Puerto Rico

Reflections on the LGBT & Tobacco Panel in Puerto Rico

Guest post by J.C. Vega.

Three weeks have gone by since the historical LGBT and Tobacco Panel at the Tobacco and Obesity Prevention Summit in Dorado, Puerto Rico on March 12, 2010.  The panel was sponsored by the LGBT and Latino Tobacco Control Networks and the Puerto Rico Department of Health.  The Summit was a historical moment for those of us working on LGBT Latino/a issues and the LGBT community of Puerto Rico as health issues affecting this segment of the population were brought to the surface.  The energy and dedication of panelists and participants to work on this issue was felt across the room.  Jean Leroux-Guillén, NLTCN Communications Manager, can send you copies of the presentations if you email him at jleroux@indianalatino.com.

The evening before the panel, NLTCN and LGBT Tobacco Control Network Members, Jeannette Noltenius (NLTCN National Director), J. Carlos Velázquez (HMA Associates, Inc), Elba Díaz-Toro (University of Puerto Rico), Yanira Arias (Latino Commission on AIDS), Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati (University of Southern California) and this blogger met in my hotel room to discuss the LGBT Panel presentation.  For over an hour we shared the agenda, solidified the objectives, and previewed the local LGBT health survey results.  We wrote the final conclusions of the Panel and discussed future opportunities and strategies to approach the work.  The discussion confirmed the need to culturally adapt materials and resources to each community and the importance of approaching tobacco and obesity issues from an environmental perspective.

How do homophobia, health disparities and lack of culturally competent for programs for LGBTs in Puerto Rico directly affect the health of the community?  How do we tackle these health issues when LGBT folks in Puerto Rico are more concerned with homophobia, crimes and hostility against the community, and the constant attacks from local media, the church and elected representatives in the legislature?  We need to mobilize and educate the LGBT community and our allies on how to take action for our health, educate health service providers across the Island and the Department of Health of Puerto Rico to take into consideration LGBT health while integrating obesity and tobacco control efforts.

This is a social justice issue.  The LGBT community of Puerto Rico resides in a disparity within a disparity.  As health advocates, it is our responsibility to make sure that health equity in relation to access to quality health care and healthy environments becomes a priority for all.

The good thing about working in Puerto Rico is that you can dip your feet in the ocean water before the beginning of the day, take a yoga class outdoors, or eat wonderful local cuisine for relaxation and additional networking.  El Ladrillo, a famous restaurant in Dorado, Puerto Rico was our choice that evening for mofongo (made of green plantain), arroz mamposteao (rice and beans) and fresh seafood.

Packages of information and resources from the LGBT Tobacco Control Network were distributed to three local very important allies during the conference: Mr. Antonio Cases, Director Tobacco Control and Prevention Division of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, Ms. Idalys Mercado of the Puerto Rico Cessation Quitline, and Mrs. Ruby Serrano, Director of the BRFSS-PR.  Among the publications distributed were the Minnesota Case Study on Making Quitlines Accessible to LGBTs, the LGBT Surveillance and Data Collection Brief, among many other valuable materials from the LGBT Network which I brought with me from the Gay & Lesbian Task Force Conference in Dallas, Texas in February 2010.  We even threw a few beach balls around during the panel presentation!  I am hoping the materials will guide the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Puerto Rico Tobacco Free Coalition, and the tobacco control movement of the Island in the right direction to achieve health and social justice for LGBT communities in Puerto Rico.

I personally and professionally would like to thank the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network and the National Latino Tobacco Control Network (NLTCN) and its staff for your support to bring Latino LGBT health and tobacco issues to the surface.  For sponsoring Yanira Arias to participate, for providing materials to distribute, for translating modules and presentations for the Summit’s audience, and for your contribution to the development of the first Community Health Survey for the LGBT community of Puerto Rico.  J. Carlos Velazquez-mi gemelo y amigo, we finally did it!!!  It would have never happened without your experiences, knowledge, mentorship, and compassion to bring equality to all.  We are making history in the smallest one of the Greater Antilles.

Locally, I want to thank Lissette Rodriguez (Health Advocate), Luis Estremera (University of Puerto Rico), and Elba Díaz-Toro (and her University of Puerto Rico students) for being contributors, collaborators, and supporters.  To Mr. Antonio Cases from the Puerto Rico Department of Health-Tobacco Control and Prevention Division who continues to be a supporter, not only by accepting the proposal to present on LGBT issues, by including LGBT friendly questions in the Summit’s participant survey, and now requesting that we identify an LGBT group in Puerto Rico to become a Coalition member and have equal representation.  That’s an ally.  I am sure the LGBT and Tobacco Control Networks will continue to support the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the Tobacco Free Puerto Rico Coalition, and local gay advocates and allies to bring equality in this social and health justice issue.

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