Komen controversy alarms LGBT health orgs

Posted on 16 Feb 2012 at 5:04pm

Dallas-based breast cancer agency funds many gay-related projects, centers; some leaders fear cuts after Planned Parenthood decision

SAYING GOODBYE  |  Karen Handel, shown waving to supporters during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign, resigned Feb. 7 as senior vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Associated Press)

SAYING GOODBYE  | Karen Handel, shown waving to supporters during her 2010 Georgia gubernatorial campaign, resigned Feb. 7 as senior vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. (Associated Press)

DANA RUDOLPH  |  Keen News Service

As the dust settles on the controversy over a decision by the nation’s largest organization fighting breast cancer to withdraw grants from the nation’s largest provider of services regarding reproduction, the LGBT community is taking stock of the damage and the potential damage.

Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced Jan. 31 that it would no longer provide grants to Planned Parenthood. Then, four days later, after being hit with a harsh public backlash, it reversed that decision. But the controversy has raised questions about the relationship between politics and philanthropy, and about whether LGBT health services could be the next to see their funds cut.

In response to a request for comment about LGBT health services, Komen’s media office said, “We are not doing media interviews at this time.”

Komen’s relationships with LGBT health organizations are long-standing and extensive. The Komen website lists more than 30 grants in total for LGBT-related breast health projects between 2007 and 2011. And Komen and its local affiliates help fund many major LGBT health centers, including the Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization; the Howard Brown Health Center (Chicago); Lyon-Martin Health Services (San Francisco); the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center (New York City); the LGBT Community Center (New York City); Fenway Health (Boston), and the Mazzoni Center (Philadelphia).

Komen said it withdrew the Planned Parenthood funding because it has a policy of not funding organizations under congressional investigation.

Last fall, U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., began an investigation into whether Planned Parenthood has illegally used federal money to fund abortion services. Stearns has long been known for his anti-abortion views. And many suspected Komen’s decision was less motivated by the “investigation” than for the politics, and they said so, loudly. Their suspicions were made all the stronger because Komen had hired Karen Handel as its senior vice president for public policy last April. Handel, during her unsuccessful run for Georgia governor in 2010, had promised to defund Planned Parenthood in that state, if elected. Handel also stated during her campaign that she opposed same-sex marriage, domestic partner health benefits and gay adoption. By Feb. 7, Handel had resigned from Komen, citing the controversy. But some have argued since then that Handel was just a symptom of the Komen board and CEO, Nancy Brinker, who hired her.

Lorri L. Jean, CEO of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, the largest LGBT community organization in the country, was one of the first to issue a statement on Feb. 1, saying Komen “has stunningly decided to shun its mission by siding with right-wing extremists rather than with low income women — including large numbers of lesbians and transgender women — at risk of breast cancer.” Many other groups and individuals criticized Komen’s decision, too, some vowing to withhold contributions and participation in Komen’s highly popular “Race for the Cure” events.

Liz Margolies, executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, said her group has never received Komen funding but said the defunding of Planned Parenthood would have been “a blow to the health of the LGBT community.” LGBT people, she said, experience “increased obstacles in accessing care and difficulty finding culturally competent providers,” along with lower rates of health insurance coverage. Planned Parenthood filled this gap for many LGBT people.

The Komen controversy raised additional concerns about future funding for LGBT health services.

The Mautner Project, a national lesbian health organization, currently has a $200,000, two-year grant from the central Komen organization’s National Capital Area Grants Program in Washington, D.C. The money forms approximately 10 percent of Mautner’s total budget. Leslie Calman, executive director of the Mautner Project, said in an interview that Komen has been an “extremely generous donor.” Mautner received a $500,000, two-year, capacity-building grant between 2008 and 2010 that “saved the Mautner Project” when it had been in danger of going under, she said.

In Chicago, Howard Brown Health Center received a $75,000 grant from Komen’s local affiliate in 2010 to support its Breast Health Awareness Peer Educator Project, “designed to encourage breast health conversation and education among sexual minority women of color over 40.”

Cindi Creager, a spokesperson for New York City’s LGBT Community Center, said the Center has received “varying levels of funding” from Komen Greater NYC since 2004, most recently, an $80,000 grant in 2010. The Center has a grant application pending for 2012.

Nurit Shein, executive director of the Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia, said her center has received $30,000 this year from Komen’s Philadelphia affiliate to do “education, clinical breast exams, and referrals to mammograms,” and has received similar grants for several years.

Wendy Stark, executive director of the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City, said the Komen affiliate has funded that Center for over 10 years. Dr. Anita Radix, director of research and education at Callen-Lorde, sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board. Among other things, Komen money supports the “very critical position” of a case manager in women’s health at Callen-Lorde. “We’ve found them to be very supportive of LGBT health,” said Stark.

The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has not received grants from Komen, but Jim Key, chief public affairs officer for the Center, said that, even though Komen reversed its decision regarding Planned Parenthood, the L.A. Center still “[finds] it distressing that the foundation was so willing to play politics at the expense of vital services such as breast cancer screenings.”

“If pro-choice organizations are first, we can’t help but wonder if LGBT organizations are next,” he said.

Nurit Shein in Philadelphia agreed, saying that Komen’s hiring of the anti-gay Handel made her wonder, “Are lesbians next?” after the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Shein also sits on Komen’s National Multicultural Advisory Board, which addresses issues of the LGBT community, among others. She said in an interview that she has been “sharing our disappointment and concerns” with Komen officials about the controversy. But she said the situation also indicates a “disconnect” between Komen’s local affiliates and its national headquarters. The Philadelphia affiliate “has been a true partner with us,” she asserted.

In Massachusetts, the state Komen affiliate in 2011 funded the annual Audre Lorde Cancer Awareness Brunch at Boston’s Fenway Health. Audre Lorde was a lesbian activist and writer who died in 1992 from breast cancer.

Boston’s Fenway Health Center spokesperson Philip Finch said, “We’d certainly be receptive to their funding it in the future, as long as they have policies which are supportive of women and women’s health,” such as the policy to fund Planned Parenthood again.

In a statement Feb. 3, Komen’s Brinker said, “We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.” She added that Komen will amend its grantmaking criteria “to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

And the Maunter Project’s Calman said Komen had been “scrupulously apolitical” until the Planned Parenthood defunding, even though Brinker is a Republican and served as a presidential appointee under President George W. Bush. Calman noted that Mollie Williams, Komen’s managing director of community health programs, who resigned in protest at the defunding of Planned Parenthood, sits on the Mautner Project Technical Advisory Council and has been “a good friend to the Mautner Project.”

Calman said she had been “alarmed and dismayed” at Komen’s decision to defund Planned Parenthood, and characterized it as “a huge misstep.” But she said that, going forward, she looks forward to “continued support” from Komen.

Shein of Philadelphia said she would like to hear “a stronger statement” from Komen about “mixing politics and philanthropy,” but is “glad” the national organization reversed its decision.

Creager, of New York’s LGBT Community Center, said the center will continue to “pay attention to new developments,” but added, “We hope and believe Komen will continue to address the needs of LBT people with breast cancer by continuing to partner with the Center and other LGBT organizations.”

The situation with Planned Parenthood may even have made that more likely. The L.A. Center’s Key noted that, “Komen knows the world is watching — and there will be an immediate outcry over any decision that prioritizes politics over lives.

© 2012 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

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