Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Developmental Transitions of Gay/lesbian/bisexual-Affirmative, Heterosexual Career Counselors

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Developmental Transitions of Gay/lesbian/bisexual-Affirmative, Heterosexual Career Counselors

Article excerpt

One of the missions of the Career Services Center at Illinois State University has been to attend to the unique career and life planning needs of special populations. Despite the fact that between 10% to 15% of the population is gay or lesbian (Fassinger, 1991) and significant career and life planning issues are associated with sexual orientation (Elliott, 1993), our career center was not aware of any instances in which gay, lesbian, or bisexual students had recently sought career counseling. Because these students seemed to underutilize our center, an effort was made to develop special programs and resources for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.

In the process of learning about gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity development, we noted some parallel processes occurring for us as we experienced "coming out" as gay/lesbian/bisexual-affirmative, heterosexual career counselors. This article discusses those personal and professional developmental parallels. In addition, a few differences between our own identity development and the identity development of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons are discussed. It is hoped that by sharing our experiences and perspectives, both heterosexual career counselors and gay, lesbian, and bisexual career counselors will be assisted in their efforts to develop more comprehensive career and life planning services for the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities. In addition, we hope that our own experiences will enable other career counselors to become more effective at recognizing and addressing "heterosexism" in current career counseling services, materials, interventions, and theories. (Reader note. We use the word heterosexism to refer to a set of beliefs about human sexuality that are biased in favor of a heterosexual orientation and prejudiced against gay, lesbian, and bisexual orientations (Jung & Smith, 1993). Because resources are available that describe specific actions for becoming more affirmative in practice (Hradesky & Comey, 1992; Washington & Evans, 1991), this article concentrates on our own internal professional development as allies.

Although there are a number of models of the identity development of gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons (Levine & Evans, 1991), Cass's theory (1979, 1984) seemed to be especially helpful to us, as it includes cognitive, affective, social, and behavioral variables. In addition, the theory has empirical support and is frequently cited in the literature. The reader is referred to Cass (1979, 1984) for a full elucidation of the theory, which proposes that lesbians and gay men seem to progress over time through six developmental stages: Identity Confusion, Identity Comparison, Identity Tolerance, Identity Acceptance, Identity Pride, and Identity Synthesis. The theory proposes that as individuals progress through these stages, there seems to be movement toward higher levels of self-esteem as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person; an increased intellectual sophistication in addressing issues linked to sexual orientation; an enhanced ability to form a stronger sense of community with other gay, lesbian or bisexual persons; changing responses to heterosexuals; increased self-disclosures about sexual orientation; greater feelings of personal and professional empowerment as a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person; an increased congruence between feelings and behaviors; and an enhanced ability to integrate sexual identity more fully into all areas of personal and professional development. Thus, according to Cass (1979, 1984), gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity development involves changes in cognitive, affective, behavioral, and interpersonal domains.

In studying Cass's theory (1979, 1984), we noted similar changes in our own self-esteem, actions, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings as we attempted to become more affirmative to sexual orientation issues. Although the identity development of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons is significantly more arduous than our own identity development as affirmative heterosexual allies (McDonald, 1982), noting the parallel processes helped us to more easily tolerate our own initial confusions and anxieties as we attempted to enter the role of lesbian, gay, and bisexual allies. …

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