Federal Health Officials Focus on LGBT Community�s Well-Being

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued a list of its ongoing and future actions for improving the lives of LGBT people. Influencing those actions was a report released March 31 from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that addressed research gaps and opportunities with regard to LGBT health.

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius� office released the list of actions in response to the Presidential Memorandum on Hospital Visitation. This directive not only called for rules requiring hospitals to allow patients to designate visitors, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity (which went into effect Jan.18), but it also instructed Sebelius to explore more ways that HHS could improve LGBT people�s lives.

Sebelius updated the department�s internal equal employment opportunity rules this year to include gender identity and explicitly restated its non-discrimination policy to require the department to serve all eligible citizens, regardless of factors such as sexual orientation and gender identity.
The IOM Report
The IOM is an independent, nonprofit group that aims to provide unbiased, authoritative advice for policymakers and the public. In 2010, the National Institutes of Health � an agency of HHS � commissioned an IOM study on the status of LGBT health. In response, the IOM formed the Committee on LGBT Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities. This committee released its findings to the public on March 31.

The committee was instructed to consider how discrimination, including employment discrimination and denial of marriage equality, affects LGBT health and how to ensure that future health research accurately represents the full diversity of the LGBT population.

Among the report�s recommendations were:
� To include gender and orientation in electronic medical data and research funding applications.
� To encourage researchers to engage LGBT people in health studies and collect data on these populations.
� To require proactive data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in federally funded surveys.
� That information on patients� sexual orientation and gender identity should be confidentially collected in electronic health records.
� To encourage research grant applicants to address how their studies would include or exclude sexual and gender minorities.
� To encourage more data generation and collection for LGBT subgroups such as bisexuals, transgender people, people of color and youth.
During the report's initial presentation press luncheon, committee members also inferred that medical and nursing school curricula should include LGBT-awareness training modules.
Healthy People 2020
The HHS actions mean that LGBT health data will be included in the Healthy People project. Every 10 years, the government develops national, science-based objectives for promoting health and preventing disease through the Healthy People Project. Some LGBT data became an ancillary part of Healthy People 2010 by way of a Gay and Lesbian Medical Association paper. Healthy People 2020 will include sexual orientation and gender identity data from its outset.
Kansas City
Bill Snook and Ron Griffin of the Kansas City Department of Health are excited about the prospects for gathering more data from the LGBT population and improving the health of that community. Snook and Griffin were key members of the teams that brought us The Pulse, a groundbreaking 2003 survey of LGBT health in the greater Kansas City area. The survey was an extraordinary milestone in establishing baseline health data for LGBT persons and was only the second comprehensive LGBT community assessment conducted in the country.

The Pulse and its 2006 follow-up survey have been cited in many journals. Just one result of its findings was that the Department of Health stepped up syphilis awareness and testing and gave away hepatitis vaccinations.

Griffin and Snook are thrilled to have the federal government on board with tracking LGBT health data. For decades, LGBT health was relegated to epidemiological data, HIV/AIDS, smoking and a few other items. Now the breadth of health data will be recorded and tracked.

Here are some things that you could do to advance the cause of LGBT health:
� Come out to your physician. This will allow for the confidential tracking of health statistics.
� Take advantage of health clinics. This will also allow for tracking and lead to more clinics.
� Volunteer for community boards. This ensures that LGBT voices are part of the public policy debate.
� Let your elected representatives know that you support the advancement of LGBT health.
Look for the Kansas City Health Department booth at the Gay Pride festival (June 4-5), where staff will offer a variety of testing and information.
On the Web
www.hhs.gov � Read Secretary Sebelius� recommended actions.
iom.edu/lgbthealth � Read the IOM committee�s report.
kcmo.org/health � Read The Pulse and find information on clinics.

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