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Transcending Social Boundaries and Differences
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Transcending Social Boundaries and Differences
Message From The Executive Director

 

Robert Schachter, DSW, LMSW

 

December/January 2008


Some years ago I wrote about an exceptional experience I had, and I am remembering it now.

When one of the most wonderful social workers I ever met, Patrick Moriarty, died, I attended a memorial service for him. Patrick was known for his activism within NASW and many other organizations, and he had been featured in the New York Times as someone who was aging and living for many years with AIDS.

At the service, an African American woman with a resonant voice reminiscent of Maya Angelou began her remarks with the following: “Patrick was a white man who was a black man.”

At that time I had never heard anyone express such a thing, and I heard it as a supreme compliment. I took this to mean that Patrick’s African American colleagues appreciated the way Patrick lived his life and how he demonstrated his commitment to and concern about the experience of Black Americans in our society.

I wondered at the time what someone like myself would have to do to ever be seen that way.

I am reminded of Patrick and how he was seen then as we publish this special issue of our Chapter newsletter on social work with LGBT communities.

I can now ask, would my LGBT colleagues ever say in the future, perhaps after I am gone, that Bob was a straight man who was a gay man? I think the question is more important right now than the answer.

I raise this to underscore the importance of this newsletter.

There are two critical reasons why we have produced this issue of the newsletter. The first is to underscore with the straight social work community the direction we can be moving in, in terms of our own professional development, to more knowledgeably and openly work with LGBT communities.

The second reason is to throw the support of the social work profession, beginning with NASW-NYC, behind our LGBT colleagues who are simultaneously professional social workers and members of LGBT communities that are embattled in our society and in need of basic human rights.

In sitting around a table on three occasions with several LGBT social work leaders to plan this issue of Currents, there was a fundamental concern that straight social workers and the human services community overall have not gone far enough to address the concerns being expressed in this newsletter. They especially spoke about agencies whose staff do not feel it is their responsibility to serve LGBT clients or that they should be expected to acquire the competency to do so.

They said that they are observing over and over again a tendency within agencies to refer clients to specialized LGBT programs, which do not have the resources to meet all of the needs in New York City. In other words, people are saying, “we don’t serve this group, refer them elsewhere.” There are ethical issues being raised here.

There was a sense of hopefulness (while being very realistic) among this planning group that the newsletter would be a meaningful step in the right direction to hold ourselves and our agencies more accountable. It is in this spirit that I want to invite our members to read these articles very closely and join together to address the inequities right within our own community in order to improve services.

Finally, I want to say that Patrick was a white man who was a gay man. And so importantly, he was a social worker who transcended social boundaries and differences, and everyone who knew him invited him in. He was the embodiment of what this profession stands for.

What an image for all of us to aspire to.

 

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