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.

Sadia Arshad
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014

House Members Attempt to Derail Immigration Action

Jan­u­ary 14, 2015

Con­tact: Lak­sh­mi Sri­daran

Just days into the 114th Con­gress, House mem­bers have passed H.R. 240, the 2015 Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty (DHS) fund­ing bill, which includes a series of amend­ments that will under­mine the Pres­i­den­t’s exec­u­tive action on immi­gra­tion, tear fam­i­lies apart, penal­ize indi­vid­u­als law­ful­ly in the U.S., and keep aspir­ing Amer­i­cans fear­ful and in the shad­ows. These over­ar­ch­ing fund­ing bills at the begin­ning of the year are often uti­lized by pol­i­cy­mak­ers to defund pro­grams they do not sup­port, as we have seen in recent years.

Despite the wish­es of a major­i­ty of Amer­i­can vot­ers, the House has not only failed to pass com­pre­hen­sive immi­gra­tion reform in the last Con­gress, it has passed a DHS fund­ing bill that could effec­tive­ly dis­solve the DACA and DAPA pro­grams cre­at­ed by the Pres­i­dent under his exec­u­tive author­i­ty. Togeth­er, DACA and DAPA are expect­ed to pro­vide much-need­ed relief from depor­ta­tion and work autho­riza­tion for over 4 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed indi­vid­u­als in the U.S., includ­ing over 40 per­cent of the esti­mat­ed 500,000 undoc­u­ment­ed South Asians.

Amend­ments to H.R. 240 include pro­vi­sions that could reverse reforms that encour­age law­ful per­ma­nent res­i­dents to pur­sue cit­i­zen­ship, pre­vent many groups of law­ful­ly present indi­vid­u­als from receiv­ing Social Secu­ri­ty ben­e­fits, lim­it pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al dis­cre­tion, force states and local­i­ties to com­ply with Secure Com­mu­ni­ties, a pro­gram that is slat­ed to be replaced, and con­tin­ue to make peo­ple fear­ful to seek out and coop­er­ate with law enforce­ment.

We are deeply in need of com­mon­sense immi­gra­tion reform with a path to cit­i­zen­ship for undoc­u­ment­ed indi­vid­u­als, and the House is squan­der­ing the oppor­tu­ni­ty to help our nation grow in order to advance par­ti­san pol­i­tics. Instead of wast­ing time and resources dis­solv­ing the Pres­i­den­t’s efforts to help mil­lions of undoc­u­ment­ed indi­vid­u­als in the U.S., the House should pass a bill to over­haul our cur­rent immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

SAALT will remain vig­i­lant in the fight to ensure that these destruc­tive and irre­spon­si­ble pro­pos­als do not fur­ther advance in Con­gress.

Bridging Divides Through Education

As some­one who holds queer, gen­der devi­at­ing, Mus­lim, and first gen­er­a­tion Bangladeshi-Amer­i­can iden­ti­ties (among oth­ers), being con­sid­ered unusu­al is com­mon. Hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions that include the state­ments, “Yes, a per­son can be Mus­lim and queer at the same time,” or “Of course, South Asian trans­gen­der peo­ple exist,” are a reg­u­lar part of my life. Though these exchanges can be try­ing at times, I have come to real­ize that they are a huge neces­si­ty. Only by con­nect­ing with one anoth­er through under­stand­ing of each other’s truths can sol­i­dar­i­ty between indi­vid­u­als be forged. Only by edu­cat­ing one anoth­er can com­mu­ni­ty be built.

Thus, edu­ca­tion is often on my mind, though not in the most obvi­ous sense. I think not of the insti­tu­tions typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with edu­ca­tion, not the schools or uni­ver­si­ties, but the idea of spread­ing knowl­edge and under­stand­ing through pop­u­la­tions in less struc­tured envi­ron­ments. I won­der how sto­ries can be shared and com­mu­ni­ty built with­out the sup­port of larg­er sys­tems to cre­ate chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. As ref­er­enced above, indi­vid­ual con­ver­sa­tions can be pow­er­ful tools for com­mu­ni­ty build­ing, but as some­one who is a both part of and works with­in South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, I am often search­ing for ways of reach­ing more peo­ple, more effi­cient­ly.

Enter the Young Leader’s Insti­tute (YLI), host­ed by South Asians Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), which I attend­ed in 2014. The oppor­tu­ni­ty is one that that I don’t often come across; I was able not only to gain prac­ti­cal knowl­edge on doing advo­ca­cy work in mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, but was also con­nect­ed with pro­fes­sion­als involved in jus­tice work and giv­en space to share expe­ri­ences with peers. It was deeDSC_0035ply ful­fill­ing to be in an inten­tion­al space with a clear focus on LGBTQ jus­tice and ally­ship. After var­i­ous train­ings on issues rang­ing from the effect of colo­nial­ism on gen­der norms in South Asia to meth­ods for com­plet­ing projects, the impor­tance of par­tic­u­lar issues became clear to me.

Shar­ing truths, cre­at­ing under­stand­ing, and reach­ing across dif­fer­ence were themes that came up again and again over the three days of the Insti­tute. Here, it seemed, was the issue with which I had been grap­pling: how to spread aware­ness and bet­ter serve com­mu­ni­ties by under­stand­ing their spe­cif­ic needs. With the guid­ance of SAALT staff and in part­ner­ship with Satrang, a South Asian non­prof­it that serves LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties based in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, I decid­ed to focus my efforts on build­ing ally­ship train­ings focused on the needs of South Asian LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied peo­ple.

The ally­ship train­ings are a series of six to eight work­shops that will be held over a six month peri­od, and will tar­get pro­fes­sion­als and oth­er groups that work with South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, such as immi­gra­tion lawyers, social work­ers, jour­nal­ists, med­ical pro­fes­sion­als, and pos­si­bly stu­dent groups. The train­ings con­sist of an overview of South Asian LGBTQ his­to­ry and rel­e­vant cur­rent issues with­in these com­mu­ni­ties and a more gen­er­al sec­tion on LGBTQ-relat­ed ter­mi­nol­o­gy and con­cepts. The idea is to give peo­ple work­ing with Desi LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied peo­ple the tools to bet­ter under­stand their needs and ulti­mate­ly bet­ter serve these com­mu­ni­ties. In con­junc­tion with the train­ings, I am work­ing to devel­op a resource toolk­it. Resources, such as lit­er­a­ture on gen­der iden­ti­ty and needs assess­ment research on South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties, will be both hand­ed out at train­ings and avail­able on Satrang’s web­site so they are acces­si­ble to those who are unable to attend train­ings.

Thus far, the project has proven both chal­leng­ing and reward­ing as I focus on devel­op­ing the train­ing cur­ricu­lum. Reach­ing out to indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions involved in LGBTQ jus­tice work has proven very help­ful, not just in com­plet­ing the project but in help­ing to devel­op my own approach to ally­ship. Often, when one thinks of ally­ship, the gist is to sup­port indi­vid­u­als with dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ties than your own. How­ev­er, I have come to real­ize that it is impor­tant to be an ally to one’s own com­mu­ni­ty. For me, that means edu­cat­ing myself on the needs of folks in my per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al life and using what­ev­er skills I pos­sess to improve con­di­tions for oth­ers. Though I can’t work in immi­gra­tion and the media and the med­ical field, I can give the peo­ple who do work in those fields and those who reg­u­lar­ly work with South Asian LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ties a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how to do so. And that, I believe, can ulti­mate­ly make a real impact.


Pia Ahmed
Young Lead­ers Insti­tute Fel­low, 2014