Background: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I graduated with my Masters from D’Youville College. I have been practicing for 3 years (currently as a travel OT) and I have worked primarily with traumatized youth in specialized behavior schools. This is where my passion lies and I plan to become a certified specialist in trauma interventions for youth. I am lucky to have grown up in a city like Buffalo, where the LGBTQIA+ community is celebrated. I attend local LGBT events, hang out at LGBT bars and cafes, and support local arts and music. I have also modeled for a gender neutral shoot at my hair salon. When I am not being social I enjoy being as active as possible, whether with yoga, lifting, cycling, or hiking. Needless to say, I keep myself busy!
Profession: Occupational Therapist
Area of Practice: Youth-Young adult, School-based
What does being out in healthcare mean to you?: Since I primarily work with youth, coming out as a healthcare worker gives me the opportunity to be an LGBT role model for kids, who are experiencing their own journeys in a world that prioritizes being cisgender and straight. There is a common misguided idea that children are “too young” to be exposed to the concept of being queer, when everything they are exposed to in our current social climate emphasizes heterosexual, patriarchal relationships. Kids who feel they might be trans, gay, etc. have very little representation to identify with, and can be left confused, ashamed, and targeted by their peers. I value that my platform in healthcare allows me to be someone kids can be their authentic selves around, while showing them that being queer is both normal and something they can (and should) celebrate in themselves and others. Destigmatizing queerness in school will help kids feel safer and more empowered to come to school, perform their occupations, and achieve to their full potential.
What is one thing everyone should know about your identity?: Non-binary lesbians are valid! My gender identity is non-binary, which means I do not identify within the culturally imposed male-female binary. Gender is socially constructed, and I don’t feel compelled to participate in concepts of masculinity and femininity. I’m just Sara! My sexuality is lesbian, which means I am attracted to women and non-binary folk (this frequently misunderstood and sometimes argued, but non-binary people have historically always been included in lesbianism!)
How do you feel when your identity is included?: Even within the LGBT community, non-binary lesbians are often looked at with a sideways head. Even people within the community need to be further educated on inclusivity. When my identity is acknowledged and respected, it feels affirming and great. At work, I have been hesitant to even come out as a lesbian at certain jobs, mostly when it seemed like there weren’t any other queer people around. Once I started encountering openly gay colleagues, I was much more confident to come out. I enjoy feeling empowered to come out on my own terms rather than let people make assumptions and judgments. Fortunately, I’ve never been in a workplace where I felt ostracized after coming out, which has made it easier and more comfortable to be myself while doing my best work.
What does “taking up space” mean to you?: Taking up space means that I feel empowered and safe to be openly and proudly queer. I should be able to live my truth as fully as my cis and straight peers do, without any shame or disrespect. Unfortunately, LGBT people do still face stigma and discrimination, but the more we take up space and come out, the more we demand that we be considered as equals in healthcare and society as a whole.
What is one piece of advice that I would give to healthcare workers who aren’t sure how to honor the identities of their patients?: The most important thing is learning the needs of each individual patient, rather than relying on generalizations or assumptions. Ask the patient directly what their name and pronouns are so you can always address them and speak about them without invalidating their identity (and never refer to them with labels they have not used themselves). If you are unsure of something related to gender/sexual identity and need to know to help you can work with your patient, ask the patient directly, with open-ended, non-invasive questions (i.e “Are you sexually active? With which genders?”) Never assume that someone performs certain tasks or behaviors because of their identity.
Has your identity influenced healthcare that you have received?: I don’t feel I’ve been discriminated against due to my identity, but I do feel the system needs work in its approach to sexual health in general. All my doctors know that I am a lesbian, and I have been asked if I am with a partner and if I am sexually active. This is usually where the questions end, and I feel patients would benefit from more in depth questioning. I was once asked about sex toy usage and cleaning, which may have been asked since I am a lesbian, but I would hope practitioners would ask all individuals this question.
