Successes, goals for LGBT healthcare outlined at Resource Center meeting

AJ Pearlman, far left, and Marjorie Petty, second from left, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services listen to people express concerns about LGBT healthcare at a meeting at Resource Center Dallas on Monday afternoon. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Problems, solutions and preventive measures for health issues facing the LGBT community were the topics of a forum Monday afternoon at Resource Center Dallas.

Marjorie Petty, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and AJ Pearlman with the department’s Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs in Washington, spoke to a group of about 30 on important healthcare changes over the last year.

Many of the changes were addressed in the HHS LGBT report in April that highlighted implementing nondiscriminatory practices for visitation and health decisions for LGBT families, and funding disease programs that gear advertising toward an LGBT audience.

Pearlman said the report by the HHS LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee looked at the goals from last year and outlined new ones for the upcoming year. Some of the issues tackled within the last year were outside of the doctor’s office, such as an educational effort to prevent obesity and breast cancer among lesbian and bisexual women, training doctors on how to treat LGBT patients’ needs and launching an anti-smoking campaign for LGBT youth.

While the committee looks at issues and disparities facing the LGBT community’s access to healthcare, Pearlman said that little data exists on the issues faced by the community aside from employment discrimination and lack of relationship recognition. She said the department will be collecting data on LGBT citizens in 2013 for the first time,  with questions aimed at sexual orientation and gender identity in the National Health Interview Survey.

The remainder of the meeting focused on a discussion about healthcare and preventive care in the local community, as well as broad questions about the investigative process for hospitals who are found to discriminate against LGBT families, funding for various programs, and plans for more research and data collection.

Pearlman said input from those who attended will be taken back to D.C. for future planning of events and preventive programs in the region and nationally.

—  Anna Waugh

Donovan says trans equality is a priority, not an issue

HUD secretary becomes first cabinet member to address transgender event with his speech at NCTE anniversary celebration

Donovan.Shaun

Shaun Donovan

Dana Rudolph  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan became the first United States cabinet secretary to address a transgender event when he gave the keynote speech Nov. 15 at the eighth anniversary celebration of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Mara Keisling, executive director of NCTE, told Keen News Service, “Having Secretary Donovan keynote our event is an important symbolic and historic advance for transgender Americans.”

Keisling said that having a cabinet member address the group “really shows tremendous societal movement.” She attributes this progress to “all the great education that transgender people and allies are doing all over the country.

“It’s added up to a lot more visibility and understanding,” said Keisling.

Prior to Donovan’s appearance, the highest federal official to address NCTE was Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Greenlee spoke at the organization’s policy conference in March.

And Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women, met with NCTE staff and other transgender advocates Nov. 16 to discuss violence against transgender people.

But Donovan’s speech, at the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., garnered almost no attention in the mainstream press.

HUD included a copy of his speech on its Web site. And, following his speech, Donovan spoke to a reporter from the Washington, D.C., gay newspaper Metro Weekly.

When asked whether he supports marriage equality, Donovan replied “absolutely.” He also agreed with the reporter’s suggestion that marriage equality should be the subject of “more work” in a second Obama administration.

But at NCTE’s annual event, Donovan spoke of the Obama administration’s accomplishments towards equality for transgender people. He said the administration is the first to view the fight for transgender equality “not as an issue — but as a priority.”

Quoting figures from a February 2011 study by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Donovan said an estimated 1-in-5 transgender Americans have been refused a home or apartment, and more than 1-in-10 have been evicted because of their gender identity or expression.

There are currently no explicit federal protections that ban housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only 15 states plus the District of Columbia have protections specific to gender identity.

Massachusetts will become the 16th when Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, signs a bill just passed by its legislature, as he is expected to do.

Approximately 150 cities, towns, and counties have LGBT protections as well, according to HUD.

Such protections are needed, Donovan said, because of experiences such as that of Mitch and Michelle DeShane. When Michelle wanted to add her partner Mitch, a transgender man, to her housing voucher, the local housing authority refused because the couple did not meet its definition of “family.” It referred them to a neighboring housing authority, which, they said, “accepts everyone — even Martians.”

“That’s just wrong,” Donovan said.

Donovan said “the most significant step” HUD has taken to address this type of discrimination has been proposing new regulations to “ensure transgender individuals and couples can be eligible for our public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs that collectively serve 5.5 million people.”

The proposed rule would prohibit owners and operators of HUD-assisted or -financed housing from inquiring about applicants’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and prevent them from excluding otherwise eligible families if one or more members is or is perceived to be LGBT.

It would also prevent lenders from using the sexual orientation or gender identity of an applicant as a basis to determine eligibility for Federal Housing Administration mortgages, which represent one-third of all new mortgages in the country.

Donovan said that HUD is still reviewing comments before final publication of the rule.

A HUD spokesperson said that the agency can’t say exactly when the final rule will be published, since it must also be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget.

Donovan noted that HUD has provided its staff with guidance that they can pursue cases of housing discrimination when a person’s identity or expression doesn’t conform with gender stereotypes, because such discrimination violates the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sex-based discrimination.

The act is a pivotal civil rights act that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status — but does not specifically cover sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination.

Since that guidance was issued in July 2010, Donovan said, the number of complaints from LGBT individuals to HUD about housing discrimination has increased 15 times compared to the same date range the previous year, according to HUD.

Donovan also said that HUD is working to better understand the challenges that transgender people face. It included a session on gender identity- and sexual orientation-based housing discrimination in its annual National Fair Housing Policy Conference this year, and launched the first-ever national study of LGBT housing discrimination.

