Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Counsel all students

Published:Monday | January 18, 2016 | 1:17 AMMichael Abrahams

President of the Jamaica Association for Guidance Counsellors in Education (JAGCE), Nina Dixon, recently revealed that some of the approximately 800 guidance counsellors who work in schools are refusing to counsel students who identify as gay or lesbian, and her revelation is cause for much concern.
Dixon was quoted as saying: "I have students who have come into my office and they have expressed how they feel about their sexual orientation or their feelings. We have counsellors who are of the Christian faith who will not touch it, or look at those students at all."
As if that were not bad enough, on the heels of this declaration was a response from Norman Allen, the head of the union that represents guidance counsellors, that the Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) cannot call for guidance counsellors to be better trained to deal with gay students, as buggery remains illegal. He said counsellors faced a difficulty in responding to those students, as Jamaica has laws that make homosexual acts illegal.
This response to the deficit in the counselling services to lesbian and gay students is ridiculous and irresponsible on many levels.
First, not all students in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community are engaging in homosexual acts. Second, if lesbians are engaging in intimate or sexual acts, our antiquated, gender-biased anti-sodomy laws do not apply to them. Third, there are many heterosexual girls who engage in anal sex in an effort to preserve their virginity. Does that mean that counselling should be withheld from them as well?
The shunning of these students is a very serious issue, and it is now apparent that several counsellors have abdicated their responsibilities to care for some of the most vulnerable among us. Children are vulnerable members of our society, and LGBT youngsters even more so.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stresses experienced by LGBT youth put them at greater risk for depression, substance use, and sexual behaviours that place them at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
Many lesbian and gay persons are aware of their sexual orientation by puberty, and the realisation of this, while living in a society that rejects homosexuality, can be a difficult burden to bear. One gay man told me that he did not experience any same sex-attraction as a young child. When puberty hit, he engaged in sexual interactions with girls, as his friends did, but it did nothing for him. It was then that he realised that he was attracted to other boys and found himself fantasising about them. This caused him great distress, and he sought help from a psychiatrist, who told him that he was unable to change his orientation.
Unwilling to accept his prognosis, he sank into a deep depression, becoming suicidal. He eventually left Jamaica, and went to live in New York, where, after several years, he finally accepted himself. Another Jamaican gay man who now also lives in the United States related a very similar story to me, but he actually attempted suicide while trying to deal with his emotional turmoil.
Persons’ religious beliefs should not interfere with their ability to successfully perform the tasks they are paid to do. In counselling gay students, one is not obliged to say that homosexuality is good, right, normal, natural or moral. But these students need help and guidance. Many suffer from guilt, shame and loneliness, experience abandonment and are clinically depressed. They know that they are pariahs in our society, often experience psychological trauma, and are at risk for physical trauma as well. It is not uncommon for LGBT youngsters to be victims of bullying.
A policewoman related a story to me about a murder case in an inner-city community last year. A 15-year-old boy was deemed to be gay because he “spoke too properly”, and was targeted by thugs living in his neighbourhood. One day, they decided to deal with him definitively and shot him in his head and set his body on fire.
Some Christians will tell you that the Bible declares homosexuality to be an abomination. The real abomination, however, is being in a position of power and authority where you are able to assist a vulnerable child, and turning your back on that child because of some religious belief. Fortunately, not all Christians behave in this manner, and there are many who welcome these youngsters with open arms, as well as their parents who often need counselling themselves. Dogmas and doctrines should not trump rational thinking, compassion and empathy.
I urge our guidance counsellors to equip themselves with the necessary tools to enable them to counsel all students. No child should be denied access to rational guidance. It could be save their lives.
Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.