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Feeling Love, And Understanding, During Pride Month

June 13, 2021

Feeling proud is an essential component of good mental health and, as the world celebrates Pride Month, Dr. Laura Saunders of the Institute of Living (IOL) urged people to stoke their own sense of pride and that of others.

Pride Month celebrates the LGBTQ community, many of whom have struggled to love themselves and feel loved through and after the “coming out” process,” said Dr. Saunders, a child psychologist at the IOL, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network and clinical coordinator of The Right Track/LGBTQ Specialty Track.

“We celebrate these months because it helps us remember and move forward, encouraging people to live lives of integrity and without shame,” she said, noting that the month commemorates the June 1969 Stonewall Riots protesting harassment at a New York City bar. “It started a movement. It’s a beautiful thing because so many people have been persecuted and suffered just for the people they love and how they identify.”

Pride, Dr. Saunders said, is a mental health boost because it is about feeling good about oneself. This is particularly challenging in the LGBTQ community when individuals express their sexual preferences or gender identity, she said.

“If someone struggled with anxiety, going through process of coming out can be emotionally draining and, when they feel persecuted, damaging,” Dr. Saunders said. “We want people to celebrate all aspects of their identity. Being queer, transgender, questioning is one aspect of identity that makes them a whole and healthy self.”

While some might view sexual preferences and identity as “choices,” she said there is a biological component negating that belief.

“You make a choice to live your life fully, but you don’t choose to whom you are attracted and you don’t necessarily choose your gender identity. You choose to live life with fullness and a sense of self and sense of belonging, but you don’t choose this aspect of identity,” she said.

The goal of Pride Month, she added, is to allow everyone to affirm and love who they are. That can be accomplished through general acceptance and polite questioning. When it comes to using the proper pronouns for others, for example, she suggested asking them.

“I’ll say, ‘What name and pronoun do you prefer?’ We do these things to make people feel comfortable. It’s the ultimate way to show respect,” Dr. Saunders said. “We need to be allies for those folks who are disenfranchised or have less of a power dynamic than we might.”

That, she noted, can include speaking up for someone and not allowing crude jokes.

“It lets people know we’re in an evolving culture where we want to show respect for every single person because that’s what lets us feel good about ourselves,” she said. “Love your neighbor and be good to the people around you.”