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Cultural Immersion Project

Antoinette Benjamin
Wilmington University



Cultural Immersion Experience

Often one is not immersed in a culture that is unfamiliar for any length of time. We may
walk pass someone, or attend an event and feel a bit uneasy or curious about the unknown
history, practices, norms and lifestyles of the culture. Perhaps we may just allow that moment of
curiosity to pass by as it isnt something that affects us on a routine basis. If so, then why should
human service professionals have an understanding of culture different than our norm?
The number of aging population is increasing and is estimated to double by the year
2020. This means that there will a growth in the numbers of aging population and their
caregivers who will need the assistance of human service programs. In order to be effective and
provide assistance at an early stage, those in the field will need to ensure that they can interact
with competently with diverse cultures. This competency has to be demonstrated and illustrated
in the marketing, programs, and most importantly staff and management team.
Frequently, we assume culturally competency based on a loose association; for example,
those within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) population. Personally, speaking I
just assumed that being a part of the LGBT population afforded me an deep understanding of the
historical changes, and the challenges and barriers that exist in the health, employment, and other
areas of life for transgender individuals. However, I recently realized that I did not know much
about the transgender population. I was one of those who walked pass or attended an event
noting a transgender person with an uneasy feeling that I really didnt know anything about the
culture. I was one of those people who just assumed that interactions thus far in my professional,
personal and community didnt involve the transgender community. It was as if they just werent
present or affected in any of my activities.


How wrong I was! Transgender people of all ages are more visible than ever before. They
are in our educational (elementary, middle, high school and higher level) system. They are on
television shows (Orange is the New Black and Americas Next Top Model) and among the
homeless population. Transgender individuals are present in the military, health care and
workforce. They are present, represented and advocated for in local, state and national policies.
They experience the highest rate of discrimination in all areas of life; have the highest
depression, suicide, socioeconomic, health disparities rates.
Historical and personal experiences have greatly influenced the disparity rates of
transgender people. Therefore, it is important to have a cultural awareness and competency level
in order to understand the unique needs of this culture. The time to stop, understand and connect
with the transgender population has long past; however, the opportunity never will.
Knowledge Acquisition through Cultural Immersion
Populations History and Major Milestones.
Any introduction into the history of transgender culture requires a review and
understanding of terminology. Biological sex refers to the assignment of gender based on ones
chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics. Gender identity refers to ones
psychological interpretation of self; simply put is what one believes is their true gender is.
Gender expression refers to the manner in which a person expresses gender. Sexual orientation
refers to the emotional, sexual romantic attraction one feels.
A transgender person is one whose gender identity does not match their biological sex. A
transsexual often refers to an individual who has had medical interventions to change their
biological sex. Drag queens and kings and cross-dressing refer to the occasional wearing of
clothing of the opposite gender. In addition, gender nonconforming is another transgender


category referring to people who do not follow other peoples ideas or stereotypes about how
they should look or act based on the female or male sex they were assigned at birth (Sylvia
Rivera Law Project, 2016).
Based on the information above, it is clear to see that is a wide range of possibilities
within the transgender culture. A transgender person may or may not decide to undergo gender
affirmation surgery. Another variance is that a transgender individual doesnt require that their
sexual orientation changes. A female to male (FtM) doesnt require a change in his sexual
orientation of lesbian, gay or bisexual, for example. Moreover, gender pronoun preference varies
in the transgender community. Some prefers trans man or trans female, man or female, FtM or
Gates (2011) reported that nearly 700,000 transgender individuals are in the United
States. This figure may be significantly more when one factors the problems with obtaining
accurate numbers. As summarized by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
(ODPHP), sexual orientation and gender identity questions are not asked on most national of
state surveys, making it difficult to estimate the number of LGBT individuals and their health
needs (2016). Secondly, it is difficult to uniformly categorize the transgender population with
the various differences as noted above. A trans female may identify as female and indicate that
on survey questions as her biological sex is not one she identifies with. Conversely, a trans
female may identify on a survey as a male if she has not had gender affirming surgery.
Discrimination is a factor in obtaining statistical data on the transgender population.
Fears of who will have access to and security of information plays a huge part in this
populations reluctance of public identification. The fear of discrimination and lack of equal


protection laws is based on a wealth of historical and current events that directly or indirectly
affects the transgender population.
The following is a partial historical timeline of Milestones in the American Transgender
Movement from an article in the New York Times in 2015:


Direct Immersion Experience.

