The year is 1969, and the patrons of a Greenwich Village neighborhood bar, The Stonewall Inn, have had enough harassment and corruption at the hands of law enforcement. The mafia-owned bar was a safe place, of sorts. Same-sex couples could enjoy each other’s company without stares, and it was a haven for LGBTQ youth who had been tossed out by family. The Stonewall Riots became a pinpoint of activism, a publicly acknowledged event that brought the LGBTQ community to the forefront, never to be hidden away again.
As Pride month marches in with parades and rainbow-revised brand labels and retail stores vying for the most LGBTQ-friendly t-shirts and accessories, it’s important to remember what Gay Pride means. Our perspective is shaped by our experience as Certified Gottman Therapists (and a gay couple) who specialize in gay couples therapy.
Pride Means Self-Love
Gay Pride is about self-love. It’s about being comfortable in your skin and allowing others to see your truth. In traditional couples therapy with heterosexual couples, there is a will of egos vying for the top spot in the relationship. For gay couples, it’s different. For many who identify as LGBTQ, life has been a series of struggles requiring the ego to take a back seat. Gay couples are often working with a different set of experiences and skills than their straight counterparts. They have learned self-acceptance that many heterosexual couples have not had to consider. It’s about being open with who you are regardless of the response from family, friends, or even your partner.
A 12-year study conducted by The Gottman Institute found gay couples to stand apart from other couples when it came to the tough times. “Gay/lesbian couples are more upbeat in the face of conflict. Compared to straight couples, gay and lesbian couples use more affection and humor when they bring up a disagreement, and partners are more positive in how they receive it.” This coping skill comes from resiliency and having navigated through prejudice, shame, and trauma.
Gay Pride is about being able to keep the framed picture of you kissing your love without shame. It is being able to bring your partner to Thanksgiving, or finding new traditions when their family has not accepted your partnership. A definite requirement of loving others is to love thyself. Therapists teach this to all clients, regardless of history. Self-love is the foundation for real health and wellness.
Pride Means Self-Care
Gay Pride is about self-care. While many go about their day without a second thought about their surroundings, those in the LGBTQ community must spend time on intimate details many take for granted. Holding hands with your boyfriend becomes a revolutionary act on some streets. Requesting the appropriate pronoun is seen as an act of defiance by too many. Dancing with your sweetheart at your brother’s wedding takes the spotlight, often without the desire of the dancing couple.
Self-care is about taking care of you by merely being okay to be you. It’s also about advocating for yourself and your loved one. It’s also about taking calculated risks to break down walls. For couples therapists, self-care is about teaching couples the importance of taking care of your physical and emotional health. Like the oxygen masks in planes that flight attendants tell parents to put on first before helping their kids, self-care ensures your ability to care for your loved ones.
Lesbians often complain about their doctors asking if they’re pregnant and the annoyance when the patient laughs at the notion. Having a medical professional who understands the intimacies of your life is an essential aspect of self-care. Who wants to visit a doctor with biases? Gay men also have specific needs in health and wellness, and it’s important that their doctor understand these needs. For couples, being able to console and care for one another openly is mandatory.
Ensuring acceptance in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and the practices of other health professionals is essential to self-care. The field of behavioral health has a strong presence in the LGBTQ community and can lead the way promoting self-care by honoring the specific needs of LGBTQ members.
Pride Means Finding Your Tribe
The youth of the Stonewall Inn were young people kicked out of their homes, their families. Some were runaways looking for a chance to breathe their truth by forgoing the suffocation of living a lie. They had found their tribe. Gay Pride is about finding the people who provide unconditional support. It’s about finding the peers who carry you when you’re exhausted and celebrate with you when you’re happy, even for your smallest victories. As therapists, it’s about helping your clients communicate and connect with their tribe in meaningful and healthy ways.
For many couples, same-sex and otherwise, day-to-day living is bills and budgets. Maybe there are parent-teacher meetings, bake sales, or late night meetings and work trips. But same-sex couples have innate differences that are important to acknowledge; these differences are why finding your tribe is necessary.
Gottman-trained therapists provide couples therapy for all couples. However, they know that the particular needs and experiences of same-sex couples and how to provide specific support for same-sex couples. Finding your tribe means accepting special help when the traditional means don’t cut it. The Gay Couples Institute saw the need for specialized care for LGBTQ couples, and we provide support to their tribe members.
Pride Means Lifting Others
The Trevor Project reports LGB youth and questioning youth are more likely to attempt suicide, resulting in the need for medical treatment in comparison to straight peers. They also report 40% of adults who identify as transgender have attempted suicide. Of these individuals, 92% say the attempt was before their 25th birthday.
The losses are high in the LGBTQ world, and many of its community members take great responsibility in helping one another, especially their youth. Gay Pride is about lifting others and sharing how to navigate the bigotry and fear. Lifting others is about connecting yourself and others to accepting religious institutions when your childhood church no longer embraces who you are. Gay Pride provides a voice for the voiceless and a boost when the walls seem too tall to climb over. It may be political action, such as fighting for marriage equality, or just the right to use a public restroom for your identified gender. Lifting others up is also about providing the skills needed to express yourself and connect with loved ones. And therapy is often the most useful tool in a couple’s toolbox for lifting one another.
Therapy has become an integral part of life for many in the LGBTQ community. It provides the means for accepting themselves and who they are. Therapy can invoke salvation and the weapon used against abuse, self-injury, and self-hatred. Unfortunately, mental health still has a strong stigma which seems impossible to shake. The LGBTQ community has the critical task of removing the shame for the safety and well being of future generations. Lifting others up means identifying resources for peers in pain and supporting community members who have asked for help.
Pride Means Forgiveness
Forgiveness finds its way into many origin stories of LGBTQ community members. Whether it be the desire to forgive the parents who could not turn away from outdated beliefs or the teacher who refuses to use the correct pronouns, forgiveness can be freeing. Gay Pride is about forgiveness, but forgiveness on your terms. It’s not about putting bad memories in the past or burying your emotions to move forward. Forgiveness is about coming to terms with difficult relationships in a way that fosters openness to try again.
In April of 2018, the Gay Couples Institute reported they had helped 2432 gay couples in their program. Four favorite topics held the identifiable issue for these couples seeking guidance. One was the need to rebuild trust. Trust is one of the essential qualities for stable relationships and given some of the trauma many in the LGBTQ community have experienced; it’s everything. Trust translates to safety, to support. For LGBTQ members who were harmed, emotionally or physically, by loved ones, often lack trust. It’s a survival skill. When they finally find “the one” it can be difficult to take down their protective shell. Allowing forgiveness provides a clean slate for relationship building. It gives the couple a blank canvas to rebuild their lives together, without the rules of past trauma guiding their way.
Gay Pride is a rainbow of celebrations, but it’s also a moment of solitude and contemplation for those who have traveled the steps before you and honoring individual journeys. It’s about holding hands with lovers while also holding on through their faults, their traumas, and their experiences. Gay Pride is about acceptance, not just by the world, but acceptance of yourself and your loved one.
The Gay Couples Institute is very proud and honored to stand with The Gottman Institute to serve our community in such a deep way.
Salvatore Garanzini, MFT, and Alapaki Yee, MFT
Cofounders, Gay Couples Institute
For detailed information on The Gottman Institute’s research into the success and stability of same-sex marriages, you can read more here, and you can read about the success of Gottman Method Couples Therapy at the Gay Couples Institute in San Francisco here.