The Empire State Pride Agenda announced the launch of its fifth annual LGBT Health Month this week. The campaign is designed to bring awareness to the unique health needs of the LGBT community.
Assembly member Dick Gottfried and Senator Neil Breslin, both Democrats, were the drivers behind the New York State Legislature resolution designating March as "Official LGBT month." Organizers point to some troubling statistics: just over 31 percent of gay and lesbian people in poverty lack health insurance; fewer than half of lesbian and gay women between the ages of 18 and 24 have ever had a pap test; and a higher percentage of LGBT people smoke cigarettes. All of these numbers represent significant threats to health. Nathan Schaefer is the executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. "Throughout the month of March we're going to be highlighting the realities of healthcare for LGBT New Yorkers and the challenges that many of us face getting access to care. In New York State there's an exclusion for transgender individuals to access medically necessary care through the medicaid program."
LGBT people have mental health issues as well: older adults experience bouts of depression almost twice as often as their heterosexual counterparts. Albany Common Council Member Judd Krasher has introduced a bill calling for the ban of "conversion therapy" by unlicensed practitioners for city youth. Krasher's thrown down the gauntlet before conversion therapy proponent Rev. Jason McGuire of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation. Judd Krasher: "Youth who are exposed to conversion therapy have a greater risk of dealing with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, social isolation and in some tragic cases, even suicide."
Krasher wants to publicly debate McGuire. A woman who answered the phone at New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation said Rev. McGuire was not available but she would "pass the request for comment on."
Daniella Carter is an ambassador of the Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC) of Greater New York. When she moved to New York City from Rochester, she encountered difficulties obtaining health care. "I thought I'd just start out in just a hospital in Manhattan. But to that hospital and to that nurse, they thought I had some mental disorder, that it was only an institution that deals with people in need of psychiatric help that would service me."
The Affordable Care Act is helping extend healthcare to 230,000 uninsured LGBT New Yorkers. Carter stresses that access to health care for transgender people is essential, especially during transition. She began her transition at age 12 and was in college when she realized she had a larger role to play on behalf of the LGBT community. "...that it was essential for me to come out and show many other youth that if we want basic needs and we want this out, we need visibility and the visibility begins inside.”
Carter says that now, in 2014, the transgender movement is at a critical point, but there's a lot of work still to be done. "Such as getting a lot of basic training like gender competency training around transgender individuals, learning that not every approach you take with one from your own personal experience is not how you approach the next person, who may be going through their own level of pain and oppression in their life."
Carter adds LGBT people need to break down social stigma, discrimination and other barriers to proper health care. Much of that work is being done by The New York State Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health and Human Services Network. The coalition was founded in 1994. It is administered by the Pride Agenda Foundation, consisting of 53 LGBT-specific and LGBT-supportive nonprofit organizations that provide care to a million LGBT New Yorkers.