On March 24, 2016, I attended a speaking engagement at Camp Rehoboth, located at 37
Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Delaware 19971. The speaker was Kristin Beck; a former
highly decorated Navy SEAL, transgender female who is running for a seat in congress. The
speaking event was a brief insight into her life as a Navy SEAL, her decision to live the
remainder of her life as the gender she has always felt was meant for her and some challenges
and barriers experienced throughout her life. Ms. Beck also spoke to the audience of the presence
of prejudices and discrimination within the lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) communities.
There are three speaking points that I found interesting and increased my awareness.
First, she spoke of the tendency of people to invite and encourage LGBT people to come out of
the closet. This is a term that refers to LGBT hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity.
As paraphrased, when we encourage LGBT individuals to come out of the closet and then we
dont provide a support network and equal protection and legal rights for them the results are
often negative. This is more so true to transgender people who statistically fair far worse than
lesbians, gays and bisexuals. An alternative view, proposed by Ms. Beck, is to encourage LGBT
individuals to have a great room. As described by Ms. Beck, her closet was slowly transformed
into a great room where she invited in family, friends, community and health members into her
space; thus making her closet into a great room. The closet can become a room, the room into a
house, and the house into a community.
The second speaking point was the non-inclusiveness of the LGB community. Ms. Beck,
having survived and carried out many military missions as a Navy SEAL, would be the last
person one would think of being apprehensive; however, she was no different than other
transgender individuals. For example, it took several attempts before she made it into her first


bar and she did this alone. Ms. Beck reflects that she had no clue as to clothing that flattered her,
or how to apply any sort of make-up, or how to style her hair. She wanted to be in an atmosphere
of other LGBT individuals in a safe place, have a drink and listen to some music. However, what
often happened were stares and outright avoidance. What would have been so welcoming,
helpful and supportive is if you lesbians would have taken me under your wing for an hour, to
include me or say one kind word.
The third speaking point was the topic of gender reassignment surgery. It is interesting
that the often the first question transgender people are asked has to do with whether or not they
have had the surgery. It is important to note that having the surgery is not the be all and end
all of gender. For many, the surgery is an expensive and lengthy process that may not be an
option or concern for the transgender person. Ms. Beck made mention that being female is more
than the shape and contours of a face or body. Being transgender does not equate solely to
physical attributes. The experiences of transgender individuals are so different than lesbians,
gays and bisexuals. On experience can be the tipping point for a person so why not make it a
good one?
Indirect Cultural Immersion Experience Film
I viewed the film, The Danish Girl, several months ago at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute
located at 824 W. Lancaster Ave., Bryn Mawr, Pa. 19010. This film is a story inspired by a
married Danish couple, Gerda and Einar Wegener, both artists. Gerda paints portraits of
individuals and Einar paints landscapes. We are aware of the different artistic styles and vast
difference of public recognition between the couples work. Equally, the audience is shown the
depth of love and affection between the two.
The next part of the film begins to slowly show Einars draw to feminine undergarments
and clothing. This is revealed to his wife when she undresses him and sees that he is wearing her


