It’s hard to believe, but as we prepare to celebrate another birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we’re still embroiled in the struggle for human rights in the
This at a time when we’re on the cusp of the second inauguration of the
nation’s first President of color.
In the spirit of Dr. King, many of us still actively work for the day when the infinite rainbow of human diversity is universally celebrated, cherished and protected, rather than resented or merely tolerated. After all, as folk who’ve heard me lecture know I’m fond of saying, one tolerates a headache and waits for it to go away. Our response to the richness of racial, cultural, gender and sexual orientation diversity needs to be way more positive, nurturing and celebratory than that!
As it turns out, many of us who walk in the benevolent shadow of Dr. King’s legacy are blissfully unaware of his vocal and adamant support of gay rights. Sadly, this blind spot is especially prevalent in communities of color located in the
and in much of the African diaspora. I’m not sure why that is; I am sure
however, that the irony of this breaks my heart, since communities of color around
the developed world know all too well how bigotry, hatred and a gross perversion
of the word of God have wreaked havoc on generations of black families. If we
doubt this, we need only remind ourselves of the destructive, vicious and
pernicious use of the Bible’s chapter and verse to justify slavery, so much so
that slaves were taught that to even wish for freedom was an insult to the very
will of God.
The Reverend Dr. King knew this and never forgot it; his tireless, and ultimately fatal work fighting for the rights of all people included his vocal support of the LBGTQ community as well. Moreover, when the funeral of his widow, the late Coretta Scott King, was held at the church of a notoriously homophobic pastor, many of Dr. and Ms. King’s closest and oldest friends chose not to attend in protest, believing that the hosting pastor’s negative position on gay rights would’ve had caused the illustrious couple to roll in their graves. True to her memory and that of her martyred husband, the non-attendees held a separate, more inclusive memorial service instead.
Many of you know that I’m a cancer survivor. I thank the Universe every day for its benevolent care of my family and of me during the very difficult period of my surgery and convalescence; I'm grateful that it cares for me still. For those of us who battle illness and injury, who struggle within a health care system that works far better for some than others, we do well to remember that members of the LGBTQ community have particular challenges in accessing health care. For all practical purposes in way too many places, they’re routinely marginalized by the health care profession at large.
And whether those of us in the straight community are aware of it or not, there are particular health issues that impact the lesbian, gay, bi and transgendered population. For example, our lesbian sisters routinely face a higher risk for breast cancer than the over-all population due to their not taking birth control pills (the hormones of which help lower the risk of breast cancer) and low incidence of childbearing. As we know, women who bear children and breastfeed them have a significantly lower risk as well. Moreover, according to a 2011
have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, lipid abnormalities and glucose
Equally worrisome, they can also experience higher rates of emotional and behavioral health concerns than straight and bi-sexual women due to the sheer burden and stress of living in homophobic cultures wherein hate crimes, discrimination and bullying against lesbians are still widespread features of society. LGBTQ people are also 40 to 60 percent more likely to smoke, a factor that’s also, at least in part, attributable to stress.
Add to this the fact that there are precious few health practitioners who’re trained and well-versed in the health care needs of folk who are members of the LGBTQ community. And as much as we hate to admit it, racism, sexism, and heterosexism, which is the myopic, narrow idea that EVERYONE oughta be straight, are as pervasive in the medical community as it they are in other segments of the population.
For one thing, doctors, nurses, and everyone else in the medical field come from the general population at large, where stereotypes about race, class, gender and sexual orientation are still alive and well. Also, by their own admission, medical schools have done little to nothing when it comes to training future health care professionals in matters of diversity. In fact, one third of medical schools in the
US admit that ZERO hours of LGBTQ
content are taught in their programs.
Hopefully, at least, we’re moving towards the day when all medical practitioners, as well as the institutions that educate and hire them, will recognize the shortcomings of using a one-size-fits-all approach to patient care. Along those lines, health care providers are beginning to make efforts to be more responsive to the situational issues that disproportionately impact specific marginalized communities. Kudos to President Obama and the Affordable Health Care Act for funding specialized efforts to gather specific information on what needs fixing with respect to health care access for the LGBTQ community.
After all, and as hard as it is for some folk to accept, when it comes to sexual orientation, LGBTQ people are born the way they are, pure and simple, just as straight people are born the way they are, people of color are born the way they are, and so on. That’s why we use the term sexual orientation rather than sexual preference or choice. And as Dr. King so eloquently taught us in his view from “the mountain top” and throughout his life, when one of us is treated unfairly, we are all treated unfairly; when one of us suffers, so do we all.
photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/24328644@N08/2508700303/">gcoldironjr2003</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/">cc</a>