Just too fabulous for Beyond Fabulous?

e.Shor and I ready to party!
Photo by Lucreshia Grant

by Alex Iantaffi, Guest Blogger

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

After a day of talks and networking, this queer was definitely ready to party when the Summit ended on August 14th! I was excited to be invited to attend “Beyond Fabulous”, an event organized by rescueSCG+ especially for Summit participants. The fact that it was labelled “The LGBT Anti-Tobacco Event Experience” only increased my enthusiasm for this event. Although I am mainly a sexual health and HIV prevention researcher, I am passionate about tobacco prevention and cessation. I was brought up by a heavy smoker who eventually died of lung cancer, and both my mother and I suffer from asthma. When I came out (a few times, in three countries), it broke my heart to see how deeply my communities had been targeted and affected by the tobacco industry. I witness the daily struggles that too many LGBT people close to my heart face when trying to quit smoking. The LGBT Anti-Tobacco Event Experience could only be beyond fabulous, as far as I was concerned.

I am sad to report that instead I ended up feeling invisible, unwelcome, and quite stressed at the end of the event. Despite the best of intentions, the images, and the language used by MC and performer/special guest alike did not reflect the existence of B or T in our communities, in my opinion. The lack of visible, accessible, all-genders restroom in an unfamiliar venue only added to this sense of alienation. After a day of feeling energized, included, and visible, it was challenging to face the shadow sides of our community once again. I thought long and hard whether to blog about this, as I didn’t want to be negative about a generously sponsored event for the Summit. In the end I decided I needed to.

For me, it was just a couple of hours of annoyance, disappointment, and temporary stress. I am 41 years old and I have trodden a long road towards embracing just how fabulous I am. However, on entering the venue, we were invited to imagine being a 21+ LGBT young person. If I had been that person, I believe the event would have had a deeper impact on me. I imagined feeling alone, and possibly scared, in a place that should have been a safer place. I imagined how badly I might have wanted a cigarette, a drink, or anything else that could have possibly helped to ease the pain of invisibility among “my own people”. I asked myself whether it would have made a difference if I had been an L/G, rather than a B/T person in our rainbow. Then I remembered the perfectly toned and partially nude bodies in the room, and on the screen. Bodies that did not look like me, not even at 21, or like many people I know. I thought of the eating disorders that are so sadly common among young gay/bi men. I thought of the body image issues that are so rife in our communities. What is the impact of celebrating those same bodies that the overculture tells us are beautiful? Not smoking is indeed sexy. I could not agree with the message more. But could sexy be also larger, darker skinned, gender non-conforming, (dis)abled, bi/queer/fluid, trans*?

I know that The LGBT Network for Health Equity is committed and devoted to our communities, to our health and to our right to thrive in an overculture that does not often give us space to be our fabulous selves. I have seen that commitment and devotion throughout the day at the Summit. I hope that next year there can be a truly fabulous event, where we can bring our whole selves to celebrate our whole movement.

“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!

Support, Love & Knowledge!

Photo by Lucreshia Grant

 

by Alex Iantaffi, Guest Blogger

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

 

 

Balloons!

Support, Love & Knowledge were called for by the youth participants on August 14th, during the closing plenary. Thanks to generous sponsorship by great organizations, such as the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society, Missouri Foundation for Health, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, the National Latino Tobacco Control Network, and many others, this year there were two dozen young people attending the Summit. As an older transgender and queer-identified person, who is dedicated to co-creating a legacy of healthier LGBTQA communities, I felt energized by the presence of so many inspiring younger participants! Not only I had a blast working alongside many of them the afternoon before the Summit, figuring out how to make balloon columns, I was also fortunate enough to listen to the lunchtime panel and the summary agenda shared by participants in the Youth Track at the end of the day.

The Youth Panel talked about the importance of involving young people in organizations in meaningful ways, moving beyond tokenizing, and towards full respect for what young people can bring to the table. I thought that the Summit this year gave us an example of what substantive involvement of young people in our movement looks like, and how powerful it is! By the end of the Summit, in fact, the Youth Track had created its own agenda of priorities and action points. Here it’s my summary of that agenda, hoping that I have captured all the main points:

  • increase cultural competence among health professionals;
  • acknowledge that there are disparities between groups within our own LGBTQ communities;
  • increase visibility of The Network for LGBT Health Equity;
  • advocate for more funding for LGBTQ youth programs to offer social support.

I know these priorities will inform my own research and practice as a public health researcher and community activist. How do you feel about them? What are our priorities for LGBTQ health and how do we keep involving young people in meaningful and substantial ways? I would love to hear your ideas/comments/opinions! Thanks.