Demand funding for LGBT health services

Every year, federal, state and county governments spend billions of dollars to provide government-funded social and health programs such as cancer screening, tobacco prevention, foster care, senior services and drug and alcohol treatment. Every year federal, state and county governments issue thousands of policy and program regulations. Yet lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people continue to be short-changed when it comes to government health and social services. We are invisible; our needs are not met by the thousands of programs funded by our tax dollars.

      LGBT people, particularly our most vulnerable, desperately need the services provided by such programs, and we are entitled to receive them in a competent and professional manner. Despite the fact that a high proportion of homeless children are LGBT, few shelters in the country have programs for them. Child-care workers and teachers often ignore problems like bullying of LGBT youth and actually blame the youth for inviting abuse. LGBT or questioning youth in foster care are rarely treated in appropriate and supportive ways.

      Other LGBT people accessing health and welfare services face similar problems. Many of the most vulnerable members of our community, such as our addicted, disabled and elderly, live every day at the mercy of government-supported caretakers. Transgender people using in-patient drug and alcohol clinics often face harassment and even violence at the hands of other patients and staff. LGBT people who are blind or deaf or live with severe mobility problems often report a deep fear of being identified as LGBT; they are convinced that they will be victimized by and isolated from the communities that they depend on for a great many of their needs.

      Older LGBT people in assisted living programs are afraid to have LGBT newspapers or magazines in their rooms where cleaning people might find them. They do not allow LGBT friends to visit for fear that their orientation or identity will be discovered. They do nothing but sit by silently when ministers, priests and rabbis condemn homosexuality during services at their facilities or when staff tell jokes about LGBT people. Economic development programs ignore our small businesspeople, and our unemployed with HIV find few programs tailored for them by occupational rehabilitation programs.

      Asking John Kerry to support or oppose certain legislation or to appoint judges committed to civil liberties is not enough. He will directly manage an incredibly large and powerful bureaucracy that will create and implement thousands of programs. We need John Kerry to make those programs respond to our needs. Every federal agency should be required to document its service, if any, to the LGBT community. High-level directors of these agencies should meet on a regular basis with experts and consumers from our community to examine ways to address the needs of our people.

      It is time that we become visible to the bureaucrats who create, fund and run these programs. It is time that our needs are addressed. We cannot expect our youth who are harassed in school, or our addicted sisters and brothers mistreated in drug and alcohol treatment facilities, or our seniors isolated in so-called “assisted living” programs to speak out. They need us to do that for them. Let Kerry (and Bush too) know that this silence must end. The lives of our LGBT youth, elders, addicted and disabled depend on what we demand from those politicians who court our vote.

Tony Silvestre, Ph.D.