Appreciating Pride: An Interview with Ashley Waddington and LaNita Jefferson

Carolina Assessment Services at Pride 2021

We wanted to do something special for Pride month this year, and what better way to celebrate than to interview our very own founders. In this interview LaNita Jefferson and Ashley Waddington dive into their personal experiences with the LGBTQ+ community and some amazing insights they’ve gained throughout their counseling journey.

We begin our interview on LaNita’s cozy office couches. Ashley is repping her “human” shirt adorned with the colors of the pride and transgender flags. Both Ashley and LaNita are in great sprits, per usual. You can usually tell because their positivity radiates throughout the room. It’s quite contagious.

I start off with a very basic but important question, “Why is pride month important to you?” Both of their faces light up and we begin.

LaNita: “Pride month is important to me because it reminds me how much of a struggle it can be to be yourself and how hard it is for people to accept you for who you are. Not only is it about being able to love who you love, but finding peace in feeling different.”

Ashley: “We love celebrations in general, but especially the celebration of self, so having a dedicated month to being authentically you is really special and cool and something we want to highlight.”

Delving deeper into the therapy realm, “Why do you think therapy for LGBTQ+ individuals should be readily accessible?”

Ashley: “When it comes down to why people come to therapy we wouldn’t discriminate on their religion or education level so why would we discriminate on who they choose to love and how they choose to present themselves? I think that it should be just as accessible as any other reason you’d be going to therapy.”

LaNita: “Research shows there is so much disparity within the LGBTQ community and there’s not a lot of therapists that are in the fight to change that. So I love that we are able to say Hey, we accept you for who you are no matter what and being able to give people a safe and friendly place to do that. We have to do something about the people that are suffering in the LGBTQ community and being a humanitarian means that I need to be in the fight to change that.”

Expanding on this, “What have your therapeutic relationships with the lgbtq+ population taught you about their experiences?

Ashley: “I think the first word that comes to mind is authenticity. The authenticity of just being okay with you. Early on in my mental health and social services work, I think I was less myself and much more reserved. I wouldn’t make a funny comment that came into my head or I might not say things like ‘look at you doing you!!’ But now it’s a part of who I am and it showcases my authenticity. It’s also a humbling experience when you can truly look at your privilege whether it be sexuality or race. For example being a white female, I hold power racially and that’s a really good check in for me.”

LaNita: “As a black person, you walk into a lot of spaces and have to automatically trust someone that does not look like you. This could be a doctors office, a lawyers office, a cashier. Being hesitant to trust because of the color of your skin and the color of their skin is scary. To have someone come into our office and feel so afraid of being different really hits home. I know that sexuality is very different from race, but I feel like I can empathize with that. So when individuals do come in and are worried they will be judged for something they cannot control, our acceptance and ability to be a safe space is so important. It’s not only humbling to recognize this struggle, but it’s also an honor for someone to be able to open up that part of themselves by taking a major risk.”

Ashley: “I agree it’s a huge honor to be a part of a client’s journey. Even when it comes down to our employees here and them feeling safe, many of them identify with pride month and the LGBTQ+ community, so making sure it’s normalized and comfortable is a priority. It’s refreshing to know that we offer a space here that is so open.

I can definitely attest to the fact that both LaNita and Ashley make Carolina Assessment Services an extremely open minded space. I am never afraid to express myself or ask questions and I sense that same energy as all of our wonderful clients walk through our door. It’s amazing to constantly be learning in a constructive way.

Speaking of learning, “Has your language and inclusivity evolved through your experience as a therapist and an ally?”

LaNita: Absolutely! I think that is something that will continue to change because culture changes so much, but that is something we have to take self- responsibility for in order to stay up to date and be correct with what’s culturally appropriate at that time.”

Ashley: “I’m thinking back to a couple months ago when we were working on stuff related to school and having open conversations about the LGBTQ+ community and LaNita introduced me to the word homoprejudice and I was like is this word being posted anywhere? It wasn’t being posted much at all, but we are still having these conversations where we’re saying “hey did you know this is being talked about?” and these new ideas blossom into open and educational conversations. It’s important to be ahead of where the language and the curves are and trying to stay with them, and conversations like these are a big piece.”

LaNita: “I also think it’s important to note that if we don’t know something or are incorrect, our clients know they are in a place they can say “hey that’s actually not right”. And that’s amazing for us as clinicians because it keeps us humble and reminds us of our responsibility.”

Outside of your personal clientele, have you had any first hand experience researching the LGBTQ+ population?

Ashley: “LaNita and I did have a hand in some amazing research with this population. We actually looked into a treatment option that could be successful for the LGBTQ population regardless of their sexual orientation. In order to research this more closely, we both saw clients for free using this treatment and we found some real success with the specific modality. This treatment option is known as well-being therapy, which focuses on the psychological well-being of a client, helping it grow overtime. So not only do we try and make our space open, but we also play a role in research for the community. Creating new solutions is something we are passionate about.”

With all of these amazingly insightful responses, “What’s the main message you’d like to leave our readers with?”

LaNita: “I want to end with my favorite Dr. Seuss quote, ‘You are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.'” 

Ashley: “We will not be blind to your struggle, so I would love to leave off saying we see you and we want to continue seeing you.” 

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. It’s pretty clear how passionate both LaNita and Ashley are about opening their arms to the LGBTQ+ population. Their attention to so many important topics showcases their genuine concern for the well-being of everyone. As corny as it may sound, I do feel very honored to work with individuals that take the responsibility of being a clinician seriously. Their love for every single person that walks into this office radiates, and it is apparent to me that they are honored to be a part of any clients journey, no matter your sexual identity, race, religion, etc.

This blog was written by Lilly Hart, a recent graduate of the University of South Carolina. She currently has her bachelor of arts degree in psychology, with a minor in counseling. She has a deep passion for mental health awareness and plans to further her career in graduate school. She is now the new Administrative Assistant and Community Outreach Coordinator at Carolina Assessment Services, LLC, and can’t wait to produce new and insightful content for our readers.

If there are any other topics you’d be interesting in learning about, email me at lillyhartcasllc@gmail.com. We are always appreciative of new ideas to delve into on the blog!

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