Antonio Ruberto JR is the Senior Director of Behavioral Health at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City

What is your professional background?

I attended New York University for my undergraduate education, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1996 with a double major in Psychology and Art History.

I graduated with my Master of Science in Social Work from Columbia University School of Social Work in 2007. I completed the working hours and two licensing exams over the next six years and am an LCSW-R (Licensed Clinical Social Worker – Psychotherapy Privilege) in New York State. I am also a CASAC (Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor) here in NYS, which is an additional credential connected to my many years of work experience in the substance use field.

You are currently the Senior Director of Behavioral Health at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in New York City. What does that role involve?

I oversee youth and adult substance use treatment, youth prevention services, crystal meth harm reduction services, TGNC/NB harm reduction services, coalition building, recovery support including the youth clubhouse (which provides recovery support, events, and coaching), mental health counseling (individual, couples, and families), the LGBT Institute for Family Therapy (LIFT) training program, along with strategic planning related to telehealth and mental health treatment expansion and integration at The Center.

The Center has been in NYC for 40 years. Why was it founded and what does it offer to the LGBTQ+ community?

The Center was founded as a gathering place for LGBTQ+ people, opening during the early years of the AIDS epidemic and the devastating impact it was having on our community.

The Center has hosted and continues to host community groups and events in its space. ACT UP, Immigration Equality, and Callen-Lorde are some of the organizations that have started at The Center. Twelve-step groups were among the very first groups that met at The Center, and we continue to host over 80 12-step groups per week.

Are there issues which affect LGBTQ+ people disproportionately compared to their straight friends and allies?

Many studies have shown that LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately affected by a variety of issues compared to their straight friends and allies, including mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, suicidality), rates of substance use, social isolation, physical health issues and diagnoses including HIV, as well as perceived and actual instances of discrimination, oppression, and violence. This does not even take into account aspects of intersectional oppression experienced by LGBTQ+ people of color and elevated rates for the transgender and non-binary members of our community compared to LGB people.

These issues and challenges can be addressed in numerous ways, including individual interventions (counseling, therapy, peer support), community connection (groups, events, gathering spaces), and systemic advocacy and change, including at the various levels of government and through education and communications.

It can be argued that we have come a long way in LGBTQ+ rights in recent years. What more do you think needs to be done?

Despite the many advancements for the community in the decades since The Center’s founding, much work remains to be done. Unfortunately, recent years have brought dozens of legislative initiatives (and passed laws) that are anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-women, etc.

LGBTQ+ youth also face disparate rates of mental health challenges, with 68% of LGBTQ+ youth reporting symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than three out of four transgender and nonbinary youth LGBTQ + youth also have higher rates of depression and suicide ideation (40% of LGBTQ + youth and 50%+ of transgender nonconforming (TGNC) youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past).

Describe a typical day in the life of Antonio Ruberto, Jr.

Like many organisations, The Center has developed a hybrid work policy related to the pandemic. I’m currently onsite at least three days per week, so depending on the day, I’m either at my office at The Center’s building in the historic West Village neighborhood in New York City, or working from home, from my apartment in Upper Manhattan.

My days are typically a mix of individual check-ins with my direct reports, team meetings, project check-ins and work, committee work, grant applications, reviews, and reporting, and a lot of email and in-person communication.

Staff supervision and development is a core component of my work. My team includes clinical social workers, licensed mental health counselors, alcohol and substance use counselors, student interns from masters and addiction counseling programs, psychiatrists, nurses, and administrative support.

Which are your preferred pronouns?

I use all pronouns. We’ve moved away from the term “preferred” here and simply say “pronouns.” Saying “preferred” makes it seem like using someone’s pronouns is optional when, in reality, using a person’s pronouns is the most basic need they have to feel safe and to exist in public spaces.