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Passing the Skinny, Young, Good-Looking Guys


As published on Huffington Post’s new LGBT Wellness blog, see original at:

As I travel around the country for the Network for LGBT Health Equity, I get to hear the greatest stories from people. I heard a local newspaper profiled Robert Boo’s incredible wellness story, so I asked him to tell me more.

It all started with the Smart Ride, a 165-mile bike ride that raises money for HIV/AIDS. Robert Boo is the Chief Executive Officer of The Pride Center, Ft. Lauderdale’s LGBT community center, so he was crewing for the event.

People tried to get me to ride the first year and I was like ‘Are you crazy?’ But then I’m driving the van and I’m seeing all these people who were older and more physically challenged than I am so I thought, ‘there goes my excuse.’ Then as I watched all these people cross the finish line. It was so emotional I was crying; I wanted to do it.

“One of my board members does triathlons, he saw I was interested and next thing you know he’s taking me out to shop for all this gear.” Robert laughs, “I looked like a stuffed sausage in my lycra.” Had he even ridden a bike recently? “Oh I used to have one, but I was tired of using it to dry clothes, so I gave it away.”

So Robert started training with the other riders, and eventually he got rid of the shirt and shorts he was wearing on top of his lycra. “Come to find out I loved the riding, I loved everything about it. And it turns out I was really good. Here were all these really skinny, young, good-looking guys in their biker shorts looking all pretty. And I was all sweaty and gross-looking but I could go faster than them.”

Robert was riding every weekend, making new friends, slowly building his mileage up to 150 miles a week of riding. “I got hooked into it and then the weight just started coming off. I modified my diet a bit too and over the course of eight months I lost 75 pounds. People couldn’t believe it, it was a whole new me.” I asked him if he’d ever imagined losing that much weight. “No, I’d tried before of course, but I just came to terms with being ‘big boned.’ So now it’s wild.”

Then the day of the big ride came. This time Robert wasn’t behind a wheel, he was out there with everyone else raising money for The Pride Center and it felt great. “It’s not a race, it’s not a competition, but on the first day out of 480 riders I came in 30th. And I’m an HIV positive 53-year-old!” he adds. “It was wonderful, I felt like I could have ridden the whole 165 miles that day.” When he crossed the finish line the second day he was crying again, but this time for intensely personal reasons, “I never expected how much it would change my life.”

It’s been a year since that fateful ride; one of the things Robert didn’t expect is how much of an impact his journey would have on everyone else around him. “So many people come up to me and say I inspired them to start training and working on their own health.” Knowing that he’s become a role model for others helps Robert too, “I know I have to keep the weight off, so I’m swimming several times a week. People tell me they could never do it but I just say ‘seriously if I can do it, anyone can.’ There’s nothing special; I hate going to the gym but I like being outside so that’s why cycling worked for me.”

The Pride Center offers senior wellness classes several days a week, Robert used to go by the classes as he gave tours and they’d always beg him to come in, now he happily jokes they’re not working hard enough. “They’re almost religious about those classes, I love seeing that enthusiasm.” The Pride Center also offers a LGBT health directory of welcoming doctors and runs cancer support groups in conjunction with the local Gilda’s club chapter.

Robert finds himself the unofficial mascot of wellness at the Pride Center but is more than pleased he’s in that role. For him the ride was the beginning of a lifetime commitment and all the people he’s inspired are in turn inspiring him to new heights. As we end the interview his face breaks into a big grin, “I even just competed in my first triathlon. Bucket list: check!”



I ended this conference on a great note. A powerful note. I listened to some stories from queer people about their experiences accessing health care. It was a panel of local folks from Bloomington, a variety of ages and experiences. I was not necessarily blown away by any of their personal tales, but it reminded me of the importance of story telling in our community. Sharing our experiences with health care, whether good or bad, is vital to reshaping our access and vital to our community health.

As a public health person I am constantly being barraged with epidemiology, and i love a good frequency like the next queer, but the stories are so important to finding the heart of the matter. The stories help researchers understand why people feel uncomfortable in the waiting room and then how to train clinic staff on understanding gender identity. The stories inform us about what is behind the statistics…after all statistics represent trends, but stories represent the people.

jeez, i am such a bleeding heart queer.

hearts to you,




thoughts of e.shor

CBPR stands for community based participatory research. CBPR is my personal heaven because it means that I get to sit around a table in community and have good, hard discussion that drive research about public health in community.

