Counseling Black Gay Men Living in Low Socioeconomic Status Community
The film, Moonlight, depicts the growing life of a black man and his struggles through growing up within a low socioeconomic community, as well as his homosexuality (Romanski, Garner, Kleiner, & Jenkins, 2016). The main character, Chiron struggles to find and hold onto his identities of being a black gay man within the black community of a low socioeconomic neighborhood. He faces constant bullying in regards to his homosexuality and is often isolated by his peers. The one friend he does have is secretly bisexual and in an effort to hide his sexual identity and not be bullied, ends up physically beating Chiron, while the rest of the gang watches and joins in. His house is in a poor, unsafe, neighborhood, surrounded by drug gangs, drug dealers and drug users. His mother is one such user.
She steals from him, and uses his love for her to manipulate and neglect him. He has mostly raised himself, knowing how to cook, clean, and take care of himself since he was a boy. He struggles with defending himself, not wanting to resort to violence or partake in drug using, as he aims to rise above and be different. However, his is constantly beaten and tormented by his peers. He is very quiet and holds a lot of pain, emotion, and sadness inside. He talks about crying every night. His one father- figure (his biological father is out of the picture) is a drug-dealer. However, he accepts Chiron for who he is, takes care of him and gives him the time, care, love and attention that Chiron desperately needs. This man and his wife take him under their wing. However, the man passes during his teen years.
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After losing almost everyone he has left (his friend, and father-figure), his bottled up anger is let loose and he takes a nearby chair and aggressively beats up his main bully. He is then sent to juvenile jail where he meets a drug dealer. When he gets out, he manages a drug dealership. His personality becomes more masculine, aggressive and dominant, masking his inner identity. His mom has sobered up and their relationship has rekindled. He hides his homosexuality and it not until he reunites with his friend, and childhood love, that he lets his guard down and reveals he true, gentle self (Romanski et al., 2016).
Chiron faces several interwoven experiences, identities and emotions. Some strong emotions he felt were anger, confusion, isolation, sorrow, and loneliness. The main areas I am going to focus on are his interwoven identities of being a black gay man within a low socioeconomic society. Chiron’s struggle to find himself and be genuine in his intersecting identities, was a constant hardship throughout his life.
The Influence of Low Socioeconomic Status
Unfortunately, clients with low socioeconomic status are less likely to seek therapy, even though they are at higher risk for mental illness, suicide, imprisonment, drug abuse, and trauma (Fitts, Aber, & Allen, 2019; Waldegrave, 2005). According to Waldegrave (2005), families with low socioeconomic status face additional challenges such as; poor housing, safety, financial struggles, unemployment, additional trauma and stress, living without a home, and experiences with racial, heterosexist, or sex discriminations. These extra struggles can take a depressive tole and lead to additional physical and mental illness. A low-income economy can also lead to an increase in suicide risk, state prison admissions, hospitalizations, homicides, earlier death rates, and poorer health. As counselors, we cannot ignore these extra aspects. We must listen, provide education and resource tools for our clients, and not be afraid to discuss the fears and oppressions they often face due to their socioeconomic status. We should steer clear of blaming people living within the low-income society, since most are born into and/or do not have control over it. Counselors should also not avoid the possible implications of low-income societal oppressions Instead we need to be advocates for them. Waldegrave (2005) suggests paying attention and addressing the client’s stories on their necessities (including housing quality, household income, and reasonable health care access), while focusing on their strengths in coping, resilience, and survival skills. The therapy should mainly focus on a strengths-based approach and attend to the needs of the clients (Waldegrave, 2005).
Within the low socioeconomic status community, 27% of African Americans (men, women, and children) live below the poverty line (Black Demographics, 2014). This is drastically different from the 11% of all Americans who live below the poverty line (Black Demographics, 2014). Within the low socioeconomic community, black people make up a large portion, and thus the Black community is more prominent. Within this African American community, people become aware that they are objects of oppression, and try to integrate their thoughts around their culture and heritage as a positive influence to protect them from societal discriminations and oppressions such as prejudice that has led black people toward low socioeconomic status (Black Demographics, 2014; Heard Harvey & Richard, 2018).
What is Means to be a Black Gay American Man
A white gay man and a black straight man face different challenges than a black gay man. Black gay men face the minority status of being black within the gay community as well as being gay within the black community, both of which are already minorities themselves (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; English, Redina, & Parsons, 2018; Heard Harvey & Richard, 2018; Loiacano, 1989). These identities intersect and should not be looked at as separate aspects of the person, but rather interwoven parts of one’s identity.
