services for LGBT individuals, a small contingent should begin to enlist support among the targeted organizations—the public health groups, local health advisory committees, and other organizations that have a stake in improving substance abuse treatment for LGBT individuals. It is important that the treatment facility not promote itself as LGBT sensitive or providing LGBT services until this important groundwork has begun and adequately trained staff members are in place.
The LGBT community is well schooled in working together and forming alliances. These alliances serve several important functions. They bring people together socially, provide a culture and ideology, accept same-gender orientations and behaviors, and validate lifestyles. Many LGBT communities, when addressing societal problems such as substance abuse or HIV/AIDS, recognize the value of establishing alliances with other groups. Alliance building has proved to be a powerful tool for LGBT community development (see Guinier, 1994; Vaid, 1995). Candidates for alliance building can be LGBT focused (e.g., the Human Rights Campaign) or non-LGBT focused (e.g., an HIV/AIDS organization, Alcoholics Anonymous, State and regional health departments, corporations, volunteer-based organizations, and universities). Some additional candidates for alliances are LGBT community centers (several hundred are located throughout the United States), LGBT social organizations (which frequently are important resources in suburban and rural areas), AIDS service organizations, and the many LGBT Alcoholics Anonymous chapters. Primary medical care providers who provide LGBT-sensitive services are also an important resource.
Some LGBT community organizations emphasize independence and work on the same issues in isolation, creating the potential for duplicating services. In the wake of managed care’s influence on behavioral health care, better case management, networking of services, and mergers, many alliances have been formed in the past decade. Other organizations have gradually moved toward cooperation and help one another to accomplish mutually beneficial goals.
Alliances exist on a continuum of cooperation, ranging from loose referral relationships to formal coalitions with set organizational structures. Alliance building starts with recruitment of members and development of a mission and goals. A summary of the essentials of forming effective formal alliances and making them work.
It is important to emphasize to staff members and potential allies that creating a culturally responsive environment for LGBT clients is integral to providing a safe setting for all clients and to helping all people in recovery learn to live in a diverse society.
To build support for the alliance, identify possible organizations and individuals in the community who have a stake in reducing substance abuse in the LGBT communities. Designate alliance members to visit these potential participants. Some will need little persuasion, whereas others will require greater efforts. Inform potential members of the advantages of minimizing LGBT substance use. Solicit letters of support from a variety of key people in the community (e.g., politicians, religious and community leaders, health providers, business persons, legal organizations) who may convince hesitant members that broad-based support for addressing LGBT substance abuse treatment already exists.