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LGBTQ+ History Month: the Life of Dr. Charles Silverstein

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Charles Silverstein therapist and LGBTQ+ advocate
Charles Silverstein, therapist and pro-LGBT advocate, wears headphones and looks at his computer while he is in a video conference. (via Wikipedia)

October is LGBTQ+ History Month, celebrating the achievements of 31 lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. This week, we call your attention to the life of the psychologist and LGBTQ+ activist Dr. Charles Silverstein and some of the lessons we can learn from his life.

He wasn’t afraid to question traditional mental health practices: “Psychoanalysts believed that gay men were doomed to lives of depression and, eventually, suicide because of their shame,” Silverstein told the Windy City Times in an interview. “I argued that these men were not ashamed because they were homosexual, but because of what these therapists were telling them.”

As a young graduate student, he used the power of his lived experience to change the course of psychiatry: “His now historic 1973 presentation before the American Psychiatric Association led to the removal of homosexuality as a mental illness from the organization’s seminal diagnostic manual.”

He knew families needed support, too: He wrote the book A Family Matter: A Parents’ Guide to Homosexuality. This book discusses how families have dealt with their feelings about their children being gay.

He believed in peer support: He established Identity House. In this peer-run support organization, peer counselors “use active listening skills to help clients clarify their thoughts and feelings and to explore solutions.”

He shared credit: “I really do like to say these changes that occurred are not because of any one person at any one time, but it’s really the sum total of a number of people who fought, sometimes against the enemy, sometimes with each other, because we had lots of that,” he continued. “There is no one person that can claim responsibility for these changes. We worked together.”

These are some practical resources to support families of LGBTQ+ youth:

If your child comes out to you, remember two of the most important things you can do are the same things that are important in any situation with your child: keep the lines of communication open and help your child feel accepted as they are. Both of those things can be hard when dealing with a wide range of emotions yourself, which can happen when your child comes out. Talking through your feelings with a friend or family member can be helpful. We are always here to listen as well.

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