SAMHSA leading the way in LGBT inclusion

Liz Margolies
Director, National LGBT Cancer Network
Reporting from the National Coalition for LGBT Health Annual Meeting  

I am in Washington DC, at the National Coalition for LGBT Health’s annual meeting. I had the joy of listening to Pam Hyde, Administrator of SAMHSA this morning.  Pam  talk was poignant, as she spoke as both the head of SAMHSA and an out lesbian working in the field for over 30 years.  She began her talk today  pointing out that it is only in the last 2 yrs, in this administration for the first time, that she has been asked to speak about LGBT issues.   She referenced an earlier group that had formed many years ago to look at the LGBT population and she was not asked to participate in it. In fact, she wasn’t disturbed by that.  While she always kept a picture of her partner and their child on her desk, the old system was a quiet version of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It was OK that she was a lesbian, but no one ever asked her about her family or her holiday plans.  She remembers when DADT was seen as progressive.  She was welcome as long as she kept quiet.

She gave a quick run down of LGBT health disparities in mental health and substance abuse and made very clear that these are a result of social conditions, the difficulties of growing up LGBT and the mental health difficulties that are the result of discrimination.

The bulk of her talk was about the great changes that are underway in SAMHSA incorporating LGBT population and mental health issues in multiple initiatives.  The work being undertaken in multiple diverse areas, including LGBT data collection, LGBT-owned businesses, new precedents in LGBT hiring, foster care, etc.

She stressed that the White House absolutely recognizes that there is still more to do.  She pointed out that SAMHSA RFA’s are becoming explicit about being LGBT-inclusive and, where appropriate, LGBT-focused. Which actually serves as a model for other gov’t agencies.

She concludes that the real impact of these initiatives is not just in changes in the laws and programs, but that effort put forth by Secty Sebelius and the White House are beyond acceptance of LGBT people.  She feels like LGBT people and issues are being welcomed and embraced, with the acknowledgement that there is still a lot to be done.

With that being said, despite these good intentions and commitments, she predicts that the budget is going to get far worse before it gets better. This means we have to advocate more, and keep our efforts on the forefront and keep the movement alive.  The positive results of the administrative commitments will be more apparent when the budget and economy Improves which gives us all hope for the future.

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