It’s the relationships, stupid!

Brian Davis, Project Director
Freedom From Tobacco
Scholarship Blogger
Summit 2012 reflections



“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.

Summit · Uncategorized

A SHIFT happened in Minnesota

Brian Davis, Project Director of Freedom From Tobacco
Scholarship Blogger, Summit 2012 reflections
A SHIFT happened in Minnesota

What a great presentation yesterday at the LGBTQ Health Equity Summit from the inspired youth of SHIFT Minnesota!  SHIFT is run by and for LGBTQ youth, so they know that the best way to speak to other youth is through direct “not sugar coated” language (as one attendee put it).  Here’s their mission statement:

“SHIFT charges forth on our valiant steeds and molds healthier LGBTQ* communities by severing ties with corporate tobacco through education, advocacy, and power-punching policy. We work in solidarity with all marginalized communities to fight against the ruthless, manipulative corporate tobacco agenda in the Twin Cities area.”
Now that’s a mission statement!  The vision statement is even better.  It starts with “We need to be angry because corporate tobacco wants to kill us.”  You can find and enjoy the rest here:

Two things about their project really struck me.  First — the name, SHIFT, is brilliant.  It gets to the heart of what all of us are trying to do in Queer tobacco control, which is to create a shift of consciousness in our community away from the embracing of smoking as part of who we are — as one of a list of “freedoms” that we are grabbing for ourselves despite society’s condemnation — and toward an understanding that smoking is a symptom of homophobia that tobacco companies capitalize upon at our expense and exclusively for their gain.

Secondly, I noticed that they always put “corporate” and “tobacco” together.  This is similar to the way Native American tobacco control groups make a distinction between “commercial” and “sacred” tobacco.  Their objective in doing this, as they explained, is to make spaces tobacco-free but warm and inviting to smokers.  They want smokers to know that SHIFT is not about pushing people to quit, but about making people aware of what corporate tobacco is doing to our community.

Oh, and one more thing — they do a great job of creating artwork that gets the point across in a creative and fun way.

On the VERGE of Change

Brian Davis, Project Director
Freedom From Tobacco
Scholarship Blogger
Summit 2012 reflections



The 2012 LGBTQ Health Summit finished with a bang with the Beyond Fabulous event sponsored by Rescue Social Change Group (SCG) and VERGE.  This was a fun evening at Hamburger Mary’s featuring Pandora Boxx from Rupaul’s Drag Race.

VERGE is a program of Rescue SCG which is designed to appeal to young LGBT club goers, far too many of whom smoke.  From our data in California, we know that nearly 45% of 18-24 year old queers smoke, and the numbers are similar across the country.  So, what VERGE does is important for our community.

The basic idea is to shift the mindset among our youth from “smoking is sexy and cool” to “smoke-free is hot.”  Judging from the models that were at the event last night, it’s hard to argue with that conclusion.

A full house of young LGBTs from the Kansas City area were there last night to see Pandora Boxx put on a show, and she didn’t disappoint.  In addition, Jeffrey Jordan, the President and Founder of Rescue SCG was there to interview her.  She let him know that she finds smoking to be disgusting, mentioning also that her mother told her not to put anything but poles in her mouth.  Clearly she had a fine upbringing.

There was also a game going on throughout the night.  Each person that entered got raffle tickets and a necklace with a symbol on it that you matched with other people in the room to get more tickets.  The raffle winners got “More Wigs, Less Cigs” t-shirts and the grand prize was free nights at a Las Vegas hotel.

They also showed creative videos from their website — — with hot shirtless guys.

A good time was had by all, and a lot of our youth went away with a positive, and sexy, connection to being smoke-free.  Hard to beat that.