Last week, President Obama repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), that now infamous military policy that paved a creative avenue to ban lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) people from serving our country. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -- as in they won’t ask us and of course, we won’t tell. I guess the thinking is that if no one asks, our identity won’t come up and of course, we won’t have a reason to bring it up. No reason to bring up who we are, ever. If you don’t identify under the rainbow umbrella of LGBT people, imagine spending, say, one week, where no one asks a question that would lead you to say anything that suggested you are heterosexual. Imagine that you are not allowed to say anything publicly that would provide a clue to your heterosexuality. No asking, no telling. You will be an expert at altering the truth; a genius at substituting pronouns; a wizard at lying. You will essentially become someone you are not in order to maintain your job or your apartment or your friends or family. Perhaps you will seek places you can go and be yourself without fear; perhaps you will suffer in isolation.
There are many LGBT people in the United States and around the world. I say “many” because we don’t really know the numbers. No one has comprehensively asked and we’re not telling anyway- not yet. In some countries we can live openly, in others we lie to avoid execution. In most, we live carefully. There are many of us and, you guessed it, LGBT Health is public health.
This is a blog, not an on-line lecture hall, but I’m passionate about public health, diversity and equity issues, so I tend to connect the focus of my writing with the science that supports it. However, if having supportive, rigorous evidence is all we need to convince the courts, the states, the Nation, everyone- that we can serve in the military, marry, raise children, walk down the street and share the air with everyone else on the planet – if that were all there was to it, we could dispense with this mess and move on to the more important issues of the day.
But it’s not, and we can’t.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced new data standards aimed at collecting information that will help “target research and tailor stronger solutions for underserved and minority communities.” In other words, they are going to create ways to ask such that when we tell, we provide usable data that in turn will inform better science and ultimately improve LGBT health and welfare. The American Public Health Association has long had an LGBT caucus, which looks at the many issues we face. At Drexel, we have a wonderful research and education program and related graduate courses. Our own Dr. Randall Sell is a renowned expert on how to collect usable data related to LGBT populations, and HHS experts are looking to him for help with how best to craft questions that will yield meaningful data.
This week is a public health romp! I meet with a small group of leaders who advise the Health Department regarding the Get Healthy Philly initiative (our Mayor who will be there is so committed to making a healthier Philadelphia!). There’s a wonderful reception with the researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences – an incredible institution that has recently affiliated with Drexel. The Pennsylvania Public Health Association comes to town and I will be moderating a plenary panel on the wide-ranging impact of the Affordable Care Act. No shortage of blog material!
But the repeal and hopeful end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell just can’t slip by without commentary nor can the drumbeat of discrimination that I hear daily in politics or in the media. The planet’s in a bit of turmoil these days and it would be ideal if we could all work together to address the underlying societal factors that drive poverty, inequity and disease.
Diversity, equity, my life and yours-- this is public health.