Corey Prachniak is an LGBT rights, HIV policy, and healthcare attorney. He serves on the Steering Committee of the Network for LGBT Health Equity and tweets @LGBTadvocacy.
This is a series of posts covering Corey’s work in Puerto Rico for the Salud LGBTT conference.
My first official meeting here in San Juan, before the start of the Salud LGBTT summit at which I’ll be presenting, was with local attorney Thomas Bryan. Thomas founded Fundacion Gaviota several years ago after his activism following the death of a transgender victim of a hate crime led him to be interested in preventing future hate crimes and in ensuring the prosecution of those who commit them.
I’ve recently become a volunteer advocate with GLOV, an organization that does similar work in the DC area. Because much of my professional life focuses on LGBT health policy, I’ve lately been wondering: what are the intersections between violence and health outcomes?
Of course, the most immediate and direct health implications of violence – be it intimate partner (domestic) violence, police violence, or hate crimes – are the medical needs of the survivor. For survivors of intimate partner violence, the violence, and thus need for medical attention, is often ongoing.
LGBT people who need medical care after experiencing violence may face difficulty in receiving it. Reports have shown that a significant number of LGBT people – especially the trans community – have faced violence or mistreatment by law enforcement or medical authorities, so LGBT survivors of violence may be afraid to call 911 or take themselves to a provider.
There are also mental health harms that are inflicted not only on survivors of violence but also on the community as a whole. These mental health issues, such as anxiety, PTSD, etc., may go untreated for LGBT people who do not think that they can get culturally competent mental health care. Older LGBT people in particular may recall that mental health professionals at one time (and, in some places, still today) considered homosexuality or gender dysphoria to be mental illnesses and contributed to the harm faced by LGBT people.
Finally, the persistence of violence against and within the LGBT community can give people a sense that the system is failing them. This institutional mistrust can cause people to think that interacting with any type of official authority – including getting signed up for a government insurance program, or going to see a medical provider – is not going to be helpful to them.
Bryan told me that last year, a law was passed that modified Puerto Rico’s intimate partner violence laws so as to be inclusive of the LGBT community. When the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a federal law, came up for reauthorization recently, advocates overcame opposition from some conservatives to ensure that the LGBT community was not be left out of intimate partner violence funding. And the Shepard Act that passed a few years ago adds hate crimes protections for the LGBT community at the federal level. These are all good steps.
But as Bryan said to me, these laws only work if both LGBT people and the general public know about them, and if they are pursued by police and prosecutors, which has improved recently in Puerto Rico but which advocates say still has a ways to go.
When we think about all of the negative health impacts that come from this type of violence, it’s clear why ending it is a priority for the LGBT community, both in Puerto Rico and across the States.
Stay tuned to the Network blog and my twitter account, @LGBTadvocacy, for lots of live coverage of the summit!