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Having existed for more than 20 years as a safe space for all members of the LGBTQ community, LGBT Detroit’s mission has been to increase awareness about LGBTQ culture through “education, cohesion and advocacy.” Now, the organization has expanded its advocacy efforts through its new counselor and community advocate position. Introduced last year, the aim of the role is to provide help and solutions to LGBTQ survivors of violence. Kole Wyckhuys, longtime activist and prevention education specialist with a decade of experience in the field, said he is delighted to take on this role and eager to help it become a widely known resource in the Metro area.
“It’s relatively new for me, and it’s been only a year for LGBT Detroit so it’s new for them as well,” he said. “I’ve been reaching out to various news sources and local agencies not to reintroduce myself, but introduce myself in this capacity and talk with people and build connections and collaborations.”
As part of that introduction, Wyckhuys outlined the three primary services he will provide surrounding violence prevention in his new role as counselor and community advocate: one-on-one counseling, peer-to-peer support groups, and education and trainings for service providers.
He went on to say that there exists “primary, secondary and tertiary violence prevention” but he will be focused only on the secondary and tertiary aspects.
“Primary is stopping something from happening before it begins, secondary and tertiary are after the fact, identifying signs and symptoms,” he said. “I’m talking prevention and response to partner abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and human trafficking. It’s essentially hate-related violence, but it can be violence also directed at someone because of their gender, gender identity or their sexual orientation.”
Wyckhuys added that his role is especially important to this organization because “LGBT folks are at a disproportionate risk for domestic violence, sexual assault, rape and other hate-related crimes.”
“LGBTQ+ folks who are African-American are statistically more likely to experience physical partner abuse than those who do not identify in that way,” he said.
Wyckhuys said that in addition to LGBTQ people of color, women are also a heavily targeted group, too.
“Approximately 44 percent of lesbian women and 61 percent of bisexual women have experienced partner abuse as opposed to heterosexual women.”
Starting the Process
For those individuals who find themselves a victim of violence that falls into one of Wyckhuys’ outlined categories and reach out for help at LGBT Detroit, it’s likely that some of their first steps will be to meet with him in a one-on-one counseling session.
“Our one-on-one sessions are 50 minutes in length. We’ll sit down, we’ll talk about what they’re going through and what they need, and then we’ll goal set,” he said. “After the goal setting and action planning, we’ll set up a follow-up session to see where they are in their goals.”
From there, appropriate steps will be taken to help the victim maintain a positive trajectory and they will be given help in navigating the services available to them. However, Wyckhuys emphasized that the counseling sessions are not designed to be “therapeutic in nature.”
“It’s more crisis-oriented and goal-setting, action planning,” Wyckhuys said. “It’s individually based and it’s client-centered.”
So, sometimes one-on-one sessions might not only be with individual victims of violence, but with entire agencies looking to improve their systems.
“A lot of times that is working with other mental health agencies or support groups, domestic and sexual violence agencies or, I may be out training a service provider in understanding LGBTQ identities and our needs,” he said. “It’s different day-to-day.”
Regarding peer-to-peer sessions, Wyckhuys said there’s still a bit of work to do before they’re regular fixtures at LGBT Detroit, but he has a specific idea for one in mind.
“Peer-to-peer support groups will happen in the future. That’s not up and running right now but it will be. We’re hoping to do a series on healthy relationships for the LGBTQ community,” he said. “We can talk all day long about abusive or unhealthy relationships, but what do healthy constructive relationships look like?”
To start that group, Wyckhuys’ goal is to implement a curriculum by The Northwest Network for Bi, Trans, Lesbian and Gay Survivors of Abuse that was created “specifically by LGBT survivors of partner abuse who felt that they learned everything they could possibly learn about abuse and violent relationships.”
“They have a multi-session healthy relationships course that I’m hoping to be able to implement through this office for the LGBTQ community to come together and have conversations,” he said. “My hope is to train hospitals, institutions, organizations and law enforcement in understanding LGBTQ identities in what that is and means and how that relates to domestic and sexual violence.”
Eventually, Wyckhuys’ final goal is to become a regular resource for service providers like law enforcement and health care organizations to be able to spread understanding about LGBTQ-specific violence prevention.
“Eventually, I’m going to do a strategic outreach [of those] organizations,” he said. “As well as domestic and sexual violence agencies to train them in understanding LGBT identities and identifying signs and symptoms and how to respond. That’s my background, and my passion is prevention education and trainings.”
A Personal Stake
When asked how he got involved in this field of work, Wyckhuys described how his degrees and time in the military coalesced into an interest that would become a calling.
“I have two majors. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology with a minor in anthropology. After which I actually joined the military as a mental health specialist and as a combat medic,” he said.
After returning from the military, Wyckhuys spent some time as a personal trainer and certified massage therapist but said that he soon realized his only “real fulfillment was going to come in the form of service work.”
“So I started to volunteer at a local domestic and sexual violence agency with a group of men that was supposed to engage other men in ending violence against women and men,” he said. “That volunteer experience became a fulltime job and I eventually became the prevention education director for that domestic and sexual violence agency.”
Fast forward to today, and Wyckhuys has accrued years of experience in violence prevention work. However, his work goes deeper than simply being something in which he takes an interest; a member of the LGBTQ community, too, Wyckhuys has dealt with his own trauma and knows full well the perspective of someone in the LGBTQ community.
“I’m familiar with the toll that it takes on the individual’s mind, body, soul, spirit, and I’m also very familiar with how difficult it is to access [available] resources but also the courage [it takes] to access those resources,” he said. “It’s difficult to navigate a system that doesn’t understand, recognize or even consider one’s identity or sexual orientation as legitimate or real.”
Wyckhuys said that something that might be seemingly insignificant to an untrained service provider, such as using the correct pronouns, could be adding to the damage sustained by a survivor.
“I’ve had transgender friends who are very close to me tell me that when they try to navigate this particular system they’ve had people call them ‘it’ instead of their identified pronouns,” Wyckhuys said. “That in itself is a huge barrier in accessing services.”
And as unpleasant as situations like that are, he said they reaffirm the necessity of his position.
“There are so many barriers, and in this office we are able to have folks sit down and be able to disclose their various identities, share with us what they’re going through and then brainstorm with them solutions and help them to navigate the process,” he said.
He noted that there are many who are already providing similar services in the state, but said he is confident that his new role can be one of collaboration.
“There are agencies in the state who are working to center marginalized communities. … The Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual violence has worked for a long time to center marginalized communities and offer resources, Equality Michigan has an office specifically for LGBTQ survivors of violence, but there’s enough work for all of us and there is a specific need in this area of Detroit,” Wyckhuys said. “Specifically, on the northwest side we are strategically situated and positioned so that survivors can access bus lines that are right to us and access resources that are specifically for them. This office is for LGBTQ+ survivors of violence. So, there’s definitely a need for that and this is a unique position in that way.”