Building A Culture of Health in the LGBT Communities

Funders for LGBTQ Issues infographic.
Funders for LGBTQ Issues infographic.

Head Shot Scout 2014 lo res

Director LGBT HealthLink

[The following is a transcript of a speech I gave at the LGBT Health Funding Summit on January 28, 2015. The transcript has been slightly edited for readability.]

My name is Scout, and as many of you know, I’ve been working with HealthLink for about 9 years and in LGBT health for dozens of years. It’s been really interesting recently because we’re seeing a real shift in how health work is done across the country now. My arena is public health. That means we spend a lot of time focusing outside a doctor’s office, intervening on the social determinants of health and making a difference as to whether or not we ever see a doctor’s face. With healthcare reform, we’re shifting our national focus on health away from the doctor’s office. Instead, we’re moving towards prevention strategies, towards wellness strategies, and the many different inputs that affect the health trajectory of our lives. For me, from a public health perspective, this is one of the most exciting times that I can remember being in this profession.

So what do I do? I’m Director of LGBT HealthLink. It’s a federally funded program that provides technical assistance to all the federal grantees that are doing work in wellness and chronic disease, particularly related to tobacco disparities and cancer prevention. One of the cool things about this is I get to approach state health departments all around the country. Of course, I spend most of my time working outside of places like New York or California. Instead, I am invited by Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, etc.― states that have almost no contact with the LGBT communities except in their HIV programs. I get to fly in and talk to them about this is how these departments of health need to build relationships with the LGBT communities.

First let’s look at the landscape. What is the single entity that does more health care funding in this country than any other? The federal government. Federal Medicaid and Medicare programs spend more on health than anybody else. Who spends the second highest amount on healthcare funding? It’s the state governments.

As we see the excellent work coming out of Out2Enroll and other organizations, we as a community have put a lot of energy into trying to persuade federal health representatives to be LGBT inclusive. However, the state governments are actually something that we haven’t put nearly as much energy into. They’ve almost been given a pass from us so far. So, I get to work with a lot of the state departments of health and do a lot of cultural competency training with them. I also work out of CenterLink, which is the community of LGBT centers. We represent over 160 LGBT community centers, large and small, around the country. These community centers are where a lot of these frontline LGBT services occur.

So the question for today’s talk is: How do we build a culture of health in our communities? One of the first things we do when we visit a state such as Arkansas or Wisconsin is try to connect them with local LGBT health resources. When I trained the Mississippi State Department of Health staff (who unexpectedly turned out in droves to learn how to include an LGBT focus in their health work), my first step is to say, I need you to build bridges with the local LGBT communities. Unfortunately, in too many states, there aren’t enough LGBT community groups who do health work. One of the things we need to do is build that capacity.

Every other year, HealthLink surveys our 160 LGBT community centers. These were some of the findings in our most recent survey: LGBT centers do a lot of health activities. Sixty percent were training healthcare providers in how to be culturally competent and sixty five percent were doing wellness programming, initiatives such as tobacco control, eating better, exercising more, etc.

One of the things I want to stress is that cultural competency trainings and wellness programming are actually two areas where it’s almost impossible to obtain foundation funding. Local organizations are usually drawing from general operating money in order to provide those services. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is funding today’s health conference. I love that. Many years ago, we did a little campaign to persuade the Foundation to include more LGBT funding in its work. The president was nice enough to commit to more inclusion. As a result, I ended up getting a Robert Wood Johnson Tobacco Policy Change Award. This work was very successful. If you ask the people in Washington D.C. how their smoking ban was passed, they still credit the LGBT communities for playing a key role.

Now understand, I used to run teams of grant writers. Caitlin Ryan actually taught me how to do it. I’ve raised over $110 million through grant writing. I can do grant writing; I’ve got that down. But when Robert Wood Johnson asked me to raise a matching gift of only $50,000 to continue year two of this very successful tobacco-policy change work, I couldn’t get anywhere. The program folded. So as we think about the cultural competency trainings and wellness programs that happen, I need to point out how few foundation resources we have to support this key work.

