LGBT Health Meets Public Health

I decided to explore more of my racial and ethnic identity in my first year of college when the term “South Asian” was still relatively new. By reading anything I could find and observing race and ethnicity in my surroundings, I grew more interested in the role of race and ethnicity in health and health care. I learned of “public health” and other terms used to describe health conditions I witnessed my whole life, such as health disparities and negative health outcomes. Based on my personal interests and experiences, I decided that I wanted to focus on reproductive and sexual health care for South Asians and other people of color. For the past two years, I have approached this work with a reproductive justice framework and have seen how mainstream reproductive and sexual health organizations have often neglected marginalized populations, such as women of color, queer communities, people with disabilities, and all their intersections.

A year ago, I took an LGBT health course, where I learned about LGBTQ health disparities, such as the high rates of breast cancer among lesbians and increasing rates of depression among transgender people. This course served as my first academic exposure to LGBTQ health from a public health perspective. Quickly, I realized that there is still much research to be done on LGBTQ health, that there is even less research on LGBTQ and people of color health, and that most people did not even know words like “queer,” “cisgender,” and “transmisogyny” exist. Knowing this, I still had reproductive and sexual health as my primary areas of interest, but could not fail to include LGBTQ health in my scope of public health. As my actions became more LGBTQ inclusive, I noticed that other students and public health professionals wondered why I used gender-neutral language, discussed health disparities at any given moment, and “brought up race and sexuality too much.” Despite the comments and stares, I still maintained my LGBTQ (and other demographic factors and identities) inclusive stance and continued my work.

IMG_0057I heard about SAALT back when I was researching South Asian community engagement, and I heard about the Young Leadership Institute from a former participant. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to attend SAALT’s annual Young Leaders Institute (YLI), which, in 2014, focused on LGBTQ justice and allyship. While attending YLI, I learned about South Asian queer history, queer people of color histories, and the trajectory of South Asian, LGBTQ, and South Asian LGBTQ communities.

Based on my work and the trainings at YLI, I started to critically think about integrating dominant public health practices and LGBTQ health. Though I am limited in my capacity to enact significant changes in public health practice, I wanted to start engaging more intersections of sexuality and race into public health discussions and in the scope of public health. My YLI project is to incorporate LGBT health in medical and public health discussions. I plan on hosting a panel of health professionals to discuss the necessity of LGBTQ competency with current medical and public health students. An example of LGBTQ competency among health professionals is not assuming someone’s sexuality when screening for past sexual history.

In addition, I plan to integrate LGBTQ health and use LGBTQ inclusive language in my current practices in reproductive and sexual health. For instance, when I conduct workshops or community discussions on these topics, I explain LGBTQ inclusive language to participants and my rationale for doing so, especially in regards to the specific community to which I am addressing (such as the South Asian community, graduate students, a collective community of color, etc.). Incorporating LGBTQ inclusive language is needed in order to reduce the marginalization of LGBTQ people and promote accessibility of LGBTQ-friendly services. I plan on implementing this project this semester and want to continue integrating LGBTQ health and LGBTQ inclusive language in my work as a public health practitioner.

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Sadia Arshad
Young Leaders Institute Fellow, 2014