Advocacy in a New Age: How to Ally with LGBTQ Youth

Much has changed in the decades since Becky McDonough M.A. ’90 graduated with her counseling degree from Bradley. From large socio-political shifts to more nuanced changes like the removal of pathologizing language around transgender issues in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the landscape for mental health professionals like her has been in a persistent state of flux.

“I think as time has passed, we've learned more,” she said of the dialogue surrounding social issues. “As we learn more, we can educate people in the community about how important it is to validate LGBTQ issues and concerns, including trans issues, non-binary identification, things that we're learning more about as we are open to having those discussions.”

With years spent training, teaching and supervising therapists, as well as providing therapy herself, McDonough discovered firsthand how dire the need for LGBTQ youth support is. Joining the nonprofit ALSO Youth initially in 2007, McDonough left to work in a psychiatric hospital for a decade, returning to ALSO after retirement. She now serves as Executive Director, overseeing everything from budgets and HR functions to activities and events. ALSO Youth recently celebrated 30 years of progressive work.

“Our mission statement is to empower LGBTQ youth and their allies to create a safe and inclusive community.”

As part of that charge, ALSO Youth provides counseling services, support groups, scholarships, an alternative prom, and more for LGBTQ children aged 13 to 24. Following requests from parents in the area, the organization has also developed a program called ALSO, Jr. that caters to the needs of children aged 10 to 12.

“The fact that that's lasted 30 years says a lot about all those people who played a role throughout the years,” McDonough said. “And lots of those people are allies, not necessarily part of the LGBTQ community. It's because of the generosity of those folks that we're able to continue to provide services for kids and families and teachers.”

This generosity, McDonough said, is not without its confusions. Given that most people aren’t expected to understand concepts they don’t experience, powerful allyship can sometimes come at the expense of understanding.

“It’s difficult for allies to really understand what they don't experience,” McDonough said. “But allies have a really critical role in making sure they can be a voice of support and a voice of encouragement for those who don't have that privilege.”

Crediting her Bradley education in part for preparing her to tackle such tough issues, McDonough looks back fondly on her practical internships and the ways they serviced usable skills in her field.

“I learned under Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin, who is an amazing individual,” McDonough said. “Under her mentorship, I think the counseling program prepares people to be open for all kinds of issues that the different folks in the community may bring. Whether it's domestic violence, or substance abuse, or gender identity, or any kind of social justice issues. The program at Bradley was very well prepared in terms of helping people know exactly what it is they needed to know to help folks who had those issues.”

– Jenevieve Rowley-Davis