Friday, February 10, 2012

New Partnership Increases Mental Health Resources across Miami-Dade

Open discussion on gender and orientation was a novel experience for more than 40 family therapy and substance abuse providers within the South Florida Behavioral Health Network (SFBHN). The first of three presentations for the SFBHN system of care took place in January, which coordinates counseling services across several Miami public agencies.

“How do I tell if my daughter is really bisexual, or if it’s only a phase?” was the opening question from a counselor.

Martha Fugate.
“Yes, that’s a great question. How can we know if it is a phase, and that’s what every parent wants to know,” said Martha Fugate, co-founder of YES Institute. “But before we answer that, I have a question for you. What difference would it make if it was a phase, or not?"

“Oh wow, I never thought about it like that,” responded the counselor. After this exchange, a flurry of hands went up, and the dialogue began.

The open and free flowing conversation gave the providers a chance to explore these topics and share their experiences. Not only did they feel better prepared to respond, but they learned of a great resource and partner in the community.

“This was an eye opening presentation, and gives me a way to better serve young people and their families.” - Community provider

One counselor related how her 8-year old nephew is repeatedly teased in elementary school with anti-gay slurs. When the school was unable to stop the bulling, the families only resort was to teach him to fight to defend himself. Physical violence soon led to bloody noses and cafeteria rumbles, but the insults and harassment continued. Both boys were suspended, with solutions far from sight.

“Violence is the last resort of the powerless. Schools, principals, teachers, and parents all want to stop bullying, and none of them know how. This leaves everyone feeling powerless and turning a finger to blame others for the failure. Real answers take time and a new ways of thinking and approaching the problem,” Fugate responded.

“I want and need to attend the courses so I can learn tools for communicating with parents about gay and transgender children.” - Community provider

Emily, a parent speaker. 
Emily, a YES Institute speaker and mother of a gay son, soon had tears rolling as she spoke about how lost she felt when her son came out to her. Her greatest love was this son who was now relaying something fearful and incomprehensible. Emily said, “How could I understand? I didn’t know where to turn to for help, even our therapist didn’t know what to do.”

The next speaker was Sky, who told the struggle of transitioning from a female birth assignment through his emerging male identity. As he spoke, those most unfamiliar with the topic of gender transitioning were riveted to his every word as he recounted his courageous journey.

“I learned that there is a difference between transgender and sexual orientation. I now see YES Institute as a resource that I can reach out to for further consultation and referral.” - Community provider

Sky (middle), a youth speaker. 
YES Institute is scheduled for two more sessions with the network, one in English and one in Spanish language. Stayed tuned for updates as our work progresses with the Miami-Dade system of care.

“Something I am going to do differently is to listen more closely and become more understanding.” - Community provider

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