Policy brief addresses—and fills—gaps in social work education.
Beth Counselman–Carpenter, PhD ’14, associate professor of social work, has long championed LGBTQ+ affirmative education. Recently, however, a concerning trend emerged: Many of her students—social services professionals pursuing their MSW—were unaware of key LGBTQ+ related law and policy developments.
“The longer I’ve practiced, the moreI’ve seen the need for policy to be taught and incorporated into practice, particularly for those working withLGBTQ+ folks,” she said. “Our students weren’t realizing how much things like the worldwide transgender bathroom debate were directly affecting their clients.”
Along with Alex Redcay, PhD, of Millersville University, she published “Public Accommodations for LGBTQ Individuals: Current Policies, PendingDebates” in the Journal of Human Rights and Social Work (October 29, 2021).1 The article reviews recent rulings in public accommodations, highlighting four landmark cases with significant implications for the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ youth.
The authors outline important terms and legal principles relating to LGBTQ+ rights, then conclude with recommendations for social work practice and education. Dr. Counselman Carpenter believes the piece offers valuable guidance for practitioners seeking to develop an inclusive practice. “If you’re supporting youth who want to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity,” she explained, “you need to know how to find the legal avenues to access that allow you to advocate for them.”
Dr. Counselman Carpenter says a social worker’s obligations extend far beyond the day-to-day management of clients’ cases. “It is an ethical necessity to understand the trajectory of civil rights and advocate for appropriate policies,”which can involve extensive research, collaboration with law and policy experts, writing to local representatives, and educating local businesses.
For those who might question such a broad scope, she points to one case mentioned in the article, G. G. v. Gloucester County School Board, Virginia, in which a teenager sued his school board for denying access to the bathroom that matched his gender. The legal battle triggered the student’s vasovagal syncope syndrome, a stress-induced condition that causes fainting. “Those situations can have a serious physical impact on youth and families,” she said. “Our job as social workers is to find ways of alleviating that stress, even if we have to operate on a structural level.”
While the social work profession has made strides in its LGBTQ+ allyship over the past decade, Dr. Counselman Carpenter sees the work as largely unfinished. Barriers to accessing healthcare and inclusive medical treatment still persist nationwide. LGBTQ+ youth experience homelessness and suicide at a disproportionally high rate. “We can best help social workers support their clients by educating them,” she said. “We have to integrate all of this into the social work curriculum, and not just as a diversity elective. Only then will practitioners really understand the influence of public policy on the entire life span of an LGBTQ+ person.”
1 Redcay, Alex, Elisabeth Counselman Carpenter, and Gretchen Wade. “Public Accommodations for LGBTQ Individuals: Current Policies, Pending Debates.” Journal of Human Rights andSocial Work, 29 October 2021.