Let’s examine this from another angle. HealthLink actively engages in needs assessments around the country. We’ve provided a stock needs assessment template and shepherded a few different states through this process. I want to share some of the findings from one particular state. I won’t even mention the state because the point is that I think it’s pretty representative of many states. Let’s just say it’s in the South and it’s a red state. So what are the people experiencing and what are they talking about in regard to their health priorities? In this state, 64% of the population reported that they feared coming out to their healthcare provider because they thought there was going to be negative reaction. Actually, you will find out that’s more than justified. I’m surprised it is not even higher, because one-half of the population has had a negative experience after coming out to a healthcare provider. 97% of the people in this survey wanted to incorporate more wellness strategies into their life. They want to eat better, exercise more, receive cancer screenings, and become tobacco-free. Yet, two-thirds of them had never seen any wellness program that had been tailored to the LGBT communities. And I am surprised it is not 100% of them, because I don’t think there has ever been a program tailored to us in this state.

Right now we have a wave of wellness activity around the country. Some of this is spurred by healthcare reform. If you are familiar with the federal statistics, you may know that almost $1 billion dollars hit the street in these grants called Communities Putting Prevention to Work and later Community Transformation Grants. This wellness funding was for cities, states and metropolitan areas around the country to build this wave of more farmers markets, bike paths, tobacco cessation programs, smoke-free housing, etc. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars that hit the streets the last five years, how many LGBT programs were funded? Two. That’s all I know about.

We have a culture shift right now towards wellness that is occurring across our country. If we talk about LGBT disparities, I’m sorry to say but I actually think that we are building a new LGBT disparity relating to wellness because we are not standing up and saying we need to be included in funding.

Let’s go back to our needs assessment, what do the people in this state say are their top health issues?

  1. Suicide
  2. Mental health
  3. Bullying
  4. HIV
  5. Access to healthcare

A couple notes about these findings: First, let’s talk about the single issue that has taken more years off of our lives than any other. According to the CDC, there is one health challenge that is currently predicted to kill a million of us. And there are only nine million of us in the country, right? A million of us will die early from this health issue and it’s not on this list. What is it? It’s smoking. Right now LGBT people in our communities spend $7.9 billion a year on cigarettes. The last time we checked that was 65 times more than the grant funding for all LGBT issues combined. Smoking is actually the ninth health issue; unfortunately, because most of the funders and policy makers rarely include us in their tobacco control funding, we don’t often see it as one of our priorities. Still, tobacco is by far the thing that is going to affect more of us than any other health challenge.

The health priority that was dead last was cancer. If you noticed in the recently released LGBT Vital Funding health report, there is $4 million given out annually for LGBT cancer. Who is funding most all of it? The Komen Foundation. So our cancer funding is exclusively for cancers related to women. Do you know that gay men have rates up to 34 times higher than other men for anal cancer? There is almost no funding for that at all right now. Do you know that if you are HIV-positive and you have your meds under control, the top two reasons you are going to die are smoking and cancer? Again I must emphasize, these are two major funding gaps.

Let’s look at what the LGBT community members did identify as their top health issues: suicide, mental health, bullying. What do I conclude from this information? That right now, we don’t yet have a culture of health in our communities. Right now, we have a culture of survival. We are very crisis driven.

Let me give you an example of how this plays out. We contacted LGBT community centers earlier this year. We asked, ”What would it take for you to pass a wellness policy? A policy of committing to offering healthy food, exercise options and generally promoting health within your organization?” Now understand, these are organizations that already do health work in most cases. It was really interesting because of one of the primary reactions we received was, “We can’t go there because we are too crisis-based right now. We have another suicidal youth coming to our door; another homeless adult; another person whose parents are being horrible to them.” It’s a day-to-day crisis. This really shows we don’t have enough capacity in the organizations that are doing the frontline work so that they can build programming that feeds larger community level goals.

