OutCT holds first LGBTQ mental health and wellness symposium
Norwich — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, psychotherapist Chevelle Moss-Savage "had to provide a service that is so personal via a computer," and she felt herself experiencing isolation and Zoom fatigue. She also recalled the "vicarious trauma" from seeing police brutality on people of color.
"I thought, if I am having issues with all of these things, other folks are as well," said Moss-Savage, who is vice president and education committee chair of the New London-based LGBTQ nonprofit OutCT.
Hence her idea for an LGBTQIA+ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual — health and wellness symposium was born, which OutCT held Friday at Three Rivers Community College.
The daylong event opened with a keynote speech from Robin McHaelen, a Manchester-based consultant whose career has focused on LGBTQ youth, about engaging the mental health of people who are transgender and nonbinary, meaning people who don't solely identify as male or female. With the words and nuances of how people identify constantly changing, McHaelen said, "we can't keep up, but we can keep open."
She talked about the bills introduced and passed in other states to restrict LGBTQ+ curriculum and restrict access to medical care and sports for transgender youth. But she said it's also a Connecticut issue, pointing to the Parents Against Stupid Stuff PAC spending money trying to make transgender rights and critical race theory issues in the gubernatorial race, and to a Hartford school nurse placed on leave for social media posts about LGBTQ students.
Lindsay Gillette is someone who has worked with a lot of queer youth as co-chair of OutCT's youth group for five years. When she first started, she anticipated she'd be talking to a lot of gay and bisexual teenagers, but it was mostly gender-nonconforming teens. She talked about her experience leading the youth group — teaching skills like self-defense, gardening, cooking and CPR, but also talking about goal-setting, social media, and biases and prejudices.
"My goal was to create the most well-rounded individuals," she said. The group has gone on trips to places like a ropes course, escape rooms and Mystic Aquarium. At the annual Pride event held at Ocean Beach Park in New London, she had a separate youth space, with activities like a photo scavenger hunt, ice cream social and blacklight dance party.
Gillette came up with a phrase: "Pride for a day, proud for life."
Other workshop topics included family building options, stress relief, financial freedom, fair housing and trauma.
Rev. Carolyn Patierno of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London held a workshop called "Whole, Holy & Loved" with Kyle Murray, an All Souls member and aspiring minister who is transgender.
The topic of religion had come up earlier, with McHaelen commenting, "Every single religion in the universe has both love and judgment in their tenets, and what supportive families have managed to do is privilege love over judgment."
In the second keynote address, Inclusive Education LLC founder Elijah Manning talked about how being an ally is a verb, not a noun. The difference, he said, is about being there to help rather than trying to make yourself look good by helping.
"Don't perform. You're not putting on a show. You're not a peacock," Manning said. He added that communities have been working on problems facing them for years, and "they don't need you to come in and tell them how to do things. They need you to come in and support them."
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