by Alex Iantaffi, Guest Blogger
Reporting on The 8th National LGBT Health Equity Summit (Kansas City, MO)
After a day of talks and networking, this queer was definitely ready to party when the Summit ended on August 14th! I was excited to be invited to attend “Beyond Fabulous”, an event organized by rescueSCG+ especially for Summit participants. The fact that it was labelled “The LGBT Anti-Tobacco Event Experience” only increased my enthusiasm for this event. Although I am mainly a sexual health and HIV prevention researcher, I am passionate about tobacco prevention and cessation. I was brought up by a heavy smoker who eventually died of lung cancer, and both my mother and I suffer from asthma. When I came out (a few times, in three countries), it broke my heart to see how deeply my communities had been targeted and affected by the tobacco industry. I witness the daily struggles that too many LGBT people close to my heart face when trying to quit smoking. The LGBT Anti-Tobacco Event Experience could only be beyond fabulous, as far as I was concerned.
I am sad to report that instead I ended up feeling invisible, unwelcome, and quite stressed at the end of the event. Despite the best of intentions, the images, and the language used by MC and performer/special guest alike did not reflect the existence of B or T in our communities, in my opinion. The lack of visible, accessible, all-genders restroom in an unfamiliar venue only added to this sense of alienation. After a day of feeling energized, included, and visible, it was challenging to face the shadow sides of our community once again. I thought long and hard whether to blog about this, as I didn’t want to be negative about a generously sponsored event for the Summit. In the end I decided I needed to.
For me, it was just a couple of hours of annoyance, disappointment, and temporary stress. I am 41 years old and I have trodden a long road towards embracing just how fabulous I am. However, on entering the venue, we were invited to imagine being a 21+ LGBT young person. If I had been that person, I believe the event would have had a deeper impact on me. I imagined feeling alone, and possibly scared, in a place that should have been a safer place. I imagined how badly I might have wanted a cigarette, a drink, or anything else that could have possibly helped to ease the pain of invisibility among “my own people”. I asked myself whether it would have made a difference if I had been an L/G, rather than a B/T person in our rainbow. Then I remembered the perfectly toned and partially nude bodies in the room, and on the screen. Bodies that did not look like me, not even at 21, or like many people I know. I thought of the eating disorders that are so sadly common among young gay/bi men. I thought of the body image issues that are so rife in our communities. What is the impact of celebrating those same bodies that the overculture tells us are beautiful? Not smoking is indeed sexy. I could not agree with the message more. But could sexy be also larger, darker skinned, gender non-conforming, (dis)abled, bi/queer/fluid, trans*?
I know that The LGBT Network for Health Equity is committed and devoted to our communities, to our health and to our right to thrive in an overculture that does not often give us space to be our fabulous selves. I have seen that commitment and devotion throughout the day at the Summit. I hope that next year there can be a truly fabulous event, where we can bring our whole selves to celebrate our whole movement.