Written By: Meghan Lape-Lefevre, CFP®, AFC®, EA
The LGBTQA+ community is incredibly diverse. The community includes people who identify as men, women, both, and neither. People who are attracted to men, women, both, or neither are also members of the community. Having this unique grouping of people creates its own subculture. This subculture can seem intimidating to those who are unfamiliar. So how does one form an inclusive space?
The truth is that there is no one right answer. But that does not mean there are no answers. In my own practice, I have discovered three important lessons that I believe will be beneficial for others to hear.
A safe space is a prerequisite for establishing trust
Members of the LGBTQA+ community often have endured discrimination. They have also learned to be selective about who they are honest with when it comes to their identity. Being honest with others can change an environment from safe to hostile. The community member even risks targeted violence. LGBTQA+ clients may not be open with the counselor if the counselor does not communicate to them that this is a safe space. When this occurs, it becomes an impediment to the counselor’s job of accurately and effectively helping the client address their needs.
So how do we demonstrate to the client that they are in a safe space? There are both subtle and overt signs that LGBTQA+ clients will clue into in deciding whether or not to trust us. Subtle signs can include:
- displaying community-friendly merchandise such as the pride flag or promotional items from LGBTQA+ rights advocates,
- using partner inclusive language, or
- introducing ourselves with and putting our pronouns in our email signature line.
Overt signs can include directly communicating to the client that they are in a safe space. Another example is displaying nondiscrimination policies or safe space pledges in our office or website. These gestures can make a profound impact. They indicate the space to be safe without the client needing to put themselves at risk. As a result of this effort, our financial counseling can better anticipate and be more effective for their specific needs.
There is a line between gathering client information and expecting a client to educate
In every counseling session, we gather client information, including family dynamics. However, there is a line between the client providing data and the client educating the counselor on queer culture. A client could feel taken advantage of when they are paying a fee but spending their time providing their own educational services instead. It is not necessary that the counselor understand the entirety of queer culture, just its unique challenges when it comes to family and financial planning. To address this, it is important to understand that the legal status and protections of these families may shift over the course of the client’s lifetime. These issues can present themselves as:
- inconsistencies in tax treatment and filing status,
- the inability to get or revoke employer spousal and family benefits, and
- non-recognition of a family member in determinations of legal custody, medical decisions, visitation, and probate.
Knowing how to address these types of concerns ahead of time can be instrumental in providing counseling that is effective and reflects the inclusivity that we are trying to maintain.
No one is immune from making mistakes
I wish that being a part of the LGBTQA+ community or being highly educated on the culture could prevent people from making remarks that are phobic or offensive. The truth is that we are all susceptible to making mistakes, unintentional or not. Should we get wrapped up in the fault or shame of this? No. It is better to use that energy to identify the misstep, apologize even when well intentioned, and do what it takes to update our understanding of the matter at hand. In real life, it could be as simple as saying “I’m sorry, let me correct that,” doing so, and moving on. Dwelling on the mistake is not necessary, and over time these kinds of mistakes will be made less and less. This can be one of the most intimidating parts of inclusion, but it is also one of the most necessary ones. Remembering that mistakes are not a criminal conviction, but are learning opportunities that will ultimately broaden your inclusive space, will help keep these mistakes in perspective.
All things considered, these lessons have been a great aid to my practice and its efforts to expand its diversity and inclusion. You may have different experiences as you encounter your own unique cross section of the community and experience other lessons as well. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all inclusionary plan, but if you would like to learn more, here are some great places to start: