By Greg Hernandez
The marginalization, discrimination, and stigma lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women face when accessing health care is a public health crisis most women face alone…until now.
More than 60 volunteers gathered on a recent Sunday to help the 2.5 million LBQ women in California get access to culturally appropriate health care without having to face such things as homophobia and biphobia. Currently, there are currently no targeted state funds to address the health needs of LBQ women anywhere in the United States.
“I have a client who is going to have a hysterectomy,” Nurse Practitioner Angie Magaña, manager of the Center’s Audre Lorde Health Program, shared with the group. “She had stopped going to get primary preventative care of any kind because she had so many negative experiences when trying to get care. Now she’s going to have part of her body removed because she has cancer that could have been easily caught with a routine test.”
The volunteers were on hand write letters to California legislators demanding that $17.5 million be budgeted for the creation of the Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer (LBQ) Women’s Health Equity Fund. The Fund would be the first of its kind in the nation.
“LBQ women need a place where they can feel accepted and feel like they can disclose and talk about their health,” Magaña explained. We know that if you disclose who you are in all aspects of your identity, you’re more likely to get good health care because you’re going to be able to talk openly.”
LGQ women have low levels of insurance coverage and a lack of access to mental health services and life-saving preventative services like mammograms and other cancer screenings.
In addition, almost 30% of this population have reported putting off seeing a doctor even if they have insurance and one in three believe discussing their sexual orientation would negatively affect their health outcome.
The Fund would be created within the California Department of Public Health. Most of the money ($15.5 million) is for helping LBQ women access health care providers, health coverage, mental health care, domestic violence programs, and referrals to smoking, alcohol, and substance abuse treatment.
It would also pay for training for healthcare providers to be able to provide culturally appropriate care and community education and outreach efforts. Another $2 million would go to researching LBQ women’s health needs.
The volunteer letter writers are members of the Center’s Resistance Squad, a volunteer-based rapid response team led by the Center’s Policy and Community Building team.
Each wrote letters to both Senator Richard Pan, chair of the California Budget Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Health.
For some volunteers, the issue hits close to home.
“I’m queer and I go to health care providers,” said Katelin Eden Dukes, a Squad member since 2017. “I’ve had to get to the point with a lot of different doctors saying, ‘No, I don’t need a pregnancy test. I’m super not pregnant’ and ‘No, we don’t have to talk about birth control.’ You have to have the same conversation over and over and over and over again.”
The LBQ women’s health statistics came as a surprise to volunteer Amy Spalding and led to her thinking back to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s when community stepped up because the federal government would not.
“I’m glad to see so many members of the community here today—not just women—coming together in support,” Spalding said.
Elliot Cottington, a gay man new to Los Angeles, agreed.
“I have a different experience when it comes to health care,” he acknowledged. “But as a member of the LGBT community, I think that we all need to work together. I know that being a gay person, there’s a certain anxiety that goes with going to the doctor. It applies to anyone who identifies as LGBT and that’s what I drove home in my letter. It’s an issue for everyone.”
Volunteer Rachel Davis left the letter-writing session feeling motivated to continue to push for the Fund in the coming months.
“I’m straight and I’ve never had to deal with this type of discrimination, so it’s really jarring to know that close friends of mine go through it all the time,” Davis said. “It’s unfair and I’m glad we are trying to do something about it.”
Before the actual letter writing began, Magaña spoke to the volunteers along with Amy Kane, manager of Clinical Programs at the Center. They shared how they had recently made a trip to Sacramento to personally address lawmakers on a budget subcommittee.
“It’s been a couple of years of uphill battles to get this talked about,” Kane said. “This seemed like new information to the people in Sacramento. As we were telling stories, I could see them reacting like ‘How is this happening?’ They had no idea. It was the first time they were hearing about the disparities for this community.”
The Center has teamed with other LGBTQ organizations, health care providers, government agencies, and activists in the effort to create the state fund.
“The more passion that we show, the more it shows lawmakers that Californians are advocating for lesbian, bi, and queer women’s health,” Center Policy team member Danny Gonalez told volunteers. “What keeps motivating legislators is an emotional connection. It’s our duty to foster that emotional connection and to say, ‘Hear us. Help us.’”