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