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July, 2007

Breaking New GroundRainbow Flag

The 2007 NAMI Convention in San Diego, California, hosted the first events and sessions focused on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) issues in mental health ever held at a NAMI national gathering. For many, this symbolized a great stride forward for NAMI becoming a truly inclusive organization of all who experience mental illness.

Support of the GLBT community was readily apparent. A few ribbons were distributed for convention attendees’ name badges inscribed with “GLBT” on a rainbow background. These ran out very quickly, an indication that there was more interest than expected.

Sessions kicked off Friday, June 22, with an informal networking session co-hosted by NAMI's Multicultural Action Center and the Center for Leadership Development. Rainbow flags were hung at the door and in the front of the room, as symbols of a safe environment and to help those interested in GLBT issues to find their way. Participants enjoyed cheerful background music as they mingled with each other.

Two workshops followed, focusing on a range of issues in mental health particular to the GLBT community, including:

  • barriers to treatment
  • double stigma
  • suicide rates among youth
  • culturally competent care, etc.

Speakers included members of the recently formed NAMI GLBT Leaders Group. These workshops were well-attended by respectful and genuinely interested convention attendees.

The dialogue between speakers and attendees was informative and eye-opening, as well as comforting.

Several attendees spoke about coming out within NAMI for the first time; that in their non-NAMI life they had been out and proud, and with this inclusion of GLBT individuals, they finally felt totally welcome within the organization.

Some expressed this with tears of joy.

One mother asked the speakers for advice about how to make her son comfortable identifying both as experiencing schizophrenia and as gay. Another attendee commented, “Addressing the LGBT Culture in NAMI has been important to me since I began working in NAMI in 2000, and I'm grateful to be included!”

A listening session was held Saturday for invitees from both the general NAMI leadership and from GLBT individuals both within and beyond NAMI to discuss NAMI’s ability to be supportive of the GLBT community.

Through structured dialogue, participants shared personal experiences and expertise.

A proceedings document will be released soon including the many concrete recommendations made during this meeting.

The success of these events and sessions during the NAMI 2007 Convention was encouraging to the Multicultural Action Center and the GLBT Leaders Group who will continue working together to address the needs of the GLBT community within NAMI.

For more information, visit www.nami.org/multicultural or contact MACenter@nami.org. Also, visit NAMI's GLBT online discussion group.


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