Academic journal article Social Work

Among the Missing: Content on Lesbian and Gay People in Social Work Journals

Academic journal article Social Work

Among the Missing: Content on Lesbian and Gay People in Social Work Journals

Article excerpt

The 1980s and 1990s brought a strengthened commitment on the part of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) to focus on issues of practice with gay and lesbian people. Each new version of the NASW Code of Ethics (2000) and the CSWE Curriculum Policy Statement (1992) shows an expanded commitment to addressing issues of sexual orientation.

This progress in the profession parallels the civil rights struggle for gay men and lesbians that became increasingly visible and much more political after the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Despite progress in gaining recognition and acceptance of homosexuality as normative, institutional discrimination continues through the lack of civil and legal rights, as well as social intolerance, hostility, and violence (DePoy & Noble, 1992).

Social workers practice within a heterosexist society and have been socialized in heterosexist institutions. As Hartman's (1993) editorial in Social Work stated, "Every social worker must recognize that we have all grown up in a heterosexist society, and we must face within ourselves the residue of living in a homophobic world" (p. 360). Berkman and Zinberg (1997) also wrote about heterosexual social workers' "often unconscious bias and ... information deficit concerning the gay and lesbian communities and the unique difficulties that homosexual men and women encounter living in a predominantly heterosexual society" (p. 319). Similarly Swigonski (1995) stated: "Social workers need to be educated about their personal and professional biases and about the life conditions of lesbians and gay men" (p. 414). To address individual practitioner ignorance and bias, Hartman urged practitioners to replace presuppositions and theories about homosexuality with knowledge gained from the narratives of the experiences of le sbians and gay men.

Because of the continuing and widespread institutional discrimination against lesbians and gay men and societal intolerance of homosexuality, heterosexism and homophobia are perceived to be pervasive in the United States. Heterosexism is "a belief system that values heterosexuality as superior to and/or more 'natural' than homosexuality" (Morin, 1977, p. 629). In contrast to homophobia, which has been defined as "fear, disgust, anger, discomfort and aversion that individuals experience in dealing with gay people" (Hudson & Ricketts, 1980, p. 358), heterosexism is much more subtle. It is also more widespread as Berkman and Zinberg (1997) noted: "Heterosexism permeates the culture in which social institutions and social work practice are built" (p. 320).

Negative attitudes toward homosexual people can be seen in the military policy of "don't ask, don't tell." This policy reflects the continuing societal opposition to allowing the same rights and protections for lesbians and gay men as those provided to nongay people in such areas as housing, health care, and employment. Heterosexism and homophobia could be seen in the political organizing that led to Colorado's Proposition 2, a constitutional amendment designed to eliminate protection for gay men and lesbians, and subsequent efforts to prevent it from being overturned in the courts. Another indicator of the heterosexist bias in U.S. society was the flurry of activity that led to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was legislation to protect states from having to recognize homosexual marriages if they became legal in another state. Most recently, heterosexist political action in Maine led to the reversal of legislation that had protected lesbian and gay people from discrimination in employment and housi ng.

CSWE showed its commitment to preparing social workers for practice with gay and lesbian clients by adding a requirement in 1992 that each program's curriculum must include content on sexual orientation. Before 1992 the CSWE Curriculum Policy Statement urged, but did not require, programs to include content on sexual orientation. …

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