Although LGBTQ+ Pride Month is usually celebrated in June, it’s important year-round to acknowledge the unique challenges and experiences faced by the members of this community who experience chronic pain. “We’re just like everyone else,” says Sara Gherig, a trained volunteer support group leader for U.S Pain who facilitates the LGBTQ+ group. “However, we have been forced to be some of the bravest, boldest, most resilient people I have ever met.” 

Despite— or in part because of— the extra challenges they face, these patients understand the need for a supportive, understanding community, which many have found in attending the U.S. Pain chronic pain support group. “I have heard from many members that this is the first place they can really be their true self; with their pain and their identity,” she says.

Sara felt alone, at “rock bottom,” when she discovered the U.S. Pain Foundation and its network of support groups. “I was drawn to the people: they were sharing the stories, their humility and being so raw and vulnerable.  I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.  I could be open and validated, and more importantly, heard. I didn’t feel lost anymore.”

Sara, a cis lesbian woman, soon understood the need for a specialized group for LGBTQ+ patients, with a leader who understands living with the dual stigma of chronic pain and the extra medical, interpersonal, and political challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community. After completing U.S. Pain’s support group leader training program, she began leading peer-to-peer support meetings for LGBTQ+ patients nationwide: “I could bring the real topics to the forefront and they could trust that I truly knew where they all were coming from.” 

In addition to all the factors straight cis people have to juggle in order to find a doctor, LGBTQ+ patients may face additional barriers in finding care. With each new doctor, they have to decide if they can trust and be honest about the details of their lives, especially in areas of the country where discriminatory legislation has been passed. “I want this group to be a safe place,” shares Sara. “With this current climate the way it is, that seems hard to come by.”

“Chronic pain can be truly lonely, and so can growing up as anything other than cis and straight,” explains Janet Jay, communications specialist for U.S. Pain, a blogger and a bisexual cis woman who represents the queer community on the organization’s Disparity Advisory Solutions Council. “Communities like these are absolutely crucial for developing the kind of relationships that allow members to support each other, speak out, and work toward real change.”

Says Janet, “Pride isn’t just one month in the year: it’s a constant process of building community, helping each other search for answers, demanding to be included as stakeholders and above all, having our voices heard.”

–Janet Jay

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