Background: I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY. I decided to enter nursing school because I was always inspired by the compassionate care that nurses provided me throughout my life.
Area(s) of practice: Mental/Behavioral Health
What does being out in healthcare mean to you?: Being out in healthcare means accepting that you are a role model to those around you. Living my truth is not always easy, but even if it eventually inspires one person to do the same, or feel represented in some way, I’m happy.
What is one thing you think everyone should know about your specific identity or the LGBTQIA+ community as a whole?: It’s important to never make assumptions about an individual based on your stereotypes of the collective group. Each person is unique in their own way and should be treated so.
How do you feel when your identity is acknowledged and included, in the workplace/ in media OR how do you feel when your identity is not included or acknowledged?: It is amazing to see in my lifetime, the drastic changes that have already occurred in regards to LGBTQIA+ representation in the media and in workplaces. I’m hoping that the ball keeps rolling and that this can be the case for every member of the community.
What does “taking up space” mean to you?: It means living my truth and helping those around me understand better. It means showing clients who come through the clinic doors that this is a safe space, and while we may not get everything right the first time for them, they can count on the fact that we are always evolving for the better
What is one piece of advice that you would give to a healthcare professional that is unsure of how to/inexperienced with honoring and including the identity on someone within the LGBTQIA+ community while receiving healthcare services?: Accepting that you don’t have all of the answers is the first step to a therapeutic relationship with a client in the LGBTQIA+ community. Even for me, my experiences as a gay man may be completely different than those of another gay man. Understanding that a client shouldn’t have to constantly explain their existence and identity to healthcare professionals is also important.
Has your identity influenced healthcare that you’ve received in the past? Absolutely, I remember being asked on a physical if I was “safe when I was privately with girls,” or, “a guy like you must have no problem finding a nice girl.” It’s hard for some people to understand that their assumptions can be really harmful to the mental health of people in the LGBTQIA+ community, and even in some cases deter them from receiving treatment.
I always found the idea of ‘coming out’ as strange or forced, but like many other LGBTQIA+ individuals I went through the same process on my journey to self-discovery and establishing my identity. I came out “officially” at the age of 17, or as I would prefer to say it, I started to let people in to who I am at 17. That is the same age that I decided to pursue an education in occupational therapy.
I applied to 9 schools originally and decided to attend D’Youville College in Buffalo, NY for my combined BS and MS of human occupation and occupational therapy. OT school was challenging, energizing, and fulfilling. I was fortunate to have incredible faculty, family, and friends who supported and challenged me with my crazy ideas like starting a community wellness clinic on campus or creating the official D’Youville OT instagram page – which is where the idea of @therainbowot grew from.
It was during professional development lecture in my final year of OT school where I found enough passion and frustration to start my lifelong mission for enhancing education, inclusion, representation, and advocacy for those within the LGBTQIA+ community, inside and outside of healthcare settings. I was so excited in class when we finally had a lecture where part of the class discussion was designated to address LGBT topics in OT. There was an objective to cover vast cultures including Korean and Latinx culture in a two hour span, leaving little time to cover all of the material, including LGBT+ topics. Without saying any names, it was clear to me that the professor was unprepared to answer questions about LGBT+ topics, especially those surrounding trans individuals – so the spotlight was turned to me (the token gay person). This wasn’t a new situation to me or the first time that I was placed with the responsibility to discuss LGBT+ topics in a class. I remember feeling powerful, frustrated, and concerned. There is a great amount of pressure when discussing topics and identities of the LGBT+ community, especially when my identity of being a white, gay, male (sex) does not come close to representing the entire community. It’s important to note that at the time of this class, I hadn’t really started acknowledging my non-binary identity, so I identified as a male. My concern came from the fact that I was one student, unable to represent or educate on all LGBT+ topics in only one section of the class. What did the other sections talk about? Did they discuss what it means to be trans? Did anyone validate the trans identity or provide definitions for the letters of the acronym? From there, the fire was lit to go on my own path of providing education and resources to anyone regarding these topics and more.
