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What is LGBTQ Psychology?

For LGBTQ psychology researchers, a conference can be just as fun as a parade!

Dr. Karen Blair
Conference Delegates
Source: Dr. Karen Blair

I attended a slightly different kind of Pride event this year. There were no colorful floats, half-naked dancing men, chanting protests, or, sadly, even any free hugs from PFLAG members. Despite these missing hallmarks of a traditional pride parade or festival, the event I attended was still one of the best pride events that I have ever attended. I may, however, be a bit biased in making that statement, as I was the organizer of the event!

My name is Dr. Karen Blair and in addition to being a Professor of Psychology, I am also the chair of the Canadian Psychological Association’s (CPA) section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. This year, at CPA’s annual convention, which was co-hosted with the International Congress of Applied Psychology (ICAP) in Montreal, I organized an LGBTQ psychology conference: Preaching to the Choir. Over 115 researchers and clinicians from 79 different places around the globe, representing all inhabited continents, gathered together to share the latest developments in LGBTQ psychology over the Stonewall Pride weekend. While it’s true that there were no colorful floats or feather boas, we did still have colorful discussions, colorful slides, and many colorful posters presenting a diverse range of research from around the globe.

But what is LGBTQ psychology? It can be a bit difficult to really nail down a perfect definition, but, in general, it is a newer area of psychology, which focuses on the development, experiences, and well being of LGBTQ-identified individuals and their families. Psychology has a somewhat checkered past when it comes to working with, and researching, the LGBTQ community. Historically, LGBTQ identities have been pathologized within the field of psychology, with LGBTQ individuals often being subjected to painful, unnecessary, and even harmful forms of therapy and treatment designed to (unsuccessfully) rid an individual of their same-sex sexual desires or ‘atypical’ gender identity. In addition to actively treating LGBTQ individuals as inherently having some form of mental illness due only to their sexual or gender identity, psychology has historically failed to include the experiences of LGBTQ individuals within research. LGBTQ psychology seeks to rectify past wrong-doings and oversights by conducting research and providing services that recognize and celebrate the inherent human rights and dignities of LGBTQ individuals.

The success of the LGBTQ psychology conference in Montreal speaks to the growing popularity and global reach of the field. The conference included a diverse range of topics, including the experiences of LGBTQ service men and women in Canada during the LGBTQ purge, the health of LGBTQ individuals in China, stressors for trans and gender non-conforming individuals, and theories of prejudice towards trans women, to name only a few. The presentations covered a wide spectrum of psychological research, including clinical, health, social, and developmental psychology, as well as interdisciplinary collaborations between psychology and other fields, such as gender studies, sociology, social work, public health and public policy.

Research on topics like these will be the focus of what I write about on this blog for Psychology Today and I hope that readers will find the work in this area to be as interesting as I do! One of the characteristics of LGBTQ psychology that makes it of particular interest to me is that it offers researchers a rare opportunity to revisit the days of being a ‘generalist’ in psychology. Because psychology has largely ignored the experiences of LGBTQ individuals for so long, we know very little about how traditional psychological findings apply to LGBTQ experiences. As a result, researchers interested in LGBTQ psychology tend to follow interesting trajectories that lead them to dabble in multiple sub-fields of psychology as they attempt to fill in the gaps. The end result is a quickly growing area of research that is as diverse as the people it seeks to serve, although, as we also learned at the conference in Montreal, even LGBTQ psychology can improve in its efforts to fully cover the spectrum of identities and experiences housed under the LGBTQ umbrella.

I look forward to sharing the most recent developments in LGBTQ psychology with you and to answering your questions about how past psychology findings may, or may not, relate to LGBTQ individuals and their families.

To learn more about the Preaching to the Choir Conferences, please visit the website.

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