Cultural Competency Trainings · Technical Assistance

♫ ♬ 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.

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