♫ ♬ It’s a Grand Day for… LGBT Cultural Competency Trainings in Iowa

by Emilia Dunham

Reporting from Des Moines, Iowa on our LGBT Cultural Competency Training and GLBT Health Initiative Meeting

On Monday April 18 Gustavo and I led a training of the Department of Health on LGBT cultural competency and LGBT tobacco. This was the first state training I have been involved with, and it was a joy presenting on LGBT 101 and health disparities while Gustavo discussed the meat and potatoes (yes, shameless Iowa reference) of best practices and a discussion of action steps that participants can take to improve LGBT health equity in their networks. We’re so pleased to have had the persistent advocacy of Sieglinda Prior of Iowa’s Department of Health’s, Division of Tobacco Use Prevention and Control.

Des Moines Capitol building (across from training)

One of the most inspiring aspects of this training was that folks REALLY wanted to be there. Folks came of their own accord and some came as far away as Nebraska and Illinois. To hear about participants coming 2.5 hours away really speaks to both the need and want for this sort of training. Part of the reason for the far-reaching draw was likely the unique rural reality of the Midwest. To me growing up in a Massachusetts town of 7,000 people seemed rural, but rural here can mean a town of 30! From the experience in this city with a strong rural flair shows how much mainstream and LGBT health work may overlook rural areas as so much health work is concentrated in urban areas. There are a lot of negative stereotypes and assumptions about rural areas and people, but the passion and commitment of these health professionals and community organizers is rivalingly inspiring to their urban counterparts where it’s possible to take urban resources for granted. (Especially since many of these Iowan LGBT health advocates manage to do incredible work with virtually no funding, which is a great case study of how coalitions and organizations can effectively operate on a tight budget.)

GLBT Health Initiative logo (Coalition we met with Tuesday)

While in Des Moines, we met with some community organizers and LGBT tobacco coalition members with the GLBT Health Initiative and briefly with Equality Iowa‘s Sandy Vopalka and Tommy Kelley from when we engaged them on the Health Awareness Webinar. Particularly, we held a strategic planning meeting with the GLBT Health Initiative coalition coordinated by Stephanie Baker who is REALLY leading the way on this effort with the help of Davie Ellis, both based at Des Moines’ Employment and Family Resources. Together with their coalition, Stephanie is continuing the great work in LGBT health and tobacco. They had their work cut for them with struggling for resources despite the complete ignorance of the community’s recognition of tobacco as a problem for the community, high issues of homelessness, access to care, discrimination among many other issues that we face in strong “Blue” states, but to a much higher degree it seems. Unfortunately we don’t have the data or cultural competency understandings in Iowa that we have in other states, but with the commitments made here, hopefully that can change.

If you remember my post last week, I asked if we are at the “Tipping Point in LGBT Health?” From this visit, this still may be the case, but we have a LONG way to go and we can’t leave behind our rural cousins. Happily, both the health professionals looking to be more LGBT culturally competent and LGBT community activists are already doing fabulous work, have each identified areas to improve their fields of influence and who have also made commitments to enhancing LGBT health in their areas. This group has taken some confident steps in identified several organizations working in LGBT health which they are actively bringing together and how they are will make a tremendous difference. It was really pleasing to see the seeds of change have been planted in Iowa, and we look forward to cultivating that in their fields there.

As a side, I really fell for Iowa even before I realized it was the setting for my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical State Fair.

Published by Emilia Dunham, MPP, MBA

Emilia Dunham is currently a Project Manager at MassHealth/Department of Public Health, and formerly the Project Manager of the Life Skills project at The Fenway Institute, an HIV intervention study for young transgender women. Emilia worked at Fenway for 7 years, first as a Quality Control and Regulatory Assistant mainly involved with biomedical HIV prevention trials, before serving as the Program Associate for The Network for LGBT Health Equity, a network instrumental in many national LGBT health policy improvements. She is also involved with the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, serving as a Steering Committee member and the Policy Committee Co-Chair, an organization largely responsible for the recent passage of the Trans Rights Bill. Additionally she serves as a member of the Massachusetts Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, Co-Chair of the Recommendations Committee. Emilia received a Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University. There she served as President of the LGBTQ student group where she planned programs such as Pride Week, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and AIDS Week. In addition, she advocated for LGBTQ inclusive policies and programming on campus such as a Gender Neutral Housing program, an LGBTQ Center and the expansion of Women’s Studies to Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Emilia recently earned a Master of Public Policy and Master of Business Administration in health policy and management from the Brandeis Heller School School for Social Policy and Management.

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