Where does this culture of crisis come from? We know according to GLSEN school climate survey that 85% of our LGBT youth experience verbal harassment in the last year. We know that 56% experience discrimination. We’re raising community members that are experiencing stigma from the earliest point in their life. How much is really being done for youth to find a place where that stigma can be neutralized? Where they can be inoculated against it? 90% of the LGBT community centers right now are doing youth work. They are often the frontline places, along with the GSA networks, where the youth are congregating. Too often in this work right now, there is nothing coordinating these groups. My organization, which is the national association of the community centers, has a program called YouthLink to do just that. Arcus had funded that program, and that’s great. But right now there’s no one supporting that coordination. We are still trying to look for more resources to share lessons between these youth organizations. There also isn’t a big youth conference and the GSA networks don’t have a single convening body. Our youth work, if anything right now, is concentrated in national groups that do not do local programming and offer little coordination for the many local groups. These groups are valuable, but we should be able to access funding to build and sustain local work as well. We know these stressors experienced by our youth translate directly into health disparities for our adult population.

That’s my overview of where we stand with our health culture. Now I am going to suggest three opportunities that I believe will build us towards a culture of health as quickly as possible.

The third tier level of opportunity is to fund early.

As I said, social determinants of health demonstrate anything that happens earlier in life has a larger effect on the trajectory of your whole life. The more we do to stabilize those youth programs and those youth that are experiencing discrimination, the better off the whole population will be five, 10, and 15 years from now.

So what is the second tier level of opportunity? To fund technical assistance so we can move our organizations into bigger funding streams.

States are the number-two health funders, right? And just so you know, the second most likely topic for states to fund (beyond HIV) is youth services. But out of all the organizations we asked, 40% said that their states were not welcoming the LGBT issues. So I want to ask: are we okay with that? Do we feel comfortable with the fact that 40% of states are refusing to fund LGBT health? Hopefully not. Hopefully, that’s something we really will change. I love Kellan Baker’s message that we need to do more administrative health advocacy work. That’s exactly what it will take to change the state funding patterns. We need to hold the states to a higher level of accountability, as we’ve been holding the feds to a higher level of accountability. But accountability alone won’t fully solve this problem. Another barrier we have is that proposals to states and the federal agencies are much more complicated than the ones to foundations. 70% of the community centers say that they have problems applying for state and federal proposals because they have staffing issues, staffing limitations, and not enough expertise. For example, recently, there was a federal pot of funding for racial and ethnic minority wellness programming. It was called REACH. And let’s put it this way, it would have benefited them to fund an LGBT organization. So I called a racial and ethnic minority LGBT organization that we all know does excellent work― and asked them please try to put in a proposal for this money. It was a significant award. Bless them; they tried. About halfway through, they admitted we just don’t have the capacity to do the grant development. Therefore, the second thing I’d say is that it would be great to have more technical assistance for people to do state health advocacy and grant writing. Why not fund some national grant writers who are on call to help local organizations get into bigger funding streams? It’s a small investment that could create new funded local programs all over the country.

Now we’ve reached onto my first-tier opportunity to build a culture of health. This is the single strategy I think would be the most important to accomplish, and funders are in a particular position to do it. Better yet, it doesn’t involve one single grant.

When we saw how Community Transformation Grants essentially skipped our communities, we started to build a set of recommendations of how the next Request for Applications (RFA) could be LGBT welcoming. Not even just LGBT welcoming but LGBT encouraging.

We thought about how we train health providers to be culturally competent and realized, Why not ask funders to be culturally competent as well? So we created a set of LGBT cultural competency standards for funders. These standards weren’t complicated; they basically conveyed a single message: whenever you fund population-based work, make sure you ask for some LGBT tailored work in the proposal’s action plan. Usually you do this in the same way you’d ask for work to be tailored to overlapping disparity populations, like racial and ethnic minorities or low-income people, etc. But don’t just mention the words LGBT in the RFA. Specifically ask for steps in their action plan. Score applicants on inclusion. It’s that simple.

What if every LGBT funder here joins Grantmakers in Health, attends their meetings, and asks what each health funder is doing to ensure LGBT inclusion in their mainstream funding? In the health world LGBT funding is only a tiny sliver of the pie. But if you can step up and ensure the rest of the pie includes tailored work for us, that’s the real win. What if Funders for LGBTQ Issues put out a policy statement of what LGBT cultural competence is in health funding? The 2011 LGBT Institute of Medicine report has a great model on this. They recommended to NIH that all of their research proposals must either include LGBT people or justify exclusion to avoid getting a lower score. What if that model was adopted by all health funders around the country? That’s where we don’t just have the power of the people in the room, but now we’ve leveraged our voices to influence a much larger stream of funding.