Today, from keynote speaker Dr. Joshua Rosenberger, i learned to reconceptualize CBPR in a couple of different ways. I was excited to stretch my brain this way. Dr. R consults and does public health research with a series of companies in the online dating-sex-seeking world for men who have sex with men (MSM). I’m sure you have heard of Manhunt, Grindr, Adam 4 Adam…etc. The “C” in CBPR in his research applies to both community (online community) and corporation, which puts a whole new set of expectations on the development these relationships. I was impressed with the research teams ability to utilize the CBPR model to engage this important trend in MSM sexual health. Getting in touch with the people who are using the internet for sex and dating is super hard, because the internet allows for quick interactions and a lot of anonymity.

Since my arrival at this conference I had been a bit wary of the fact that Grindr and Manhunt were listed in the program as sponsors of the LGBTI Health Summit. It just did not sit right with me. I realize that finding sex online is a reality, and I have no issue with casual consensual sexual activity. However, I do think that apps like Grindr and Manhunt create a culture of miscommunication or no-communication about sexual health between partners, because you literally do not have to talk to make the hook up happen. This is visible in the rise of HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) among MSM…in Minnesota we have seen a rise in HIV, syphilis, and chlamydia (MN Dept of Health 2010 Report). Now, I have not done any studies or statistical analysis myself to prove that there is a correlation between easier access to sex through apps and rising HIV/STI rates, but I feel like it is a pretty intuitive connection.

Again, I do not at all think getting it on is bad, and I am so happy that so many queerz are finding each other to copulate, but I am also super glad that people like Dr. R are conducting public health research on the implications of sites like Manhunt and Grindr so that public health professionals, direct services providers and communities can get their acts in order to provide culturally competent sexual health interventions.



by e.shor

The discussion of HIV has “traditionally” been centered around gay men in the LGBTQI community, but in the last ten years we have found more information on the intersections of HIV with communities of color, transgender folks (mostly transgender women, but not exclusively), and people over the age of 50. I mention these populations because they do not necessarily get a lot of press time with HIV research and prevention…and they should.

Robert Valadéz from the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in NYC gave some really helpful information about HIV transmission and trends in adults over 50. This is a growing body of literature and there is more and more community support for prevention and interventions. Here are some things we learned about:

In 2005, Persons Aged 50 and Older accounted for (CDC 2007):

  • 15% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses
  • 24% of persons living with HIV/AIDS (increased from 17% in 2001)
  • 19% of all AIDS diagnoses.
  • 29% of persons living with AIDS.
  • 35% of all deaths of persons with AIDS.

So…these are some startling statistics. I am excited that we are talking about the jump in prevalence  from 17% (2001) to 27.4% (2007) for older adults that are 50+. This is a community that is overlooked so often in regards to sexual health education and prevention because for some reason we don’t like about older folks having sex. Well it is clear that this social stigma about sex among 50+ people is manifesting in some unfortunately public health issues, including growing rates of HIV and STI transmission. Let’s strip back a little of the stigma around sex among 50+ people and starting showing some respect to the folks who laid our histories.

CDC. HIV/AIDS Surveillance Report, 2005. Vol. 17. Rev ed. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2007:1–54.


Sunday Keynote: Cindy Stone

by e.shor

Cindy Stone = education and entertainment!

This afternoon Cindy presented a dynamic view into the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) and her experiences with being diagnosed and living with an intersex condition. To quote ISNA, “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” Cindy talked to us about the diversity of what this means…there are many different ways that this can manifest physically. Literally for some, this means having genitalia that do not look like a “traditional” penis or vagina (i air quoted tradition because I do not believe there is a TRADITIONAL set of genitalia out there), and for some this means having a seemingly “normal” external genitalia with internal anatomy that do not match the external (same goes for NORMAL). Sometimes the latter intersex condition can mean that someone with an external vagina may have testes internally and sometimes an XY chromosome. Here is a little video to help with the understanding…

I hope this is not confusing, because ultimately, what all of the discussions that I have had about intersex identities and conditions have come down to for me is this:

Every Body is Different. 