According to Loiacano (1989), black gay men are viewed as inferior and often receive discrimination within the gay community. In advertisements, bars, and employment, they are often left out or receive racist and homophobic prejudices. The standards of gay beauty often relate to white gay men and exclude blacks or people of color. The interpersonal relationships that are important for white gay people do not hold the same positive closure implications of sexual identity with black gay people. One of the most important components for gay black men is the support from the black community. However, the black community generally still holds a homophobic atmosphere and believes the LGBTQ community to be part of the white culture, thus regards the gay community with little interest. Therefore, black gay men may hide their homosexuality to better fit within the black community. When black gay men were interviewed, most felt there was a lack of support for their gay identity within the Black community. One man talked about the pressure to keep his homosexuality a secret because homosexuality needed to remain invisible, therefore a part of him needed to remain invisible (Loiacano1989).
Despite this pressure to keep their homosexuality secretive, these men described needing validation for their various identities. One man even discussed how this struggle for acceptance within both communities challenged his sanity and led to struggles with trusting others (Loiacano1989). He stated:
“Because living in an environment where there’s been so many things that have told me I was freaky, I was crazy, I was stupid… And how much I had to fight against that, and struggle… I had just kind of forgotten how much I fought to remain sane. I lived in a world which wanted to tell me that I wasn’t. And that was a real battle” (Loiacano1989, p. 23).
The challenge to maintain a positive gay identity as a black man is often a struggle and ongoing process (Loiacano1989).
The combination of racial stigma and sexual minority stigma, that black gay men experience are intersected and lead to emotion regulation difficulties (English et al., 2018). Some of these difficulties include higher stress, increased anxiety and heavy alcoholic drinking, depressive symptoms, and increased feelings of isolation (English et al., 2018; Shallcross, 2018). Some additional challenges include, but are not limited to; community loyalty conflicts, marginalization, identity formation conflicts, and micro assaults (Heard Harvey & Ricard, 2018).
Black gay man face discriminations from both the gay community and black community (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; English, Redina, & Parsons, 2018; Heard Harvey & Richard, 2018; Loiacano, 1989). They also often face oppressions from the white heterosexual society for both their race and sexuality. The black community holds importance for social support, but may pressure them to feel the need to hide their homosexual identity. All of these aspects can lead to difficult experiences and negative emotions (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; English, Redina, & Parsons, 2018; Heard Harvey & Richard, 2018; Loiacano, 1989).
Counseling Black Gay Men
Due to the intersectionality of race and sexuality aspects of being a black gay man, the intersectionality theory is a core counseling strategy (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; English et al., 2018; Heard Harvey & Richard, 2018). This approach focuses on the layers of oppression within the client’s multiple identities. This can be done with feminist theory, multicultural theory, and/ or critical race theory (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; Head Harvey & Ricard, 2018). Critical race theory challenges societal and cultural understandings about race (Anderson & McCormack, 2010). This critical thinking process can be applied to other minority groups, such as the LGBTQ population. Both minorities have been denied civil liberties. When comparing the intersectionality between the racial and homosexual identities, counseling should focus on the different and similar societal and cultural oppressions (Anderson & McCormack, 2010).
Specifically, English et al. (2018), recommends focusing intersectional counseling on the minority stress from racial and sexual minority stigma. Due to this intersectionality leading to difficulties in emotion regulation, higher internalizations and heavy alcoholic drinking, English et al. (2018) suggests using culturally competent therapy, emotional regulation-focused counseling techniques, and structural interventions. This way the counseling sessions can target key aspects black gay men may be susceptible to.
Head Harvey and Ricard (2018) suggest the counselor to increase their own self-awareness on privileges, biases and knowledge about black gay men. Some areas of focus for counselors may be to further educate themselves with multicultural and social justice topics. Empowering the client is also a key counseling technique. Head Harvey and Ricard (2018) recommend to help the client develop a more positive understanding of their sexual and racial identities. Another method is through focusing on religion and spirituality influences in the client’s life which may help the individual develop positive coping mechanisms. However, this is based on the client’s value in religion and spirituality. If religion is important to the client, the counselor should recommend religious affiliation resources that are inclusive of gay black men. (Such websites may include Gaychurch.org, or Institute For Welcoming Resources which can be found below in the reference list.) It is important to know if the religious community, or any resource, is accepting of both the gay identity and African American identity. The counselor needs to be prepared to ask questions to help better understand the client’s individual experience (Head Harvey & Ricard, 2018).
Another aspect in counseling to consider is possible health risks. African American gay men are at high risk for HIV (Outlaw et al., 2010). Therefore, counseling sessions should also include a focus on HIV prevention, testing, and counseling. Outlaw et al., (2010) found that motivational interviewing was more likely to encourage African American gay men to get tested for HIV and return to counseling sessions, than traditional field outreach. Therefore, motivational interviewing is also an important technique to use when counseling black gay men.
