By: Kristen Emory, PhD, San Diego State University Member of LGBT HealthLink’s Community Advisory Council
I had an amazing time attending the 2017 American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Atlanta Georgia, with two of my favorite LGBT HealthLink, a Program of CenterLink staff members Dr. Washington and Ana Machado. This year’s theme was “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Climate Changes Health”. As I reflect on the meeting’s theme, I am reminded of the importance of health equity and visibility. Climate is more than just our physical environment. We, each of us, exist within a complex social climate that may contribute positively or negatively to our physical, mental and social health.
The good news is there was an amazing turnout for each of the LGBT health sections I attended! So much so, in fact, that it was largely standing room only for the vast majority. The less than great news is that each of these sessions were hidden away, down a long, lonely alleyway at the very end of the conference, in such a small room we could not all fit in! As I was waiting outside in the hallway during one particularly well-attended session, trying to catch a few words here and there, there was a general mood of unrest. As one conference goer standing next to me said “Hiding the gay away” in reference to the odd, small and hidden room we were all desperately trying to enter. And in fact: It. Felt. Like. It.
Please do not get me wrong, I do not believe APHA necessarily intended to hide away these LGBT Health Disparities sessions…but APHA did not really highlight our sessions either, nor make these sessions easy to get into. In the current climate of political unrest and heightened visibility of overt discrimination against various SOGI and racial or ethnic minority groups, it is increasingly essential that we do not further marginalize the marginalized. That we do not hide our populations or our issues away in some dark corner, not to be seen or acknowledged by the general public. We, in public health and other disciplines advocating for the visibility and rights of underserved populations, must stand up and have all of our voices heard. As advocates, academics and human beings; we should all be asking ourselves how we use our voices to ensure that we are not “hiding the gay away”.
There are some potentially powerful next steps that we might take to make sure that future generations do not feel further marginalized, whether that be in academia, public health, or the mass media. In the future, APHA and other conferences can help set the stage for inclusion of health disparities topics relevant to LGBT and other underserved populations by having our LGBT sessions share the same spaces that others health topics freely take up (not hidden in some far away corner). As my dear friend Dr. Francisco Buchting indicated in regards to the MPOWERED report “If we are not counted, we do not exist.” Being included sends a message that we matter, that we are a part of the bigger picture of public health and that, our needs should be both addressed and met. This is particularly important because despite the growing evidence that LGBT populations appear to be at increased risk for a wide variety of health concerns, our work is still being marginalized and pushed aside. Until there is acknowledgement of these issues, this marginalization will likely continue to occur, further widening the gap. We can all take steps by speaking out when we see this happening. There is no better time than the present to address these issues head on, so that future generations do not have to face the same challenges and do not have to fight as hard to have a place at the table.
Related: Keep an eye out for our upcoming White Paper on SOGI data collection methodology to help address health disparities concerns in LGBT data collection!