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