“It’s all about the relationships.”
— Bill Snook, City of Kansas City, MO, Health Department
In other words, “It’s the relationships, stupid!” This theme came up for me repeatedly during the various sessions I attended at the LGBTQ Health Equity Summit in Kansas City on August 14th. Ani Koch of the Rainbow Health Initiative in Minneapolis, speaking at the session where I also presented, talked about how everything they do starts with, and revolves around, building relationships with people in the broader LGBT community. When another presenter asked how to get an LGBT health organization to stand up against tobacco use at the bar where they hold their events, a suggestion was to take them to coffee and build more of a connection than just email contact and phone calls directly about the work.
This raises the question for me of whether I am doing enough in my work to build these relationships. I’m afraid that my answer is probably that I’m not, but that I want to. Somehow it doesn’t get as prioritized as it should. I wonder if I’m more the exception or the rule.
How do we shift our priorities so that we can meet our objectives by building relationships as a core part of our work? Of course, the answer depends on what we mean by “building relationships.” Ani described a process whereby their project eventually succeeded in getting a Pride event to go smoke-free. It took several years beginning with a simple table at the event, followed the next year by a mention to the organizers that there was a lot of smoking, so could they go smoke-free? The answer to that was no, but when asked if attendees could be surveyed on their attitudes about smoking at Pride, the answer was yes. Then, armed with that data, they came back the next year with an offer of providing money for a special area devoted to exercise and other health related activities in exchange for limiting smoking areas. The answer to that was yes, and eventually they turned their whole attitude around.
I think we all do, or try to do, some of that kind of thing, although it might be on a smaller scale with a shorter timeline for many of us. Building relationships can be a broader concept too I think. I’m going to put more thought into how I can build this theme into the work of my project more effectively.