Counselor Seeking Behaviors of Black Gay Men
In regards to black gay men seeking counseling, there is limited research data available (Anderson & McCormack, 2010). For black men seeking counseling, there is still a strong stigma toward mental health within the black community (Shallcross, 2018). Although counseling seeking behavior has improved within the black community, black men still do not generally seek out counseling. Counseling is seen as taboo and a sign of weakness. Therefore, it is up to the counselor to acknowledge that trust is not generally given freely by the client and must be earned and built. The black men need a safe trusting place to share their pain, and being vulnerable is a common challenging aspect among black men (Shallcross, 2018).
Men in general as a population, compared to women, are less likely to search for counseling (Shallcross, 2018). However, they are more likely to continue counseling once they’ve started. With still ever present stigmas that counseling is not masculine, men may feel guilty and shameful for seeking help, and thus are less likely to admit they have a problem or need counseling. In contrast, gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to seek counseling. Due to their familiarity with having experiences and feelings different from the common heterosexual population, such as vulnerability, they may be more inclined to seek help (Shallcross, 2018).
Conclusion: Counseling Chiron
Counseling men like Chiron involves the counselor to make the effort to not only get to know and listen to Chiron’s needs, but to do some additional research on quality resources, and education about oppressions faced by black gay men and men raised in low-income households. Counseling should gear toward a more intersectional approach and incorporate multicultural theories such as feminist theory and/ or critical race theory (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; Head Harvey & Ricard, 2018). A focus on empowerment and non-blaming, but strength-seeking approach should be consistently incorporated throughout the sessions (Anderson & McCormack, 2010; Head Harvey & Ricard, 2018). Working on target areas such as increasing better emotion regulation, and social intimacy while decreasing depression, anxiety, and alcohol use are some possible aspects that may need incorporated (English et al., 2018; Shallcross, 2018). Motivational interviewing should be used throughout the session to encourage testing for HIV (Outlaw et al., 2010). Questions should be asked to make sure basic needs are being met, and if basic needs are not met, advocacy and resource searches need to take place (Waldegrave, 2005). Above all, as a counselor I need to be genuine, listen and allow trust and safety to build within the counselor-client relationship.
- Anderson, E., & McCormack, M. (2010). Intersectionality, critical race theory, and American sporting oppression: Examining Black and gay male athletes. Journal of Homosexuality, 57(8), 949–967. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.1080/00918369.2010.503502
- English, D., Rendina, H. J., & Parsons, J. T. (2018). The effects of intersecting stigma: A longitudinal examination of minority stress, mental health, and substance use among Black, Latino, and multiracial gay and bisexual men. Psychology of Violence, 8(6), 669–679. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.1037/vio0000218
- Black Demographics. (2014). Poverty in Black America. Retrieved from https://blackdemographics.com/households/poverty/
- Fitts, J. J., Aber, M. S., & Allen, N. E. (2019). Individual, family, and site predictors of youth receipt of therapy in systems of care. Child & Youth Care Forum. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.1007/s10566-019-09504-w
- Gaychurch.org. (2019). Find an Affirming Church. Retrieved from https://www.gaychurch.org/find_a_church/
- Heard Harvey, C. C. C., & Ricard, R. J. (2018). Contextualizing the Concept of Intersectionality: Layered Identities of African American Women and Gay Men in the Black Church. Journal of Multicultural Counseling & Development, 46(3), 206–218. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.1002/jmcd.12102
- Institute For Welcoming Resources. (n.d.). Intersectionality Resources. Retrieved from http://www.intergroupresources.com/intersectionality/
- Loiacano, D. K. (1989). Gay identity issues among Black Americans: Racism, homophobia, and the need for validation. Journal of Counseling & Development, 68(1), 21–25. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.1002/j.1556-6676.1989.tb02486.x
- Outlaw, A. Y., Naar-King, S., Parsons, J. T., Green-Jones, M., Janisse, H., & Secord, E. (2010).
- Using Motivational Interviewing in HIV Field Outreach With Young African American Men Who Have Sex With Men: A Randomized Clinical Trial. American Journal of Public Health, 100(S1), S146–S151. https://doi-org.jcu.ohionet.org/10.2105/AJPH.2009.166991
- Romanski, A., Gardner, D., Kleiner, J. (Producers), & Jenkins, B. (Director). (2016). Moonlight [Motion Picture]. United States: A24.
- Shallcross, L. (2018). Men Welcome Here. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2010/08/men-welcome-here/
- Waldegrave, C. (2005). “Just Therapy” with Families on Low Incomes. Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program, 84(2), 265–276. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.jcu.ohionet.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2005-02493-011&site=ehost-live
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Counseling Black Gay Men Living in Low Socioeconomic Status Community. (2021, Mar 25). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/counseling-black-gay-men-living-in-low-socioeconomic-status-community/