By Warrick Arblaster MAPS
Psychologist, International Deployment Group
Australian Federal Police
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) is committed to service and support the diversity of the Australian community and AFP members. In 1996, it established a network of Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLOs) to support the Australian gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) community. All GLLOs are volunteers and include both police and civilian (sworn and unsworn) staff, trained to deal sensitively with GLBTI issues and to be available to provide advice and support to members of the public as well as AFP personnel.
The role of a GLLO may be divided in to three major functions:
In support of the GLLO Network, a Training Program has been developed (and continues to be refined) in accordance with changing and dynamic requirements. It has three major aims:
The Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officer Training Program
The Training Program is designed to equip GLLO Network members with the skills to deal sensitively with GLBTI issues and to provide advice and support to members of both the public and AFP. The Training Program is conducted over three days and broadly covers the following areas:
Experienced speakers, expert in their knowledge of the issues, either professionally and/or personally, deliver the various components of the Training Program. As demonstrated by the broad areas covered, there are many topics that have a psychological component and require participants to have a willingness to examine the topics from various perspectives, including practical aspects, philosophical, social and psychological.
Psychological components of the Training Program
The two components of the training that are delivered by an AFP psychologist include the process of 'coming out', and gay hate and homophobia. However, the psychologist is available to discuss and review with participants any psychological aspects of the other components. I am the psychologist currently delivering these aspects of the Training Program.
Sessions are as interactive as possible, challenging basic belief systems and attempting to give training participants an insight into how others may feel and see the world. As an openly gay male psychologist, I use the notions of honesty and trust, describing my personal reference point as a gay psychologist for the purpose of the training. Participants are asked to consider which 'reference point' they would describe themselves as having when interacting with GLBTI people. This is in the context of the previous session where participants have learnt that homosexuality was a mental illness, diagnosable and often punishable under law until 1974. This sets the scene for participants to consider the possible psychosocial impact on a person when a core, intrinsic part of their persona is questioned, doubted, diminished, and regarded as medically, legally and religiously wrong.
The process of 'coming out' component
The 'coming out' process is examined according to factors such as age, family background and cultural dynamics, work/employment, social environment, religious considerations, and the broader problem of homophobia. These factors are examined from psychological perspectives such as impact on self-esteem (positive and negative), loss, and personal and emotional security.
Participants are familiarised with the model of coming out known as 'homosexual identity formation' (Cass, 1996), examining each stage and the psychosocial impact and identity, moral and ethical dilemmas that each may bring to the individual. To provide some additional perspectives, 'life story identity integration' (McAdams, 1996) is explored, with participants asked to consider their own stories and the coming out story as a 'pivotal re-birthing experience' (Plummer, 1995). This is discussed with concepts such as: affirmative approaches to sexuality; autonomy and self determination; responsiveness to changing needs; comprehensive understanding of sexuality; confidentiality and privacy; cultural sensitivity; gender equity; and prevention of violence, exploitation, abuse, and discrimination.
Participants are asked to consider some relatively recent surveys of attitudes of heterosexuals towards gay men (Herek, 1994), and are challenged about how they may have commented in such a survey, or still would respond to the questions about gay but also LBTI issues. Scenarios are given to participants to work through in terms of the pros and cons of coming out, loss and gain, and all the social, political and religious influences and dilemmas that are likely to impact psychologically on the individual. The scenarios (all based on real life experiences) cover:
There is an overall emphasis on the enormity of the decisions and internal conquests that the individual encounters in the 'coming out process'- three words, but a world not often experienced by people who are not homosexual.
The gay hate and homophobia component
This component of the training incorporates a video to indicate the extent of gay hate in the Australian context - both at an individual and organisational level - with victims telling their stories, and commentary from several prominent members of the Australian GLBTI community, including Justice Michael Kirby. The video also highlights the often narrow, media-induced public perception of being gay or lesbian and how this often bears no resemblance to the reality of gay and lesbian lives, which may end in death through homicide or suicide. Training participants often discover their true/core learning and values during this session and there is often a collective realisation that a social phenomenon such as gay hate is an extremely complex challenge.
Homophobia - both implicit and explicit - is discussed at the levels of personal/internalised, interpersonal, institutional, and cultural. This is overlaid with issues of both positive and negative experiences such as denial, moving through to pride, celebration and synthesis. Participants are asked to consider examples of when they may have engaged in these levels of homophobia, especially at the subconscious level.
Participants are allowed time to debrief and for general discussion. They are also offered follow up consultation if requested to discuss the emotional and psychological impact of the sessions.
The psychological components of the GLLO Training Program are designed to allow participants to experience some of the issues involved in being GLBTI and how these impact psychologically on individuals and the communities to which they belong. The question GLLOs face and learn from in the Training Program is this: as an individual, how would you feel if many, many, legislatures and accompanying laws, religious doctrines and societal confines effectively considered or deemed you not to exist, or to be not worthy of existence, based on one single, but critical and fundamental characteristic of self?
Cass, V. C. (1996). Sexual orientation and identity formation. In R.P Cubaj & T.S Stein (Eds.), Textbook of homosexuality and mental health (pp.227-251). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Herek, G. M. (1994). Assessing heterosexuals' attitudes towards lesbians and gay men: A review of empirical research with the ATLG scale. In B. Greene & G. M. Herek (Eds.), Contemporary Perspectives in Lesbian and Gay Psychology (vol. 1, pp. 206-28). Newbury Park, C.A: Sage.
McAdams, P. D. (1996). Personality, modernity, and the storied self. A contemporary framework for studying persons. Psychological Inquiry, 7, 295-321.
Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change, and social worlds. London: Routledge.
Australian Federal Police (2003). Gay and Lesbian Liaison - Beyond Compliance. Article authored by Federal Agent Alan Scott, in Platypus Magazine, 19, 32-36, June 2003: AFP.
Riggs, D.W. &Walker, G.A ( Eds.), (2004). Out in the Antipodes: Australian and New Zealand Perspectives on Gay and Lesbian Issues in Psychology. Bentley, WA: Brightfire Press.
The APS has produced the Tip Sheet Answers to your questions about sexual orientation and homosexuality. Copies are available from the APS National Office.