LGBTQ Survivors Panel

In honor of Pride Month, RAINN recently held a survivor summit with three inspiring LGBTQ members of the RAINN Speakers Bureau to discuss identity, gender, resilience, and healing after sexual trauma

Jordan Masciangelo is a survivor and has been working in survivor advocacy and outreach for more than 13 years. He currently serves as special projects manager for MenHealing, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping male-identifying survivors heal from sexual trauma.

April Jackson-Hunter is an award-winning author, speaker, founder and president of Mercedes Closet Inc., which seeks to empower LGBTQ survivors by helping them to rebuild and lead fearless lives.

Samantha Lynn is a singer songwriter and audio engineer. She is a survivor of sexual assault and uses music to share her healing journey with others. Her song, “Be Anyway,” was the first song she wrote about what happened to her.

RAINN Clinical Director Ebonique Bethea started the conversation asking each panelist about their first experience disclosing what had happened to them.

April shared that she was 15 when she was sexually assaulted and didn’t tell anyone until years later.

“I told my best friend what happened to me, and she comforted me,” she said. “After going through my healing journey, my family, my wife, and my kids were older at the time when I disclosed this to them. They became my backbone and my support system. Disclosure is a must.”

Masciangelo shared the power of disclosure and how important it is to share with a community that offers support and understanding.

“I first disclosed this to my high school girlfriend, and I was supported,” he said. “At the time, I was 17 and there were not many services for men and male identifying folks. It was like a dead end after a dead end. I took all of that courage that I had in the beginning and shoved it down. It was discouraging but I did eventually find a men's support group which helped me process a lot of that...I also found a therapy group of a community of men.”

Samantha shared her disclosure experience.

“I disclosed this to one of my best friends because when I was assaulted it happened to be at a party at her house...I then told my mom and my sister,” she explained. “They sat in the room with me in silence and remained there with support. Taking your time, as well, is important.”

The support of friends and family can be critical to a survivor’s healing journey, which is why RAINN created the TALK acronym. Taking the time to proactively learn how to support a survivor as they disclose can make all the difference.

After disclosure, there are many various ways to advocate in your healing journey. The panelists shared what it was like to show up for themselves and for their communities after trauma.

“Community is essential in healing,” according to Masciangelo. “I spoke during the Oprah Show on an episode on male survivors. She gathered 200 male survivors from across North America. It was a two-part episode. I knew going in it was going to be big and when I was there, I knew I was opening the floodgates for millions of other men and male identifying people.”

April spoke about her work with EntrepreneuHer Monday’s, a talk show that discussed same-sex domestic violence.

“Doing the radio talk opened so many doors for me,” she said. “I did not know that one of the hosts had previously been in a same-sex domestic violence relationship. He shared it in the interview as well and it was mind blowing for me. I was speechless. More people came to me about their experiences and once I started speaking, people opened their doors.”

Samantha shared the process behind writing Be Anyway and how it affected her healing journey.

“I wrote that song as a response to talk about it, without talking about it,” she explained. “Yes, I looked like I lost a lot of weight. It’s because I’m not eating. I know you can tell that I am tired. It’s because I’m not sleeping. It’s being able to discuss that while it may look like labor breathing, I am trying to calm a panic attack. It’s about discussing something that is going on but I’m not ready to talk about it. It was the way I could express it. It was healing.”

The panelists agreed that representation and support are particularly important for LGBTQ survivors, who may encounter a number of barriers in their healing journey.

“This needs to be talked about and needs to be shared because we tend to be so open and proud about who we are as individuals…but so closed and closeted about when we go through trauma,” April said. “Be vocal about your experiences so that someone who is going through this can know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Representation really matters,” Masciangelo agreed. “Having queer youth able to see and hear folks who look like them and have had experiences like them give them a sense of belonging where they can trust to go to places to get help. Normalizing queerness in general is important and noticing that this stuff happens disportionately to us, is also just as important.”

Samantha shared,”No matter how I was presenting myself—as androgynous and completely uninterested—it doesn’t factor into predators. They are going to do what they want to do. That was a huge eye opener for me.”

In response to this violence, which happens at a high rate for the LGBTQ community, Samantha shared one final thought: “We’ve got to speak out against sexual violence and speak out for support. As loud as we can.”

If you or a loved one have experienced sexual violence, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24/7 in English and Spanish at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at rainn.org. The hotline is free and confidential.

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