So what’s my first tier opportunity? The single best way to achieve a culture of health in the LGBT communities is by creating a culture of LGBT in health funding.

Thank you.

Huffington Post LGBT Wellness

LGBT Wellness Roundup: October 5

As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at: http://ow.ly/DhVNO

Each week HuffPost Gay Voices, in a partnership with bloggers Liz Margolies and Scout, brings you a round up of some of the biggest LGBT wellness stories from the past seven days. For more LGBT Wellness, visit our page dedicated to the topic here. The weekly LGBT Wellness Roundup can also now be experienced as a video — check it out above.


New Mexico Convenes a Large LGBTQ Health Summit

Director of LGBT HealthLink

This year’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Summit in New Mexico was all about health, tackling the topic: “New directions for LGBTQ health and wellbeing.” I had the pleasure of being invited to give a keynote and it was a packed house. Almost 200 people crowded into the University of New Mexico auditorium on a Saturday to spend dawn til dusk hearing about health concerns of subpopulations in the larger LGBTQ communities and to discuss what was working and what needed to be done about those things that weren’t working. I especially liked the gender diversity panel and to hear how their state equality group has really taken a leadership role on fighting for health equality. Best yet though was being reacquainted with the longstanding LGBT tobacco control project in that state, some may remember STOMP, it’s now be rebranded to Fierce Pride and I assure you their presence was exactly that, fierce and fun.

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Me happily posing with members of the local CenterLink affiliate: Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico.

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Sample of promotional material from Fierce Pride NM. Love the Espanol!

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Can You Help Your State Incl LGBT in Their 5 Yr Tobacco Plan? 2 Webinars Thu.

Director of LGBT HealthLink
What’s our October focus? Glad you asked. All state departments of health are busy responding now to a once every five year chance for them to write a proposal for more federal tobacco money. And for the first time we’ve succeeded in making sure LGBT was mentioned as a population they needed to address in the funding announcement!
So for the next four weeks states are crafting their five year tobacco plans, and we are working with everyone who can help the states know what to plan regarding LGBT integration.
If you’re a community member who wants to help coach your state reps into doing a good job on this, please join our webinar 1 pm EST Thursday to learn who your state rep is, and what language you can suggest they include. Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/924812785628775426
And if you’re a state rep trying to do this well, join us an hour later, at 2 pm EST Thu for a star studded lineup of other state reps who’ve done successfully LGBT integration into different facets of their programs. Register here: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6032220218508789250
Remember when states integrate LGBT focus into this work they:
  • collect data on us
  • fund local community based organizations
  • do cult comp training
  • conduct local needs assessments
  • include us in their advisory bodies
  • Did I mention fund local community based organizations?

Let’s do this!


Network Pitches HuffPost to Launch Wellness Page & They Do!!!

Director of CenterLink’s Network for LGBT Health Equity

I assure you, we have plenty of ideas which are horrible, but some of them are good, and a few might even be great. Last Fall, as the head of the Cancer Network (Liz) and I were talking over how to spread more LGBT wellness messages we tossed around a bunch of ideas. Our running favorite for the longest time was to start a new blog, one that had less policy (like this one) and more of a focus on wellness things individuals could do. (Because really, this blog spends a lot of time talking public health wonk talk, and we hear there are some people who couldn’t care less about that. <– crazy tho that may seem) We even came up with a name: Rainbow Chard. (Come on, crack at least a small chuckle, ok?)Screenshot 2014-02-24 12.30.55

