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To End Pride Month Virginia Hosts First LGBTQ Health Equity Symposium

LGBTQ Equity Panelists Jonathan Albright, VDH; Austin Higgs, VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education; Kyle Mason,
LGBTQ Equity Panelists Jonathan Albright, VDH; Austin Higgs, VCU Office of Continuing and Professional Education; Kyle Mason, Richmond Youth Programs Coordinator, Side by Side; Flora Lopez, Latinx Community Advocate and Mainstream Liaison, Virginia Anti-Violence Project.

Two hundred people attended Virginia’s first LGBTQ health equity symposium this week co-hosted by the LGBTQ organization Side by Side and the Virginia Department of Health.

Director of Health Equity for the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Lauren Powell reached out to Ted Lewis, the Executive Director of Side by Side, and Rose Minor, the Director of LGBTQ Outreach for Gov. Ralph Northam, to coordinate the daylong event.

The community-led panel discussed the topic of how to fix disparities in healthcare for the LGBTQ community across the Commonwealth.

Panelists discussed discriminatory doctors, economic instability and homelessness. They pushed dialogue beyond the stereotypes that HIV is the only health problem in the LGBTQ community.

When one of the panels was asked how does being an LGBTQ member impacts a person’s quality of life, Ari Laoch from Health Brigade spoke up.

“Being a member isn’t the infection,” Laoch said.

In opening the discussion, Dr. Powell, highlighted in the opening keynote the difference between equality and equity.

“Equality is giving everyone the same thing. Equity is giving people what they actually need,” she said.

There was a panel on the ways in which adversity makes it harder for LGBTQ people to take care of themselves such as having intersecting identities.

2015 nationwide transgender surveyshowed 40 percent have attempted suicide in their lifetime. That’s nine times the attempted suicide rate within the U.S. population.

Speakers talked about the misconceptions doctors have about LGBTQ patients such as being sexually promiscuous.

Austin Higgs, who is a black trans-femme, said going to one doctor for a standard STI-screening turned into a “lecture” about the benefits of monogamy.

The same  nationwide transgender surveyfound one in four had difficulty with their insurance, such as being denied coverage for care related to gender transition. Nearly 25 percent avoided care out of fear of being mistreated.

Now a patient at Planned Parenthood, Higgs says she loves going to the doctor.

“I receive hormone replacement therapy and I kind of feel like I’ve been given a license to living my life again,” Higgs said.

Johnathan Albright from VDH said LGBTQ people of color like himself are often seen as a problem to be dealt with and pushed aside.

Dr. Erin Wisman from the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood spoke about the need for more transgender centric training for health professionals.

“Teaching clinicians how to be empathetic and how to listen to their patients,” she said.

Dr. Powell said VDH is working on initiatives such as a health equity boot camp for health professionals.

Del. Danica Roem provided the afternoon closing keynote. Roem told the crowd how she was uninsured up until and a few days after she was sworn into office in 2018.

Roem emphasized that while Medicaid expansion is a good thing, it’s the “absolute least” thing we should be doing.

“When you are dealing with your doctors and you’re following your doctor's orders regarding your healthcare, it is not elective, it is not cosmetic, you’re following your doctor’s orders. It’s healthcare,” Roem said.

Dr. Powell said VDH is working on initiatives such as a health equity boot camp for health professionals and legislators.

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