Where are we now? Well, The Rainbow OT has been running for just about a year. I launched my first LGBTQIA+ 101 series, a pronoun promise campaign, and have been a guest on two podcasts discussing LGBT+ related topics and occupational therapy’s role. With the support and safe space provided for friends that I owe the world to, I was able to let others in to who I am, a proud non-binary individual. I’m still in the beginning of my journey to self-discovery, but I am so happy with where I am when I look back at where I was. Where are we going next? You’ll just have to tag along and see.
Black Trans TV: A digital media platform used to promote unity and dismantle the idea that Black queer/trans folx exist separately from the black community.
Zuna Institute: A National Advocacy Organization for Black Lesbians that was created to address the needs of black lesbians in the areas of Health, Public Policy, Economic Development, and Education. http://www.zunainstitute.org/
The National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition (NBGMAC): The NBGMAC is committed to improving the health and well-being of Black gay men through advocacy that is focused on research, policy, education and training. https://www.nbgmac.org/
The National Center for Black Equity: connects members of the Black LGBTQ+ community with information and resources to empower their fight for equity and access. https://centerforblackequity.org/
Black Transmen: A a nonprofit organization focused on social advocacy and empowering trans men with resources to aid in a healthy transition. https://blacktransmen.org/
Incite!: A national activist organization of trans and gender nonconforming people of color working to end violence against individuals and communities through direct action, dialogue, and grassroots organizing. https://incite-national.org/
Know Your Rights Camp: Works to advance the liberation and well-being of black and brown communities through education, self-empowerment, mass-mobilization, and the creation of new systems that elevate the next generation of change leaders.
The BQI Collective: Black Queer & Intersectional Collective is a grass-roots community organization that works towards the liberation of Black queer, trans, and intersex people through direct action, community organizing, education, and creating spaces to uplift our voices.
The Okra Project: Collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home-cooked meals and resources to the community. http://www.theokraproject.org
HBTW Fund: The Homeless Black Trans Woman Funs is a fund for the community of Black Trans women that live in Atlanta and are sex workers and/or homeless. gf.me/u/x3h8h
South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA): SASMHA’s goal is to fight cultural stigmas, educate, and empower the South Asian American community by providing resources on issues most important to us, from sex and sexuality to mental health. They also have a podcast. http://www.sasmha.org
Queer the Land: A collaborative project that works towards the liberation of Black queer, trans, and intersex people through direct action, community organizing, education, and creating spaces to uplift our voices. Queertheland.org
Princess Janae Place: PJP provides referrals to housing for chronically homeless LGBTQ adults in the New York Tri-state area, with direct emphasis on Trans/GNC people of color.
Emergency Release Fund: Ensures that no trans person at risk in NYC jails remains in detention before trial. If cash bail is set for a trans person in NYC and no bars to release are in place, bail will be paid by the Emergency Release Fund. Emergencyreleasefund.com
House of GG: Creating safe and transformative spaces for community to heal, and nurturing them into tomorrow’s leaders, focusing on trans women of color in the south. http://www.houseofgg.org
The Starfruit Project: The Starfruit Project supports radical healing and brilliant growth through creative writing and performance programs that center queer and trans people of color. Offerings are for practicing artists, budding artists, and anyone seeking support on their journey toward healing and growth. https://www.thestarfruitproject.com/workshops
The Black Trans Advocacy Coalition: A National organization led by Black trans people to collectively address the inequities faced in the black transgender human experience.
The Marsha P. Johnson Institute: Defends the rights of Black transgender people.
National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network: A network committed to transforming mental health for queer and trans people of color.
