Q&A: LGBTQIA+ Health with Lecturer Temor "Tay" Amin-Arsala, OTD ‘24

Lecturer Tay Amin-Arsala, OTD ‘24, describes the LGBTQIA+ health space and how OTs can better support their LGBTQIA+ clients.
Tay Amin Arsala Q&A graphic

Temor "Tay '' Amin-Arsala is a new lecturer and Tufts alum, specializing in LGBTQIA+ health as well as non-traditional, emerging branches of occupational therapy. Amin-Arsala has done advocacy and policy work with organizations such as the Network for LGBTQIA+ Concerns in Occupational Therapy and the American Occupational Therapy Association.

  1. Describe your work in the LGBTQIA+ health space and what motivates you to do it? 

I’ve worked in a lot of different areas related to LGBTQIA+ health, both within the field of occupational therapy and on the fringes of it. Outside of my work as an occupational therapist and lecturer at Tufts, I’ve done advocacy, policy, and writing on topics related to LGBTQIA+ health. I also work as a DEIJ and anti-racism coordinator at a local independent high school where I do education and advocacy supporting LGBTQIA+ students. 

I’m passionate about this work because as a queer, half-Afghan individual, who may or may not be neurodivergent, I experience intersectionality in multiple ways. Growing up, I always wished I had more support and resources around my LGBTQIA+ identity and I would never want young folks to feel othered, sub-par, sub-human, or alone because of who they are. Statistics show that having even one affirming social support greatly decreases rates of suicidal ideation and suicidality among LGBTQIA+ youth. Even if the work I’m doing isn’t resulting in any widespread difference, if I’m that one person helping someone else survive for a little bit longer, then I’m happy for that to be the sole outcome of my work. 

  1. What unique health challenges do LGBTQIA+ people face and what can OTs and other health professionals do to better support LGBTQIA+ people?

Research has shown that the LGBTQIA+ community has higher rates of physical disability, mental health concerns, and suicidality than the general population. It’s important to note that none of these challenges are innately connected to having an LGBTQIA+ identity. It relates to a concept called “social determinants of health,” which are conditions in the environments where people live, learn, and work that impact health outcomes. Specific social pressures can lead to negative health outcomes for LGBTQIA+ individuals, such as discrimination, stigma, anti-queer laws, and a long history of oppression and violence. All of this really piles up and accounts for why LGBTQIA+ individuals have higher rates of health challenges. 

In terms of how the field of OT and other health professions can better support LGBTQIA+ folks, visibility, advocacy, and education are so important. Within OT, we really need to think about issues of diversity because we’re still a fairly homogenous group. We’re a majority white, majority woman, and at least as far as we know, majority cis-gender and heterosexual field. So working to create a more diverse group of practitioners will bring more experiences, understanding, and inclusivity to the profession.

I also think we need a better understanding of the social determinants of health and intersectionality, and how different minority identities come together. For example, a low-income queer woman of color in the South would have a different set of experiences and social determinants of health than an upper middle class white cis-gender gay man living in Boston. It’s important to recognize that not all LGBTQIA+ individuals face the exact same things. And I think that healthcare in general needs to break away from some of the stereotypes attributed to LGBTQIA+ folks. 

It would certainly be beneficial to have more occupational therapists who specialize in LGBTQIA+ health; providers who are safe, well-informed, and affirming of LGBTQIA+ identities. The end goal, however, is maybe not needing anyone to specialize in this area because a lot of the components of LGBTQIA+ health should be pervasive, common knowledge for all healthcare providers.

  1. What are some topics related to LGBTQIA+ health care that you discuss with your students?

Whenever I’m teaching anyone, I always try to make sure to go over the basics of terminology, but also emphasize that the terminology people use is constantly evolving when it comes to both sexual orientation and gender identity. I discuss intersectionality a lot and how not all LGBTQIA+ experiences are the same. I also go over the related concept of cultural humility, which is understanding that as practitioners we need to appreciate that we’re never going to be the masters of knowledge of someone else’s culture. We need to put our clients in the driver’s seat in terms of educating us about their culture and the right kind of interventions for them. 

I also discuss occupational justice, which is a systemic lens of making sure everyone has equitable access to the occupations that are meaningful to them. And I discuss how inclusion and DEIJ work isn’t just about looking at our clients through a specific lens. It’s about how we, our coworkers, and larger systems are involved in the process. I also discuss the importance of policy work because healthcare policy informs a lot of the behind-the-scenes things that set certain standards. Those all have vague or amorphous ties to LGBTQIA+ health, but they’re the larger topics I always try to hit on.

  1. Can you recommend any resources or media on the topic of LGBTQIA+ health and cultural awareness? 

I have a few recommendations! The Network for LGBTQIA+ Concerns in Occupational Therapy has a Facebook page that’s a good resource and they’re always looking for volunteer support. A bit of a self-promotional plug is the Sexuality & Intimacy: An Occupational Therapy Approach textbook, published by the American Occupational Therapy Association, that I contributed a chapter to. 

For individuals seeking LGBTQIA+ affirming healthcare, I would encourage them to reach out to local organizations specializing in LGBTQIA+ health and speak to friends about providers because word of mouth can be very powerful. Fenway Health in Boston specializes in LGBTQIA+ health and their website features a host of helpful resources and information. OutCare is a great website for LGBTQIA+ folks looking to find affirming providers and resources nationally, though this can be a challenge in rural areas.

Culture-wise, I love the Making Gay History podcast, which doesn’t have a healthcare lens, but it does provide a good foundation for understanding queer history. I’m also a big fan of adrienne maree brown, who focuses on LGBTQIA+ issues and strategies to create change through small interactions as opposed to big sweeping social movements. Lastly, I love to listen to Ted Talks and there are so many great ones on LGBTQIA+ health and queer culture in general.

Read more about Temor "Tay" Amin-Arsala here.