slip. It appears briefly that she is concerned but the moment quickly passes. The turning point for
Einar is when he is asked by his wife to model his legs and feet wearing stockings and ballet
shoes as her model did not arrive. Here is when we see Einar with a distant gaze as he is feeling
the fabric of the items which goes unnoticed by his wife. Seeing a possibility of a new focus in
her paintings, Gerda asks her husband to continue to pose as a woman until she completes a new
set of paintings.
The second turning point for Einar, and perhaps the most enlightening and frightening, is
the agreement that he dresses as a woman for a social event and accompanies his wife posing as
a cousin of her husband. The transformation from male to female is complete for the first time
for public appearance. Although Einar appears to be shy and withdrawn at the event, we witness
her gradually opening up to converse with a male guest. The two eventually kiss and this is
witnessed by Gerda.
What continues is the clear confusion, hurt and anger by Gerda and Einars quiet
statement that this is what he feels is right. The couple continues to try to renew the bond they
had prior to the event; however, it is more and clearer that Einar is lacks the ability to continue
the pretense of being a male. Gerda and Einar, together seeks to find some sort of understanding
and assistance. Film viewers witness glimpses of the varying degrees of disgust and ignorance of
the medical and psychological professionals as Einar undergoes shock therapy, chemical therapy
and attempts of institutionalization. There is also a scene where she is beat up in a park by two
or three men.
The final segment of the film focuses on the gender reassignment surgery which seems to
be the final conclusion of the marriage as Einar desires to be in spirit and body a woman and has



a sexual orientation of heterosexuality. In contrast, Gerda realizes that the man she has married is
no longer alive. The love and devotion remains as she supports Lily.
Summary and Synthesis
The transgender population is encompasses a diverse population with unique and
specifically different challenges and barriers to living their own self-identified life. What I first
realized is that I had adopted some stereotypes and generalizations about the culture without
even being aware. One was that all transgender individuals were easily identifiable. I grouped
drag queens and physically appearing men in ill-fitting attire as the population, easily
identifiable. Wrong. There are more transgender individuals that I never was aware of. The
following are a few examples:

Laverne Cox, transgender actress and advocate

Kyle Allums, the first openly transgender female athlete in the NCAA

Billy Tipon, American jazz musican

Lesser known by many but newly known to me are several transgender youth in the Red Clay
and Christiana school district, two employees in workplace organizations and the wife of a
lesbian parent on the PTA committee at a middle school.
Secondly, I never really stopped to consider was the female to male transgender
population. This seems to be something many individuals ignore or just dont address. One factor
to support this invisibility is that most crimes and discrimination often highlighted in the media
are targeted at transsexual females. In addition, generally speaking, most heterosexuals are not
offended by lesbians compared to gay men. We see what we are comfortable seeing.
This brings me to the most disturbing yet most transformative educational piece for
myself. As a lesbian, single parent, African American, veteran, nurse, and supporter of many



community organizations, I dont recall ever inviting or welcoming a transgender person in any
setting. Why did I never include the transgender youth population in my single and limited
thoughts of transgender people? I have experience fear, uncertainty and lack of support for most
of my life. Knowing and experiencing this, how could it be that I never reached out to a
transgender individual who was visibly alone, hugging the parameter of an event, and clearly
As mentioned in the introduction, some of us are uncomfortable with the unknown or
rarely encounters different cultures for any length of time. However, the fact is that individually
and collectively we all can make a difference in another persons life. With the health, social and
legal disparities of the transgender population it is imperative that we all gain an understanding
of the historical events that has and continue to present challenges and barriers to services by the
transgender population. It is only then that we can begin a dialogue that demonstrates and
illustrates our desire and willingness to support the needs of this culture.
Application of Cultural Knowledge
Assessing the Field Work Agency.
The United Way of Delaware is located at 625North Orange Street, Wilmington,
Delaware 19801. The building sits on the corner of North Orange Street and West 7th Street and
has no visible identifying marking on the outside to indicate that the agency is housed there. The
building space is shared with two other companies and the UWD is on the 3rd floor. There is
only one UWD agency in Delaware and it provides services throughout the state.
Agencys Community
Its hard to say with any authority how many transgenders live in Delaware as neither
the U.S. Census Bureau and the state health department do not survey this population states
Rini in a 2015 Delaware News Journal article. However, Equality Delaware, a lesbian, gay,


bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, estimates there are 2,800 transgender people
living in Delaware (Rini, 2015).
Below is the United States Census Bureau for Wilmington, Delaware Quick Facts:



Below are the major medical and social support agency and group inclusive of transgender



Below is a partial copy of the State of Delaware Transit map for Downtown Wilmington:




Receptivity/ Staff Sensitivity.

