Stand Up For Others
Addressing LGBT Issues in Schools of Social Work
Kevin V. Lotz, LMSW, CASAC, Senior Social Worker, Samaritan Village, Inc.; Director, Trinity Place Homeless Shelter; Member, NASW-NYC Board of Directors
“Gay people are disgusting.” This is an actual quote from a social work student spoken aloud in one of New York’s many social work classrooms. While the professor did not hear such a statement, at least one student did. This student, Scott Kramer, MSW (name used with permission) happened to be gay. Scott (a new professional and co-chair of the NASW-NYC LGBT Committee) reported he was fortunate and thankful to have “a professor who was incredibly supportive.” Scott chose to challenge the ignorance and discrimination he witnessed by writing an open letter to the class, which he courageously read aloud. Scott reflected, “it took a lot of personal strength for me to read the letter aloud, in a sense, I was outing myself. I wasn’t doing it just for me, but for every gay person who feels like they don’t have a voice.” Fortunately, Scott did not have to “stand up for others” by himself for too long. After Scott read his letter to the class, the rest of the students stood up too and applauded.
The accreditation standards of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) include a section titled “Nondiscrimination and Human Diversity” which states accredited schools of social work must “make specific and continuous efforts to provide a learning context in which respect for all persons and diversity are practiced. Social work education builds upon professional purposes and values; therefore, the program provides a learning context that is nondiscriminatory and reflects the profession’s fundamental tenets.”
However, social work classrooms, field placement sites, and agencies are not immune to the deeply entrenched homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism that permeate all layers of our society.
The capacity to which schools of social work challenge such forms of oppression varies greatly. Regardless, for social workers to have any shot at increasing their own levels of “cultural competence” our classrooms and field placement sites must be safe places where homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism can be discussed, explored and challenged. This can only be achieved if social work students, faculty, field instructors, and practitioners collectively join to challenge such systemic oppression.
One does not have to look far for an exemplary illustration of this in NYC. Former social work students Jill Kaufman, LMSW, and Ady Ben-Israel, MA, LMSW, created a video titled “Bad Fit” (www.badfit.org) as MSW students in 2005, which both exposes the need for improved sensitivity to LGBTQ issues in social work education and also challenges all social workers to take action. The video has since received due acclaim, been distributed nationally and was even featured at the CSWE National Conference in 2005.
NASW has adopted the slogan “Stand up for Others” to illustrate how social workers resist and challenge social injustice. Social work classrooms are often the first place where social workers learn to stand up. Our classrooms must represent an environment where homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism are strongly challenged. Such challenges must then extend to field placement sites/field instructors and all social work practitioners. In order to fulfill our ethical obligations, we must stand up for others. However, the question that remains is when will you stand up? Will you wait until it’s safer to stand up to simply applaud an LGBTQ person’s challenge of injustice? Or will you take a risk to advance social justice and be the first to rise up and truly “stand up for others?”