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social sciences

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Social Work  
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Challenging Issues for the Future

A truly glbtq-positive social work field will consist of several characteristics. First, transgenderism and homosexuality will not be viewed as mental illnesses, but as healthy, normative aspects of humanity. Second, social service providers will perform their duties without prejudice and discrimination in a glbtq-affirming atmosphere. Finally, social workers will have the knowledge and training to allow them to work productively with members of the glbtq population, both on the micro and macro levels, and with the appropriate assessment skills and intervention strategies.

Unfortunately, the profession still has a long way to go. According to studies, many undergraduate and graduate social work education programs do not adequately address heterosexism and homophobia in their curricula, let alone provide information about glbtq issues and needs. In addition, because of a lack of glbtq-awareness education at the undergraduate and graduate levels, social workers have often not dealt with their own heterosexism and homophobia. This results in professionals who may have unexamined judgmental beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender expression.

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Finally, there are a number of problematic implicit and explicit assumptions that continue to underlie much social work curricula, practice, research, agency policies, and work settings. Namely, clients are automatically viewed as being heterosexual, and normative family relationships are assumed necessarily to be heterosexual.

Today's world is much different for the glbtq community than it was fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago, as much progress has been made in the fight for glbtq rights. Yet prejudice and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression are still rife in our society.

Social workers, if they choose to follow their own mandates, will find that they are in the perfect positions to lead the struggle against heterosexism, homophobia, and transphobia, whether on the institutional or individual level. After all, what other profession has a code of ethics that asks its members for their commitment to "respect the inherent dignity and worth of the person" and "challenge social injustice"?

Andrew Matzner

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social sciences >> Overview:  Counseling

In recent years there has been a push for glbtq-sensitive counselor training and glbtq-affirmative counseling, which, although occurring slowly and encountering resistance, marks a significant move in a positive direction.

social sciences >> Overview:  Family Therapy

Glbtq family therapy is a relatively new field that merges gay-affirmative therapy with family systems theory; its goal is to help glbtq people create and maintain healthy families.

social sciences >> Overview:  Grief

The experience of loss is a universal condition of humanity, but glbtq individuals may face particular challenges in finding support to help them in their grieving process.

social sciences >> Overview:  Grief Resources

There are many excellent resources, both general and specifically tailored for glbtq individuals, which can assist in the process of healing after a bereavement or other major loss.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophobia

Homophobia was originally defined as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," but it is now sometimes used to describe any form of anti-gay bias.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homosexuality

The term "homosexuality," coined in 1869, with "heterosexuality" as its opposite, has led to a binary concept that oversimplifies the complexity of human sexual behavior.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nursing

Nursing, which has been both welcoming and hostile to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered, is important to glbtq history.

social sciences >> Overview:  Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis, which began as a therapeutic procedure, ultimately became one of the most powerful methods of cultural analysis and critique of the twentieth-century.

social sciences >> Overview:  Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, the clinical process of treating mental and emotional health problems, has recently been energized by a movement to depathologize homosexuality and to enhance the dignity and self-respect of glbtq clients.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sociology

As an academic field, sociology has only recently begun to examine sexuality, and members of the profession are divided over glbtq concerns.

social sciences >> Kellor, Frances Alice

Frances Kellor was a progressive activist and intellectual who is best known for having led the Americanization movement, but also contributed in a number of other areas.

social sciences >> Sissy Boy Syndrome

When the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, it added in its place "Gender Identity Disorder in Childhood," or "The Sissy Boy Syndrome."

social sciences >> Wald, Lillian

Lillian Wald, an American public health nurse and social reformer, is the model of a Victorian-era lesbian active in the settlement house movement.


Appleby, George Alan, and Jeane W. Anastas. Not Just a Passing Phase: Social Work with Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual People. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Hunter, Ski, and Jane Hickerson. Affirmative Practice: Understanding and Working with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons. Washington, D. C.: NASW Press, 2003.

Mallon, Gerald, ed. Foundations of Social Work Practice with Lesbian and Gay Persons. Binghamton, N. Y.: Haworth Press, 1998.

_____, ed. Social Services with Transgendered Youth. Binghamton, N. Y.: Harrington Park Press, 2000.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Code of Ethics. Washington, D. C.: NASW Press, 1996.

Van Wormer, Katherine, Joel Wells, and Mary Boes. Social Work with Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals: A Strengths Perspective. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Social Work  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated October 12, 2010  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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