LGBTQIA+ Health Forum a Good Start

Contributor

Future healthcare professional and those interested in the topic owed it to themselves to be at the LGBTQIA+ Health Forum, held at UCSF’s Mission Bay campus on Feb. 24. But for those of you weren’t there, I’ve graciously provided a recap of what I experienced.

I wanted to attend literally all of the concurrent sessions at the forum (including Vogue 101!) but alas, I didn’t have a Time-Turner.

I made due with Queerness and Disability: Reframing the Power of Diverse Bodies and Minds in Healthcare, BDSM Sexuality and Health: Results from the 2016 National Kink Health Survey, and Increasing Healing Amongst LGBTQ POC Accessing Mental Health Services.

Each of the sessions were spearheaded by amazing speakers and presented poignant thoughts, data, and suggestions, but I walked away from them feeling starved. With only 50 minutes per session, I felt as though every time we were reaching deeper discussion, it was cut short. So much time was taken up by defining terms and concepts that there was little time to give them context.

It made me realize that, if we’re going to move forward with helping these communities, we need to incorporate the basic language into general education.

While I realize that the health forum was open to everyone, the talks were clearly tailored to health professionals – if we still need to explain things like ableism and intersectionality in this specialized environment, we still have a ways to go.

But despite the short time, the presentations were still fruitful.

In the Queerness and Disability session, speaker Allie Cannington eloquently summed up how the queer identity can exacerbate issues of disability when it comes to healthcare: people will neglect their bodies because of past trauma (with providers), and let their disabilities go unchecked.

Examples of these traumas were already given by the patient panel earlier, and it’s these negative experiences that give way to avoiding the doctor altogether. To spare our mental health, we neglect our physical health.

In an emotional moment, Cannington told us how a dear queer friend died in the night because of sleep apnea. The death could have been easily prevented if they had the trust to visit the doctor.

As someone who has to drum up a lot of mental fortitude to take care of my own disability, the whole session hit very close to home.

For half of the BDSM Sexuality and Health session I was cringing at the people talking and laughing behind me. When presenters Richard Sprott and Anna Randall polled the crowd on how much background they had on BDSM (short for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism), their teasing “Heeeey”s were equally cringe-y.

A word of advice for future health professionals: if you’re going to a presentation about understanding a community, try not to treat it as a joke. This is why people are unwilling to disclose information, leading to increased disparities among groups.

But along with elevated HIV rates (unfortunately not an uncommon statistic at a forum like this), what was most interesting was that individuals that took part in the National Kink Health Survey also had extremely high rates for having experienced depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or attempted suicide.

While these statistics might seem alarming, other data suggest that BDSM might be a positive coping mechanism.

When asked if kink impacted their mental health, 78.1% of individuals reported yes. And of that group, 85.16% said it had a positive impact, only 1.1% reported a completely negative impact, and 13.67% reported both positive and negative impacts.

While the data needs to be analyzed further, it could represent an intriguing and important example of how expanding our sexuality can liberate us from trauma.

Rather than rely on a straightforward presentation, speaker Zami Tinashe Hyemingway, perhaps anticipating a large turnout, broke up the Healing amongst LGBTQ POC session into discussion groups.

We talked about topics such as how the political climate affects mental health for Queer/Trans People of Color (QTPOC), what creates barriers to access, and strategies for increasingly accessibility.

The issues discussed stem from a huge demand and a meager culturally competent supply. Especially in this political climate, QTPOC are being attacked from all sides on a near-daily basis, undergoing constant trauma and triggers that decrease quality of life and increase the prevalence of mental health issues. Yet, when they seek care, they are often met with more trauma.

We talked about how when seeking a therapist, we often don’t see ourselves – the majority of therapists are straight, white, and female, trained in practices and languages that have been standardized for white people.

Therapy sessions become both educational and emotional labor for a QTPOC individual as they try to explain their identity and experiences to a therapist. Combined with the financial costs of counseling for a typically disenfranchised population, the result is a neglect of health.

Do you see a pattern in these sessions?

In a similar vein, the solutions brought up also involved relinquishing power: decentering whiteness, institutional changes to prioritize racial justice as a value, creating free resources, and supporting a pipeline of QTPOC therapists, among others.

And, if you have a client of your own, do your homework and bring up race first.