By Juan Carlos Vega, Policy Manager
For three days in late January, HealthLink staff looked for opportunities to educate members of the LGBTQ communities about how to maintain healthy lives. The 2016 Creating Change Conference took place in the cold winter, yet warmly hosted, city of Chicago. It was the ideal scenario for thousands of LGBTQ individuals to gather, speak, share, and support equality from a rainbow of not always agreeable perspectives. At the exhibit room, in the hallways of the magnificent Hilton Chicago Hotel, or during workshop sessions, we talked about the importance of tobacco free living, cancer screening, and community wellness.
CenterLink’s exhibit booth provided the opportunity to talk to hundreds of curious faces wondering what HealthLink had to say about LGBT health beyond HIV/AIDS and STD prevention. Our exhibit table provided an on-site space for folks to grab educational resources to move them away from smoking (1-800-QUIT-NOW) and “Health Starts Here” signs indicating safe spaces for LGBT culturally competent health care services. People took advantage and shared their personal struggles when trying to quit smoking or when feeling excluded at a healthcare setting. Donna reminded everybody to have a fruit every day, eat at least one healthy meal daily, and live tobacco free by using our rainbow pins. All the exhibit materials continue to be available free of charge by completing our website online order form.
On Saturday, January 23rd in the afternoon, Scout moderated HealthLink’s workshop session titled “Wellness + Queers: Strategies and Steps” to discuss tobacco use in LGBTQ communities and present local wellness approaches to address the problem. That’s where our local heroes, Brant Miller from the Washington DC Center for the LGBT Community and Adrian Shanker from the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in eastern Pennsylvania shared their successful tobacco cessation and cancer prevention efforts.
Networking took place throughout the conference and was an essential component of our participation. The hallways provided perfect opportunities to exchange business cards or set more formal times to meet at the booth or in the lobby. Even before the main conference began, Thursday’s long-day institutes provided CenterLink staff ample opportunity to support and expand networks. While Terry presented at the Executive Directors/CEO Institute, Denise led both presentations and interactive sessions at the YouthLink Institute to provide resources to LGBT community centers working with youth.
Finally, Juan Carlos participated in the Unión Equals Fuerza: Latino/a Institute along with members of the Citizens Alliance Pro LGBTTA Health of Puerto Rico and 200 other Latino/a LGBT leaders. We look forward to continue engaging LGBTQ communities in next year’s Creating Change Conference in Philadelphia.