Corey Prachniak serves as Chair of LGBT HealthLink’s Steering Committee, and is an LGBT rights and healthcare attorney. Corey tweets @LGBTadvocacy.
A few weeks before my closest aunt came to visit me in college, I came out to her in the P.S. of an unrelated email. The content of the confession was as timid as its placement: something like, “Just so you know, I’m pretty sure I’m gay.” A few weeks later, her visit came and went with her never mentioning what I had said.
It was only nine months later that I learned my aunt had missed my P.S. entirely. She had to learn about my coming out through the grapevine (i.e., my other aunts), and when she confronted me about it she seemed hurt. “Why didn’t you come out to me sooner?” she asked. “I’m the only one in the family who knows what you’re going through.”
Before I could explain that I had, in fact, attempted to come out, I had to address the bombshell buried in her own message: she could understand what I was going through?? She was gay herself??
In truth, I had long-suspected that she might be part of “the family,” but I always figured that if she wanted me to know, she would tell me. My aunt took the opposite approach, and presumed that if people really wanted to know the truth, they would figure it out themselves.
Last month, I helped launch the Healthcare Bill of Rights with LGBT HealthLink and PROMO. Some have asked why LGBT people even need a document like this. The answer, I think, is that many of us take the aforementioned approaches to coming out of the closet. Either we’re P.S. Queer, and tack on our sexuality where it’s least likely to be seen, or we’re You’ll Know if You Want to Know Queer, and we wait for others to ask or figure it out themselves.
I think my aunt’s mentality to coming out was really beautiful, and showed true faith in the ability of people to come around and accept her – not just as a listener, but as an active participant in seeking out who she was.
But for the purposes of my work as a healthcare advocate, both her approach and my own were flawed.
The preamble to our Healthcare Bill of Rights begins, “Your personal life and relationships affect your health more than you realize, so your doctor and other providers need to know your story.” If you don’t think that your sexuality and gender identity are relevant to your healthcare providers, just read about all the disparities our community faces.
The Bill continues by saying, “We should all feel safe talking about” our partners, sex lives, and genders. Sure, this is easy for me to say from my perch in relatively-progressive DC, but this is an aspiration goal that the whole country is making progress on and one that is increasingly within reach – if we know to fight for it.
The main purpose of the Healthcare Bill of Rights is not to create a litigious army of courtroom-ready queer folks. It is not designed to provide a full legal education on every issue. Actually, as I see it, the law is really secondary here.
The point is that for these rights to even matter, providers have to know we’re LGBT or else we don’t get good care. By spreading the word about people’s rights, we hope to make them feel comfortable coming out and demanding (and receiving) quality healthcare.
We can’t P.S. one of the most important parts of our identities to the people who make us healthy. Nor can we hope they’ll figure it out themselves or take the hint and ask us. It’s time for us to take control of our own health and reverse the tides against us.