The block in front of the entrance and along the side of the building is visibly clear of
trash and there isnt a loitering presence surrounding the building. As one enters the building
there is a security guard who welcomes you with a cheery hello which invites the individual to
share the name of the agency or person with whom they are meeting. No one is allowed on the
elevator unless they have clearance from the tenent which is provided in advance in the form of
an anticipated guest list or a confirmation via phone.
While waiting in the lobby for the elevator one can view the occasional flower display,
often a gift to the security guard, and an assortment of community flyers. As of date, I have not
noticed a flyer that demonstrates or illustrates cultural inclusiveness of the transgender
population. This is not a direct service agency; therefore it is important to note that transgender
individuals seeking information or services are not accessing them at this site but through various
partnering organizations.
Once on the elevator it is a short ride to the third floor and upon exiting from either
elevator, there is a high level desk with a telephone and staff directory within easy reach. One
can call the persons extension of whom they are scheduled to meet should they find themselves
waiting for more than ten minutes. The two entrances are locked to prevent unauthorized entry.
While waiting there are two single sofa chairs and some informational brochures on various
agencys programs. The PRIDE Council rack cards are among the brochures. This card
highlights the councils mission, focus and community engagement and programs for the LGBT
Once inside the inner office area, one will notice that the agency is quiet, there is no
sound system playing a random selection of authorized music. In fact, in the three months I have
been there I havent noticed one office space playing any music. The pictures on the wall are



outdated awards and old pictures of varying individuals or groups. There isnt a Pride logo
within vision until you enter the office of the T. Brown or B. Martz. Both of these individuals are
welcoming and culturally competent of the transgender culture. The staff consists of, but not
limited to, gay and lesbian, Caucasian, African American and Latino/Hispanic with an estimated
age range of early 20s to middle 60s. The administration and staff interaction are appropriate
and inclusive regardless of the age, race and gender identity or orientation.
Administration and Staff Training.
While there is no official direct cultural competency training for staff, the UWD has the
following non-discriminatory policy:
United Way of Delaware requires partner agencies to provide a board-approved, nondiscrimination policy that ensures access to services regardless of race, color, religion, sex,
disability, national origin, age and sexual orientation. Additionally, United Way of Delaware
encourages the "best practices" of comprehensive, non-discrimination at the board, volunteer and
staff levels of its partner agencies.
The United Way of Delaware is not a direct service agency; therefore, any member of the
transgender population would not come to the agencys site for services needed. However, a
member of the transgender population may decide, when seeking out services, to call or visit the
Pride Council of the United Way of Delaware web page to obtain information on places to go for
assistance. By calling, one will reach one of two of the Pride Council Chairs, who if unable to be
reached by phone, will respond to any messages left for them via voicemail. The alternative
option is accessing the UWD webpage, clicking on the Our Communities link, then clicking on
the Pride Council link.



This will open the page that describes the mission of the council. In addition, it provides
links for community and national services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
population. The three focus areas of the Pride Council are youth, health and work. However, only
the youth and health areas are mentioned on the website currently.
Specific informational resources for transgender youth includes but is not limited to:

List of Delaware schools with a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)

LGBTQ Friendly College & Student Resources

Scholarships for LGBTQ youth

Resources on Transgender Issues

Information on creating welcoming schools as well as links to the organization

that provides resources for schools and youth

Specific health informational resources for the transgender population include but are
not limited to:

Clinical resources for those providing care for transgender patients

Health care coverage how to obtain

State hospital scores on the Healthcare Equality Index which evaluates the
policies a practices related to the equity and inclusion of the LGBT population