However, it is not that easy is it? It is not that easy because health care providers have been historically taking it into their own hands to prescribe gender to people at birth based on what genitals are between their legs…this is a problem when a doctor or a parent or a whoever decides to surgically alter a baby’s genitals to match some “traditional” allotment of gender. This surgery can harm or permanently distress a person’s ability to have sexual response. This surgery also brings up a whole host of ethical issues.

It is not easy because our health care system is not set up give access to people with bodies (or genders or sexualities) that are different. How do we increase access to proper, culturally appropriate care for intersex folks where the judgement and stigma about their bodies is not an issue. My only thought is to retrain our societal brain and then retrain doctor brains to reconceptualize “what the human body should look like.”

It isn’t easy because sex and gender are inextricably linked for a good portion of society. All of the stories of abuse of intersex folks, the surgery horror stories, the gender counseling, the putting of people in tidy boxes, it all comes down to gender liberation.


Sunday FUNday

by e.shor

It is SUNDAY FUNDAY here at the LGBTI Health Conference! The organizing committee has planned some fun local tours and activities, like a wine tour and a tour of Bloomington…which is quite a charming little town. As for the rest of the day, today is a day for Town Hall gatherings at the conference to discuss and brainstorm community wide issues and particular concerns/ideas within different populations in the LGBTQI community. I am ready to listen…

Speaking of charming, check out that picture of me in front of Dat’s On Grant, a local creole/cajun restaurant that leaves you sweating and singing with joy. I like bright colors, which is why I chose it, but the food was fantastico!


Stuck in Milwaukee

by e.shor

The 2011 LGBTI Health Conference could not have come at a better time. I love a good conference just as much as any other justice minded queer, but on top of that, here in Minnesota we are dealing with some very real issues directly impacting LGBTQI health. Let me paint a picture for you…

14 days ago the Minnesota State Government shut down. Due to a partisan stalemate 22,000 Minnesotans were laid off from their jobs and thousands of health care services were limited or cut. Currently one the whispers from the legislature is “lez cut tobacco cessation and prevention money.” I don’t know if you all knew, but smoking prevalence is significantly higher in LGBTQI communities and the tobacco industry has us targeted in their marketing plans as a “vulnerable population.” It is queers, people of color, low-income folks that are the foci in the tobacco industry tornado, and it sure would be nice for some of those tobacco tax dollars would to go towards effective pubic health interventions directed at communities who need this support.

38 days ago the discrimination against transgender women of color in our criminal justice system was catapulted to the forefront of our community in Minneapolis. On June 5 a young transgender woman of color was the sole person arrested after she was the victim of a hate crime in front of a local tavern. She is being charged with the death of one of the perpetrators. As a community organizer I am not privy to the details of the case, but I know that violence was instigated through hate speech, oh, and a glass object thrown to her face. In prison she did not receive proper medical care and suffered from infections in her face, on top of being put in solitary confinement due to her trans identity. These are only two of the instances of violence that she endured since being added to the disproportionately long list of transgender women thrown in jail. Violence against transgender women of color is not just an issue in the prison industrial complex, but in the criminal justice system, the health care system, and pretty much every other SYSTEM out there.

So…I am going to this LGBTI Health Summit, and I am wondering what we as community are going to do to mitigate the violence against transgender women of color as a community health issue? And how are we going to talk about promoting healthy smoke free spaces and cessation programs to queer folks? Oh, and what do the conversations look like about homelessness, sex work, access to competent providers, transition care…and…and…we have a lot of learning and work to do.

For now I am stuck in the Milwaukee airport, but I am excited see you in Bloomington!

Scholarship Opportunity

Introducing Health Summit Blogging Scholar Emily (e.shor) Shor

by Emilia Dunham

Program Associate


We’re thilled to have Emily Shor who prefers e.shor represent us at the National LGBTI Health Summit in Bloomington Indiana! e.shor will be blogging for us, so follow all posts here throughout the weekend and next week!

e.shor is the Project Coordinator on a Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) grant through Rainbow Health Initiative to work on LGBTQ youth tobacco social media and policy building. This project will focus on preventative tobacco control methods by engaging community in LGBTQI specific media, training and advocacy around tobacco control. They are also working on community policies to reduce tobacco use in community spaces in the LGBTQI community in Minneapolis.

