Karen DeSalvo, M.D., M.P.H., M.Sc., [left] serves as a Co-chair of the HHS LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee, along with Kathy Greenlee [middle], Administrator, Administration for Community Living, and Jim Scanlon, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE).
When President Obama, joined by leaders throughout his Administration and in Congress, fought to pass the Affordable Care Act, he did it for one overwhelming reason: to ensure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care.
He did it knowing that there were â€“ and continue to be â€“ groups facing significant health challenges in our country. And among those are our friends, family members, and neighbors in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Disparities affect LGBT Americans: On average, they suffer from higher rates of cancer, obesity, tobacco use, HIV/AIDS, and mental illness than the rest of the nation. Working hand-in-hand with the community to face these disparities head-on is a priority for HHS. And while coverage is an important part of that mission, we must do more if we are going to level the playing field for this and every group.
That is why, as we recognize 2016 LGBT Health Awareness Week, I wanted to highlight some of the efforts we are undertaking in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health to make a meaningful impact across the country. As you can see, it is a real team effort:
- Through the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, our Healthy People program sets 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans. Healthy People 2020, our newest version, recognizes the importance of securely and consistently collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information in national surveys and health records to effectively address LGBT health issues and disparities. The Healthy People 2020 LGBT Health workgroup, led by representatives of HRSA and SAMHSA, recently developed three new objectives that are under consideration for this topic area.
- Our Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy works to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, a coordinated national response to the HIV epidemic that continues to disproportionately affect gay and bisexual men and transgender women. The strategy aims to reduce new HIV infections, increase access to care and improve the health of people living with HIV, and reduce HIV-related disparities. The office also manages the Secretaryâ€™s Minority AIDS Initiative, which supports innovation in HIV prevention and care in minority communities, and hosts AIDS.gov, where information and resources on HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention can be found.
- Our Office on Women’s Health recently conducted an exciting new pilot study among older lesbian and bisexual women: testing interventions that promote healthy weight and active lifestyles. By working with partners in different cities around the U.S., the study identified successful interventions and created positive outcomes for study participants.Â The results will be published in a special supplement of the journal Womenâ€™s Health Issues later this year.
- Our Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) â€“ works directly with young people, helping them fight the stigma and discrimination they too often face.Â This work is critical â€“ stress associated with these experiences can put LGBTQ youth at greater risk for negative health outcomes, including homelessness, school victimization, suicide, drug use, and teen pregnancy. Organizations can support LGBTQ youth by being responsive to their needs, helping LGBTQ youth connect to caring adults and family members, and creating safe and supportive environments that do not tolerate bullying or discrimination. To assist organizationsâ€™ efforts, the office has developed A Guide for Assessing LGBTQ Inclusivity of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs and A Practical Guide for Creating Safe and Supportive Environments in Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs.
- Our Office of Minority Health (OMH) has focused its efforts on minority male populations and HIV/AIDS. Recently, OMH awarded more than $2 million in grant funding to community-based organizations participating in the HIV/AIDS Initiative for Minority Men. The initiative addresses the needs of young racial and ethnic minority males living with HIV/AIDS and those at high risk for HIV infections.
- Our Office of the Surgeon General has focused on smoking, which remains the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. LGBT Americans smoke at much higher rates than average, and consequently they suffer more smoking-related death and illness.
In addition, the Surgeon General remains focused on mental and emotional well-being. That is why earlier this year he joined other administration officials in calling for an end to conversion therapy for LGBT Americans and remains engaged on educating the public on its harms.
Finally, in June 2015, the Surgeon General established the first-ever Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity Advisory Group in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. The group advises on matters related to LGBT officers in the Corps as well as efforts to promote LGBT health as part of the serviceâ€™s mission.
- Our Office of Population Affairs Â works with all Title X providers to deliver family planning and reproductive health care that is client-centered and meets the needs of clients, including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.
LGBT Health Awareness Week is important, but as our efforts explained above make clear, fighting to ensure that every American has an equal shot at health is far from a short-term effort. Rather, it is something we will continue to dedicate ourselves to each and every day, until all of our neighbors can live healthy, productive lives.
To make that goal a reality, we are going to need more voices to raise awareness, and more partners to support our work. That is why I am asking you to join me today, Monday, March 28, at 3 p.m. ET and Wednesday, March 30, at 2 p.m. ET on social media, using #LGBThealth to engage in this conversation and make sure our message is heard.