Social Workers Can Help Create Queer-Friendly Nonprofits

By Paul R. Pace

queer couple interacting

“Right now, the LGBTQIA+ community is under attack,” says Seth J. Meyer, PhD, LCSW, assistant professor of nonprofit studies and public administration at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

Threats to libraries, education, LGBTQIA+ books, and learning about or discussing queerness is taking place across the U.S. “That hurts queer kids,” Meyer says. “It hurts queer people all around.”

Proposed legislation attacking drag performers and celebrations of queerness also is harmful because it takes away role models, says Meyer. In addition, states continue to pass laws taking away gender-affirming care. “This is why we really need to be talking about this now more than ever.”

“I have been doing this work for 25 (plus) years and it almost feels like we are going back in time,” says Meyer, who presented the NASW Specialty Practice Section webinar, “How Social Workers Can Create a Queer Friendly Nonprofit.”

He noted as of June 1, there were almost 500 anti-LGBTQIA+ laws being proposed across the country, according to the ACLU. Meyer explained that “heteronormativity” is when heterosexuality, or straightness, is held up as the “norm” and anything that does not fit into this category is seen as “other.”

“Heteronormativity is about power,” Meyer said. “Queer theory is often about questioning who has power and who doesn’t and how we use power to treat otherness.”

Every individual person is different, Meyer explained. “Some people want heteronormative lives so to speak—and that’s great—but some people don’t. And that is also fine.”

He said queer relationships may look different from heteronormative relationships, and that’s why when nonprofits interact with individuals, it is important to allow the individuals space to have multiple romantic and sexual partners without judgment.

Queer families can include nonbiological support systems like found families. Make space for these found families who may be more important than biological families, Meyer suggested.

“The queer community is diverse and complex,” he said. “There is no one queer experience: Every person experiences queerness differently.”

It is also important to make sure your nonprofit’s paperwork is queer-inclusive, such as offering pronouns beyond he/him and she/her and to offer gender beyond “male” and “female.”

To aid his study on this subject, Meyer discussed the preliminary results of a survey he conducted of LGBTQIA+ individuals over the age of 18 in the U.S. The study asks participants about what types of nonprofits they have used, the experience they had, and how nonprofits can improve.

Meyer noted few participants reported feeling unwelcome in the nonprofits they recently interacted with. But there is room for improvement. He said survey respondents offered several suggestions.

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