Centering LGBTQ+ Mental Health and AAPI Experience with AJ Guerrero, LMHC

In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, the PIOW team is highlighting the thought leadership of AJ Guerrero, a mental health professional and member of the LGBTQ+ AAPI community. 

AJ has a proven history of building authentic connections in her work, providing trauma-informed, culturally conscious therapy to clients at the intersection of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC identities. Addressing this outstanding community need inspired the recent launch of her private practice, Chosen Heart Counseling

In today’s Q&A, AJ shares the ways in which her own lived experiences have informed her approach to mental healthcare and offers recommendations for business leaders and allies hoping to better support marginalized communities.

Read our full interview with AJ below.

Q: AJ, tell us about yourself and what inspired your decision to open a private practice for LGBTQ+ community members. 

A: I’m a butch lesbian Filipina immigrant working as a licensed therapist (LMHC) in Massachusetts. I’ve moved around and lived in Metro Manila, Philippines, Texas, and currently the Greater Boston Area.

I’ve served as a Community-based Clinician at the Justice Resource Institute in a specialized role working with LGBTQ+ families and youth of color, as an LGBTQ+ Director at Wellesley College, and as a clinical intern at the Wheelock College Counseling Center, supporting college students.

As an active member of the Moving Violations Motorcycle Club, a women’s motorcycle group that centers on giving back to our communities and women’s empowerment, I gained mentorship and networking opportunities that made it possible for me to envision myself starting a private practice. 

Being around strong-willed lesbians in the club who have cared for our people, especially during the AIDS epidemic, inspired me to create an intentional practice that provides affirming healthcare for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC communities.

Q: As a mental health professional, what factors do you view as having the largest impact on AAPI and LGBTQ+ mental health in our current climate?

A: It’s devastating to think that providing mental healthcare for historically marginalized communities is currently a political act in the United States, but serving LGBTQ+ communities is an act of resistance. 

Since the pandemic, the U.S. has been shifting into a sociopolitical landscape that puts LGBTQ+ and AAPI peoples at a significantly increased risk of violence, both individually and on the macro level. As a result, members of each community are feeling isolated, are lacking support, and are being marginalized. 

Community care resources are strained and can lack sufficient resources to aid both LGBTQ+ and AAPI people. LGBTQ+ AAPI individuals, as members of multiple minority groups, are more likely to be exposed to stigmatization, discrimination, and fear of rejection (Cyrus). Due to generational, acculturation levels, and familial expectations in relation to mental health, it is challenging for AAPI to seek mental healthcare, even when it’s needed.

For additional education and resources on this subject, PIOW recommends:
Coming Out: Living Authentically as LGBTQ Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, HRC
Identity and Cultural Dimensions (AAPI), NAMI
Identity and Cultural Dimensions (LGBTQI), NAMI

Q: What are opportunities for fellow community members, allies, or employers to provide meaningful support for people who are (or could soon be) struggling?

A: Increase your understanding of the warning signs of what it looks like when someone is in a crisis or struggling with their mental health. Try taking a Mental Health First Aid training or connecting with your local community mental health centers to learn what resources are available. 

Proactive meaningful support can mean creating and maintaining spaces (both virtual and/or in person) that foster a sense of belonging, such as Employee Resource Groups in the workplace, or peer support groups.

Lastly, find ways to authentically show appreciation for LGBTQ+ or AAPI members in your communities or workspaces.

For readers interested in launching or strengthening an Employee Resource Group (ERG) in their workplace, find best practices in PIOW’s 8 Lessons For Building Resilient Teams: HR, DEI, And ERG Toolkit and Easy Wins For Your ERG: Pride Edition.

Q: As we approach the end of this Q&A, what do you hope readers take away from this conversation?

A: Process what fostering psychological safety and inclusion at home looks like for you. 
It is reflected in your relationships and friendships. In how you sustain connections in your relationships and how you navigate conflicts. It’s how you show empathy and grace to people you come in contact with everyday in person and virtually. If your life or actions are misaligned with your values, therapists can be stewards of change to help you. 

You are not alone. 
If you need support, reach out to your friends, family, and community. They care about you. 

Connect with those of us who are doing this work. 
Folks can stay connected with me through LinkedIn or learn more about my private practice through my website.

We thank AJ Guarrero for her perspective, time, and service to our community.
Connect with AJ and learn more about Chosen Heart Counseling at the links below.

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