Brave Space Alliance: A Black-led, Trans-led LGBTQ Center working on the South Side of Chicago. @bracespacealliance
SNAPCO: Builds power of Black Trans and queer people to force systemic divestment from the prison industrial complex and invest in community support. http://www.snap4freedom.org
The Brown Boi Project: a community of masculine center womxn, men, two-spirit people, transmen, and our allies committed to transforming our privilege of masculinity, gender, and race into tools for achieving racial and gender justice. Located in Oakland, CA. http://www.brownboiproject.org/
The National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC): A civil rights organization dedicated to empowering Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. NBJC’s mission is to end racism and homophobia. http://nbjc.org/
Black Trans Travel Fund: Works on providing resources to Black trans women to be able to access safe transportation and travel alternatives.
TGI Justice Project: A group of transgender, gender variant, and intersex people – inside and outside of prisons, jails, and detention center – fighting against human rights abuses, imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and societal pressures.
The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN): The NQTTCN is a healing justice organization that actively works to transform mental health for queer and trans people of color in North America. Together we build the capacity of QTPoC (queer and trans people of color) mental health practitioners, increase access to healing justice resources, provide technical assistance to social justice movement organizations to integrate healing justice into their work. Our overall goal is to increase access to healing justice resources for QTPoC. https://www.nqttcn.com/
Black Trans Femmes in the Arts: A collective of Black trans women and non-binary femmes who are dedicated to creating space for Black trans femmes in the arts. @btfacollective
By Us For Us: A collective of queer, femme, and non-binary Black and POC artists and organizers. @Bufu_byusforus
The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project’s Trainings for Professionals include in-person Ally and CARE trainings designed for adults who work with youth. These trainings help counselors, educators, administrators, school nurses, and social workers discuss LGBTQ-competent suicide prevention. https://www.thetrevorproject.org/education/
Sex and Intimacy OT: Our mission is to dismantle restrictive norms related to sexuality and intimacy which limit clients and limit ourselves. We strive to promote understanding, respect, and empowerment for individuals as sexual beings. https://www.sexintimacyot.com/
Sex Love and OT: a sexuality, mental health, and OT advocate, writer, and practitioner. Dr. Tickoo works as a school-based OT in Mumbai, however her work is not limited to kids. Dr. Tickoo’s work explores the integration of sexuality in OT practices for people of all ages. http://www.sexloveandot.in
The Transgender District: The transgender district aims to stabilize and economically empower the transgender community through ownership of homes, businesses, historic and cultural sites, and safe community spaces. http://www.transgenderdistrictsf.com
CHANGE: Promoting gender equality by advancing the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls worldwide. http://www.srhrforall.org/
National Center for Transgender Equality: advocates to change policies and society to increase understanding and acceptance of transgender people. In the nation’s capital and throughout the country, NCTE works to replace disrespect, discrimination, and violence with empathy, opportunity, and justice. https://transequality.org/
Youth Breakout: Works to end the criminalization of the LGBTQ+ youth in New Orleans to build a safer and more just community. http://www.youthbreakout.org
Trans Cultural District: The world’s first-ever legally recognized Trans district, which aims to stabilize and economically empower the Trans community. http://www.transgenderdistrictsf.com
LGBTQ+ Freedom Fund: Posts bail LGBTQ people held in jail or immigrant detention and raises awareness of the epidemic LGBTA overincarceration. http://www.lgbtqfund.org
GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality (previously known as the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association). http://www.glma.org/
NALGAP: The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies is a membership organization founded in 1979 and dedicated to the prevention and treatment of alcoholism, substance abuse, and other addictions in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer communities. http://www.nalgap.org/
Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD): The Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) formed in 2014 through a collaboration that occurred between members of the AOTA Emerging Leaders Development Program. COTAD has grown tremendously since its early days and has added individuals to its Executive Board and general membership. Now established as a non-profit organization, COTAD operates as group of individuals from across the United States all working towards a common goal of promoting diversity and inclusion within the occupational therapy workforce and increase the ability to occupational therapy practitioners to serve an increasingly diverse population. COTAD’s new Ignite Series: https://www.cotad.org/ignite-series