“If we are not counted, we don’t exist”


Kansas City View

by Alex Iantaffi, Guest Blogger

Reporting on The 8th National LGBT Health Equity Summit (Kansas City, MO)

One of the threads throughout the Summit was the importance of being visible in policy, research and practice. While introducing the MPOWERED document in the Opening Plenary, Dr. Francisco Butching highlighted why monitoring is so important by reminding us all that “if we are not counted, we don’t exist”. As someone who does not often find a box to tick on surveys or health forms, I am a believer! In fact, my own budding NIH study focusing on Deaf Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) will include trans masculine folks, and I am delighted to be able to set my own questions, separating sex assigned at birth from gender identity. But let’s get back to the Summit and the other believers who also called for increased visibility of our communities.

Juan Carlos Verga gave us some great insights into what including the T, when building an LGBTA Health Alliance, looks like. One of the take-home messages focused on the need to be aware of what issues might impact our communities’ health, such as violence stemming from stigma and discrimination. We cannot support people in making healthier choices if they are anxious about their own and their friends’ survival. However, we can monitor and record the impact of those issues on our communities’ health to increase our potential impact on institutional changes, like The Puerto Rico Citizens Alliance Pro Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, and Ally Health (PRCAPH-LGBTTA) has.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the panel discussion facilitated by e.Shor on “Research to Practice”. For this session, Dr. Jane McElroy and Dr. Phoenix A.K. Matthews, gave two great presentations showing not only how to monitor our communities, but also how to create meaningful programs to address some of the disparities faced by our communities. Dr. Matthews in particular discussed the development, implementation, and evaluation of two smoking cessation programs: Bitch to Quit! for LGBT communities, and Project Exhale, for African American MSM smokers who are HIV+. The latter was, for me, a great example of why it is essential to integrate tobacco prevention and cessation programs into a broader vision of wellness for our communities. Many of us face multiple challenges in an environment that is often hostile, or oblivious to our identities. Those challenges, combined with invisibility and/or outright stigma and discrimination require robust, and holistic approaches to health promotion. Tobacco cessation programs cannot ignore the context in which we live, or the impact this has on our whole health.

We indeed exist, and public health professionals, organizations, and institutions need to be accountable for counting, including, and finally recognizing our existence, and the disparities our communities face. For a day, it was fantastic to be in a room with so many other people who were also believers. Thank you Network for LGBT Health Equity for bringing us together. I am already excited about next year’s Summit!

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