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May 20, 2013

Council Leaders Identify and Implement LGBT Specific Health Strategies

Credit: Healthy Chicago LGBT Community Action Plan
The following is a guest post by Serena Worthington, SAGE's Director of Community Advocacy and Capacity Building.

Tomorrow begins a new adventure in community service for me. I’ll be attending the first meeting of the newly-formed Chicago LGBT Health Advisory Council which was created to “provide insight and input to the Department of Public Health on implementation of the LGBT Health Action Plan.” The LGBT Health Action Plan is an outline of 22 strategies designed to “improve the overall health of Chicago’s LGBT community.”

Our mayor, Rahm Emanuel, had this nice thing to say about the council.

"Chicago's strength is in the diversity of its communities, and I am committed to ensuring that all Chicagoans have access to the care and information they need to live healthy lives and contribute fully to the vibrancy of our city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This advisory council will lend important insight and knowledge to our efforts.”

I am joined by 15 talented and accomplished folks, some of whom I know already and some that I am excited to meet for the first time tomorrow. 

I first became interested in improving the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older adults during my tenure as the Life Enrichment Director at a Chicago long-term care and assisted living facility. While everyone in our care received good treatment, it was clear to me that the gay and lesbian residents (we did not have any transgender or bisexual residents that were known to me) were having a different experience than their heterosexual counterparts. They were more isolated, less involved in community life, and treated differently by the staff in ways that might be undetectable to others. I worked a great facility—one I was proud of—but I would not have chosen to live there because my culture would not be recognized and, quite likely, my unique needs would not be met.

I look forward to the opportunity to serve on the LGBT Health Advisory Council and to continue the advocacy work I began when I left that residential facility to build the LGBT older adult program at Center on Halsted. Providing direct services to LGBT older adults at The Center helped me connect what I was learning from the then scant emerging research on this population to the lived reality of people struggling with chronic health conditions, economic insecurity, isolation and depression, long-term HIV, being newly diagnosed with HIV, and elder abuse—especially fraud and assault. One of the most striking things I found was that the LGBT elders who accessed The Center were not accessing other senior services such as senior centers, congregant dining programs, health fairs, benefits clinics, and free health screenings. To address this disparity, I worked to not only bring those services and programs to The Center, but to educate aging providers on culturally competent care.

I believe this experience of providing direct services greatly enhances the policy advocacy, and capacity building work I currently do for SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). Time and again, this work brings to mind the people whose lives I know will be improved by these reforms. Similarly, the priorities of the LGBT Health Advisory Council, among them—data collection, research, hate crimes against transgender people, cultural competence training, HIV prevention and screening, and LGBT health resources—will have a direct impact on LGBT people in Chicago. I am proud to be part of this work.

Personally, the specific areas where I would like to have a positive impact are:

  • assuring the cultural competence training includes older adult health care providers;
  • that violence prevention efforts include common forms of elder abuse such as physical and sexual assault, neglect and isolation;
  • and that sexual orientation and gender identity data collection efforts include the routine data collection conducted by the Senior Services Division of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.

I thank the Chicago Department of Public Health, Commissioner Bechara Choucair, Program Manager Pamela McCann, and Director of Public Affairs Brian Richardson for this opportunity.

Find the Chicago Department of Public Health on Facebook and @chipublichealth


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