A HUD spokesperson said the target date for publication of the study is late 2012.

Donovan also spoke of accomplishments by the broader Obama administration, where, he said, “the LGBT community has had a seat at the table since day one.”

He cited the administration’s “record number of LGBT appointments,” including openly transgender appointees; the Office of Personnel Management’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity in federal employment; the Veterans Administration’s directive for non-discriminatory care for transgender veterans; the State Department’s efforts “to ensure greater dignity and privacy” for transgender passport applicants; and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention law.

NCTE’s Keisling said, “Secretary Donovan’s presence echoes what we at NCTE have long known about HUD and the rest of the Obama administration, and that is that transgender people matter. We are a priority for the administration, and it shows in the policies that we are winning.”

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

HHS announces plan to improve LGBT health

Move comes following release of study detailing ‘research gaps and opportunities’ related to LGBTs and healthcare

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service
lisakeen@mac.com

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday, April 1, that it is making new recommendations for future action to “improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

The announcement came on the heels of a federally sponsored report by the Institute of Medicine that identified “research gaps and opportunities” related to LGBT health. That report was released March 31.

It also came on the same day HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a new policy “explicitly requiring HHS employees to serve all individuals who are eligible for the department’s programs without regard to any non-merit factor, including race, national origin, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability (physical or mental), age, status as a parent, or genetic information.”

A lengthy press statement released by HHS on April 1 mostly reiterated actions HHS and the Obama administration taken have taken previously to improve the health and equal rights for LGBT people. For instance, it noted President Obama had called for new guidelines to require hospitals receiving federal funds to allow LGBT patients to designate who could visit them in the hospital.

But among the new actions announced, the press statement said that later this year, HHS’s website devoted to the new health reform law, the Affordable Care Act (HealthCare.gov) would provide “additional information of specific relevance to LGBT populations.”

“In particular,” noted the HHS statement, “the website will allow LGBT consumers to identity health insurance policies available to them that include coverage of domestic partners.”

The announcement said HHS would also work to increase:

• the “number of federally funded health and demographic surveys that collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity data;”

• “evaluate ways its programs can ensure equal treatment of LGBT families,” through such programs as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and others; and

• “encourage new and existing health profession training programs…to include LGBT cultural competency curricula.”

The IOM report released March 31 was commission by the National Institutes of Health, an agency of HHS. The report recommended that NIH conduct more research to “advance knowledge and understanding of LGBT health” and that HHS surveys collect data “on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It also recommended “Data on sexual orientation and gender identity should be collected in electronic health records.

“Collecting these detailed patient-level data,” noted the IOM report, “with adequate privacy and security protection as is needed for all data collected in electronic health records, could assist in identifying and addressing LGBT health disparities.”

Local counselor Candy Marcum said she is not surprised by the findings in the study. According to the report, lesbian and bisexual women use preventive health services less frequently than heterosexual women.

Marcum said that when she first went to a gynecologist, the medical questionnaire asked how much sex she was having followed by what method of birth control she used. She said a major concern of the doctor is pregnancy.

“But that would involve having sex with a man and that just doesn’t sound right to me,” she said.

So to get proper care from her doctor, Marcum said, she had to come out. She said that doctors and caregivers are the most compassionate people but coming out to anyone can be scary.

Breast cancer and ovarian cancer occur more frequently among lesbians than straight women, the report said.

“You have the right for good health care,” Marcum said. But to make sure a physician looks for those things, it’s important for the doctor to know the patient’s sexual orientation.

She said the doctor has to have the proper context.

Marcum said another finding, that lesbians suffer from obesity more than women in general, is also not surprising. “Women are more accepting of the person they love,” she said.

Marcum said that the medical system is broken and that fewer people are accessing the system. But she said she is gratified that HHS was addressing the issues of the LGBT community.

The full IOM report can be read at iom.edu/Reports/2011/The-Health-of-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender-People.aspx.

© 2011 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

Dallas Voice Staff Writer David Taffet contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Focus on the Family says bullying issue being hijacked to bring homosexuality into schools

Associated Press

DENVER — The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is accusing national gay advocacy groups of using bullying-prevention initiatives at public schools to introduce the viewpoint that homosexuality is normal.

Focus on the Family education expert Candi Cushman told The Denver Post for its Saturday, Aug. 28 editions that the Christian group supports bullying prevention but that the issue “is being hijacked by activists.”

“We feel more and more that activists are being deceptive in using anti-bullying rhetoric to introduce their viewpoints, while the viewpoint of Christian students and parents are increasingly belittled,” Cushman said. The Colorado Springs-based group said conservative Christians are portrayed as bigots for their opposing viewpoints, while public schools increasingly teach students that homosexuality should be accepted.

The national Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network says it wants all students to be treated with respect regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or race, ability or national origin.

“Bullying is a serious public health crisis in this country, according to no less an authority than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Eliza Byard, the executive director of GLSEN, told The Denver Post.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a 2008 report that about 30 percent of sixth-to- 10th-grade students in the U.S. report being bullied, and Byard said the problem is more common with gay students.

Focus on the Family took aim at a 24-page GLSEN booklet titled, “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth.” It will be delivered to public school superintendents around the country, Focus on the Family said.

“The theme: Schools are only allowed to provide one message about homosexuality — that it’s normal and should be embraced,” Focus on the Family said.

Byard said the idea for the booklet came from GLSEN but that it was authored by a coalition of medical, mental-health and education organizations.

—  John Wright