But why have an ok idea if a great idea is waiting in the wings? All my media friends keep saying, “don’t start a new blog, write for someone else”. So that got me thinking, and long and we thought, what if we could get the largest LGBT media outlet to start a page focused on LGBT wellness? We immediately sent off an email and asked the intrepid Noah Michelson, the editor of Huffington Post’s super popular Gay Voices page if he’d meet with us and within a day we were sitting in the Huffington Post fancy offices (I’m not sure Noah has an office, I think we met under a stairwell) telling him how no one was talking about how the whole wellness revolution was affecting queers, and we had this vision of a new Gay Voices page which could be an anchor for wellness writ large. Social support, getting over barriers to healthcare, exercising more, eating better, staying tobacco free, taking care of our mental health, everything we do to make ourselves healthier every day — Gay Voices could have one page showcasing all of this.
Little did we know we arrived at just the perfect time. Noah told us all about how Arianna Huffington had been talking with a mutual friend, Hilary Rosen, about what else, what else went into a life well lived beyond the usual suspects, money and power. Hilary hit the nail on the head, “So you’re looking for the third metric?” And if you notice, there’s been a whole upsurgence of #thirdmetric focused reporting across the whole Huffington Post website ever since. Well… our idea was a perfect fit with this concept. To our surprise, and happiness, Noah was on board right away. Let’s do this!
Let’s also give a little context. As Noah told us that day, Huffington Post Gay Voices gets 80k people visit it every day to see what’s new. That’s huge, 80k people a day going to the site to find out whassup. That’s not even counting the number of people reading stories which are pushed out.
So after a swath of planning time, we could not be more proud to report that Huffington Post has now launched their new Gay Voices Wellness section. Now their reporters and bloggers can tag stories to go straight to this page, or you can visit it to get all your LGBT wellness inspiration. Liz and I have promised to blog like mad for the page, and we’re trying to get other HuffPost bloggers turned on to post more health stories as well. So make it your goto for health and be sure to send kudos to Huffington Post as well! Check the page out directly here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/lgbt-wellness/.

Hello from PROMO & SAGE Metro St. Louis’ LGBT Health Policy Change Project

Tracey PROMOTracy McCreery
Manager of Public Policy, PROMO

Hi, my name is Tracy, and yes, like Scout said in his intro post, I’ve been leading an LGBT health policy change project in Missouri for the last year. It’s really been a fascinating journey, and as I get ready to end my tenure on this project (and move onto running for public office again!) I’d like to talk about some of the strategies we’ve used and the lessons we’ve learned. As you can guess, there have been a few surprises en route!

Rather than reinventing the wheel, we looked at the criteria the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) used for their Healthcare Equality Index (HEI)- a good benchmark to use for measuring policies. The HEI’s “Core Four” criteria for LGBT patient-centered care are 1. patient non-discrimination 2. equal visitation 3. employment non-discrimination and 4. training in LGBT patient-centered care.  One of the bonuses of using the HRC tool is that it has allowed for collaboration with local HRC folks. So few institutions respond, we realized one of the things we had to work on was getting more to fill out the survey. We focused on the biggest employers in the state, because the HEI looks at policies not just with consumers but with employees too.

We found a list of the 50 biggest private employers in the state, then prioritized seven of the biggest hospital systems to focus on initially. Then we started our legwork, trying to see what we could discover about their protective policies by searching online. We knew this, only one had even filled out the HEI the year before. But to our surprise, we found many more with protective policies. But frankly some of those policies existed but were not well publicized at all. You’d think if we just searched for LGBT on their website it would all come up, but that wasn’t always the case.

This led to a discussion about what were the necessary components to effective policy change. Ultimately, we all agreed — policy changes without adequate promotion aren’t real policy change at all. If a patient isn’t easily provided with the information that they have protections against discrimination, then are they really protected?

After doing this research we realized our change needed to focus on both policy adoption, and policy promotion. It seemed like getting agencies to promote policies they already had would be easy, so we tried to focus there first.

One of the challenges is finding the right person to contact at each institution who would even know the information to answer the HEI. You have to call and call and be transferred all over, it can be really challenging. The hospital that had a department focused on diversity and inclusion was the easiest, but no one else had a department like that. Overall we never found a single rule to help identify who the key person who might be in charge of adopting or promoting policies, we just called the front desk and started asking around.

Stay tuned, next post I’ll talk about our first hospital system.

Lessons from a Big State LGBT Health Policy Change Project

Director of CenterLink’s Network for LGBT Health Equity

Who’s got some of the best funded and staffed health policy change work in the country? Stop thinking coasts, because the answer will surprise you… Missouri. For a little over a year now the Missouri Foundation for Health has been funding locals to use their civil rights skills to change health policies to better serve the long overlooked LGBT population.

