We Do Have Friends in Washington

This might seem a strange article to write, considering the current goings-on, but there are some positives in the Nation’s Capital and today I will highlight a few of these as they pertain to our community.

Soon after Barak Obama became President, he instructed the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to identify steps for improving the health of the LGBT community. In response, an LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee was established. Since then, the committee has released yearly reports with its accomplishments and objectives.

The most recent report, released July 31, 2013, shows that HHS is working towards eliminating health care disparities in our community. Noted were the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling invalidating DOMA as it pertains to healthcare; outreach to the LGBT community to ensure access to the Affordable Health Care market; support for inclusion of LGBT persons in research studies; and plans for the NIH to host the first annual LGBTI research symposium to explore topics for health-related research (however, I was unable to discern when this meeting might be happening).

Tools and resources for practitioners working with LGBT youth are in development. The National Health Interview Survey now includes sexual orientation questions, and other gender-identity survey questions are being tested. While developing and testing survey questions may seem trivial, these outreach efforts can have profound effects once they are implemented in government-supported institutions, in research studies or in everyday practice. You can read the entire HHS report at www.hhs.gov/news/press/2013pres/07/20130731a.html.

In addition to the HHS and the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provides information on a variety of health-related topics of importance to LGBT persons including smoking cessation, transgender health needs, sexually transmitted infections and more. There are links to resource materials, hotlines and specialized LGBT clinic referrals throughout the country, with HIV testing sites listed by zip codes. You can check out the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth. The government has also addressed bullying with attention to LGBT youth at www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/lgbt.

Here, in the Bay Area, we may have easy access to many of these services, but this information may be harder to find elsewhere. We should be pleased to know our government is there supporting these efforts on our behalf. Because of the shutdown and “due to the lapse in government funding,” these websites were not being updated. Let’s just say that while we do have some friends in Washington, not everyone is a “friend of Dorothy” or the American people. I am hoping for better, healthier times for us all soon!

Dr. Naomi Jay is a nurse practitioner in the department of Infectious Disease at UCSF.