List of resources for LGBT aging population for social and health services

Lastly, there is a list of cultural competency resources for educators, health and social
service providers.
The PRIDE for Youth council at UWD provides cultural competency training for
education staff, behavioral health professional and various community organizations. Moreover,



they assist with the funding of a mentoring and support for Gay-Straight Alliances in school
programs in schools. This will be the 5th year the Anti-Bullying/ Gay-Straight Alliance Summit.
The Delaware LGBTQ Health Equity Task Force played an instrumental part in ensuring that 8
of the 9 hospitals in Delaware achieved the Human Rights Campaign- Healthcare Equality Index
Funding for the UWD is largely comprised from the Workplace Giving Campaign,
Giving Societies/Organizations, corporate and planned donations as well as individual donations.
State and federal grants are also a source of funding specified for targeted programs. The PRIDE
council has a designation number that allows for those giving to direct their donations to the
councils mission.
NASW Standards for Cultural Competence
The fundamental values of the human services profession include respecting the dignity
and welfare of all people; promoting self-determination; honoring cultural diversity; advocating
for social justice; and acting with integrity, honesty, genuineness and objectivity. (National
Organization for Human Services)

STANDARD 1 Human service professionals recognize and build on client and

community strengths.
The UWD collaborates with existing community resources with a goal of maximizing
resources to ensure better outcomes.

STANDARD 11 Human service professionals are knowledgeable about their cultures and
communities within which they practice. They are aware of multiculturalism in society
and its impact on the community as well as individuals within the community. They
respect the cultures and beliefs of individuals and groups.



The non-discriminatory policy of the UWD organization is just one step that they take to
foster, illustrate and demonstrate their commitment to all Delawareans. Moreover, the
established councils such as PRIDE, Latinos Unidos, Womens Leadership, Revise the
Village are examples of the various cultures identified as having overall higher disparities
that the agency targets for improvement of quality of life.

STANDARD 13 Human service professionals stay informed about current social issues
as they affect clients and communities. If appropriate to the helping relationship, they
share this information with clients, groups and communities as part of their work.
Each council and area of the agency has community partners and those relationships
provide the sharing of current local, state and federal issues. This saves vast amounts of
resources and allows for the dissemination of programs, concerns, opportunities and
needs to be shared and worked on collaboratively.
Final Thoughts
Cultural competency allows for the basic understanding of a culture and thus
provides opportunities to learn and share in the understanding of support needed to assist
in the highest quality of life. Remembering that this is just one basic step in increasing
awareness, assisting with effective and purposeful programming and ensuring the greatest
opportunity of achieving outcomes is important. The apprehension is present often in
both parties and neither should expect the first interactions to be completely free from
blunders in communication. It is the willingness and patience of both the transgender
individual and social and health service agencies that will allow for the potential of
lowering the health and social disparities. I also believe that it is the responsibility of all
health and human service agencies to advocate for equal rights for this community.



There seems to be an ease of ones ability to not be engaged in anything outside of

ones norm and routine. We Tweet, FaceBook, SnapChat and use other social media to
broadcast what we find important. This is done while we walk down a city street, stand in
a checkout line, glance only at the front page of a newspaper, and during our meals. The
ability to not see outside ourselves benefits no one.
This assignment has made me aware of the importance of diversity
training/education, the too often ease of being non inclusive, and how unease and fear can
lead one to ignore the issues of others.



Ethical standards for human service professionals. Retrieved from
Gates, G. (April 2011). How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender? The
Williams Institute. Retrieved from
(n.a., 2016) Milestones in the American transgender movement. The New York Times. Retrieved
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
health. February 8, 2016). Retrieved from
Rini, J. (May 29, 2015). Transgender Delawareans face hurdles. Delawareonline: The News
Journal. Retrieved from
State of Delaware Transit Map for Greater Wilmington. Retrieved from
Sylvia Rivera Law Project (2016). Fact sheet: Transgender & gender nonconforming youth in
school. Retrieved from
The Danish Girl, directed by T. Hooper (Transgender).


QuickFacts (n.d.). United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from