MO Group Photo
SAGE’s Sherrill Wayland and PROMO’s Tracy McCreery with Scout & Gustavo

For the last year we’ve had the pleasure of being the technical assistance provider to this Missouri-based collaboration aimed at changing health policies in the state to support LGBT health. Now we know health policy change is the most durable way to invest resources, because it lasts long after the funding is gone. We also know that the focus on policy change has really been amped up in recent years. Beyond that we know one more thing: there are very few resources to find out how to do policy change for LGBT wellness. Many of us are incorporating policy change into our goals, but it’s a newer field for the arena, we have fewer precedents to guide us. That’s why we are pleased to introduce a tiny series of blogs from the great folk in Missouri – telling us some of the lessons they’ve learned in the last year of LGBT health policy change work there.

Without further ado, please welcome Tracy McCreery, from the Missouri equality advocacy organization, PROMO. Tracy and the head of their partner group, Sherrill Wayland from SAGE Metro St. Louis, are the two person team who’s trying to change LGBT health in Missouri, one policy at a time.


Introducing our Collaboration with the National LGBT Cancer Network!

Director of CenterLink’s Network for LGBT Health Equity
As we rebuild and retool under the new cancer & tobacco cooperative agreement there’s lots of great things percolating that we want to tell you about. First and foremost, let’s introduce our newest compatriots in the fight. Because when CDC told us to expand into LGBT cancer we of course reached out to the experts — the National LGBT Cancer Network! So we are now formal partners on this cooperative agreement so you’ll see lots of stuff coming out from them in the coming months.
You’re jumping into the story right as the Cancer Network starts with a splash, because this week they’re a historic event… but let me not tell you about it, let me instead introduce one of our new regular contributors, the Executive Director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, Ms. Liz Margolies.

Summary of Our 1st Career Dev Webinar: LGBT Opportunities at NIH

Director of CenterLink’s Network for LGBT Health Equity
Are you a student interested in health? Then we need you to get graduated and trained as fast as possible — because we desperately need more leaders in LGBT health and health research. We’ve got major gaps in LGBT health research, esp in tobacco & cancer & subpopulation disparities… and we know we won’t get those gaps filled until we expand the pipeline of incoming researchers. The Network for LGBT Health Equity has had great experiences in youth development over the years, and we’ve had some really positive collaborations with junior researchers, see our recent Huffington Post piece as one example of that fruit. So we love spreading the word about health needs through the ranks of next leaders and clearly offering you career development insights is one smart way to do that. So — if you weren’t able to join us for the NIH leadership webinar, see some highlights here, and if you’re interested in being notified of future health leadership development opportunities, email us directly at healthnetwork@lgbtcenters.org.

Our birdseye view into Dr. Milgram's office as she trained us on NIH training.
Our birdseye view into Dr. Milgram’s office as she trained us on NIH training.
Dr. Sharon Milgram is the head of NIH’s Intramural Office of Training & Education. She gave us a great romp through the many training opportunities NIH has for everyone from high school students (Summer Internship Program) through to postdocs. First step in finding out about most of these is heading off to http://www.training.nih.gov and exploring the options that fit you. Actually that Summer Internship Program (SIP) is one of the most popular programs and a great way to start off before you go for more indepth commitments, (like their sweet $20k a year scholarship programs). If you want to get in the SIP they’ve got a video on the website about how to apply. Important thing to know is that the application just puts you in the database for folk to search, in order to really be in contention you need to find researchers whose work interests you and contact them. Now to be fair, one of the webinar folk searched the intramural research database and not one instance of “LGBT” or even “gay” research is in it… so Sharon urges us to be openminded about what we can maybe add a good LGBT perspective to! And if you can’t figure out which scientists have work that fits, Sharon has offered to be a matchmaker for folk, you can contact her directly at milgrams@od.nih.gov, and tell her we sent you!

I’m not sure I can wait long enough for the youth of today to take over the world, so again if you’re interested in more career development webinars like the one today, email us directly at healthequity@lgbtcenters.org and we’ll contact you when we run the next webinar.