Here’s e.shor’s story:

When I emerged from the womb I had a mop of hair, a cheerful disposition and a healthy appetite. All of these things remain true. Let me extrapolate…My hair remains a part of my identity because it holds the buoyancy of my energy and a story of where my family has come from. My cheerful disposition usually manifests through bike rides where I sing to 80’s hair bands, bobbling around with people I love, and being soft and huggable. My healthy appetite is well-rounded and growing for hand-crafted foods, fruits and vegetables, social justice and anti-racism work, and growing strong queer communities.

Scholarship Opportunity

Scholarship Opportunity! National LGBTI Health Summit 2011

Emilia Dunham, Program Associate

The Network is once again offering a blogging scholarship opportunity! Please apply to be sent to a fantastic LGBTI health summit!

The 2011 National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex (LGBTI) Health Summit will be held in beautiful Bloomington, Indiana July 16-19 2011. The LGBTI Health Summit is an opportunity for individuals working for the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people to meet and share ideas about health issue of concern to our community.

Attendees are health activists, medical care professionals, alternative and complementary health providers, outreach workers, mental health practitioners and concerned community members and allies. With the theme of crossroads, we anticipate changes such as health care reform, issues of LGBTI individuals aging into a changing medical and insurance system, and state and federal legislation that prominently impacts our community.

For more on the conference, visit their website:


Applications are due Friday, July 8th, 2011 by noon EST.

Folks from ANY background, education and skill-levels are encouraged to apply.

Applications will only be accepted by email at

Please ensure the subject line reads: National LGBTI Health Summit 2011

To apply, please email BRIEF responses to the following questions:

1) Briefly describe why you want to go, and what you are hoping to get out of the conference:

2) Briefly describe what your involvement has been in tobacco control and other health arenas.

3) Briefly describe your experience using social media, especially writing blogs, and/or with promoting news through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

4) Please let us know whether you are comfortable posting 2-4 blog entries per day while at the LGBTI Health Summit Bloomingtonconference, distributing fliers for and representing the Network and have your own computer with wireless connection.

5) Briefly describe if you are from of an underserved population (transgender, person of color, low-income, etc)

6) Include where you would be coming from?

7) List whether you would need a Full or Partial scholarship?
(Please mark with an X if you are applying for Full Scholarship or Partial Scholarship)
If you choose partial scholarship, please mark with an X what funding categories you will be applying for.

___ Full Scholarship (Airfare, Hotel, Ground Transportation, Meals)


Partial Scholarship
___ Airfare
___ Food/Per Diem
___ Ground Transportation
___ Hotel (3-4 nights)

Applications will be reviewed by staff and decisions will be made no later than Monday, July 11th. If you have questions please contact


2011 National LGBTI Health Summit in Indiana: Call for Abstracts

Dear Colleagues,

Indiana University Health Bloomington and the Local Steering committee of the 2011 National LGBTI Health Summit are proud to announce our call for abstracts. Abstracts may be submitted at until April 15th, 2011.

We invite you to spend a few days in Bloomington working intensively with colleagues from all over the nation and world who are grappling with similar challenges, and engage in deep thinking and extended discussion about innovative programming related to the theme of “LGBTI Health: At the Crossroads.” We welcome presentations from diverse health care disciplines, community members, and anyone with a vested interest in addressing LGBTI health discrepancies. Based on the content of the abstracts accepted for workshop presentations, the workshop will be organized into tracks.

Workshop tracks/themes may include:

  • Mental health care
  • Health disparities by age
  • Health disparities by race or ethnicity
  • Health disparities by sex or gender
  • Health disparities by sexual orientation
  • Substance abuse
  • Policy/Health care reform
  • And more.

The 2011 National LGBTI Health Summit will be held in Bloomington, Indiana on July 16-19, 2011 at the Indiana Memorial Union on the campus of Indiana University. We would like to invite all members of the LGBTI Community and their allies to join us in beautiful, Bloomington, Indiana. Please feel free to forward this message!

Patrick Battani

2011 National LGBTI Health Summit