QUEER & HEALTHY: Expect More

By Erik Libey
As I write this month’s column, I am just coming off of Rochester’s LGBT Health Awareness Week, which was held March 14th through the 20th.

Here in Rochester, Health Week offered a weeklong series of events that touched on important issues such as sexual health, legal issues and healthcare and social health/community building. On a national level, LGBT Health Week had a slogan or theme that I thought was striking: EXPECT MORE.

As queer people, we often face a myriad of unique health issues and disparities and it is time for us to expect that these health issues were better addressed in our lives. Many of these health issues have, for too long, gone unrecognized by members of the queer community. (How many gay and bisexual men are seeking regular anal pap smears from their providers? And how many lesbians are aware of the heightened concentration of risk factors shared by many lesbian women for breast cancer?).

Additionally, for far too long, many of these health issues have gone under-addressed or completely ignored by health professionals. (How many people of trans experience around the world have been marginally cared for because of provider ignorance and prejudice?)

Additionally, society as a whole and the infrastructure that provides us with health services and messages have for too long taken too narrow a view on what is meant by “health”…. defining it typically in terms of merely physical health and disease. As human beings, and as a queer community, we are considerably more complex.

Our overall health is comprised of multiple facets including the physical, the mental, the emotional, the spiritual, the social and the political. All of these aspects of who we are must be kept “fit” and come together to make us truly healthy.

As I now reflect on all the work and energy that went into LGBT Health Awareness Week here in Rochester and in communities like ours all around the country…. I would like to issue a challenge to us all, both as individuals and as a community, to EXPECT MORE when it comes to our health:
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? We must learn more about our own health and wellness… whether it be talking with a provider, watching something on TV, or reading a book or a magazine article about queer health issues.
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? We must play a more active role in our own health… whether it be scheduling an appointment with a doctor or dentist or therapist or signing up for a fitness class or making a decision to change our substance use to be healthier.
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? We must demand more from our healthcare providers… by coming out to our providers and holding them accountable for providing us with equal, competent and appropriate care.
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? We must think about more than just the physical…whether by joining a new social circle or activity or trying out yoga or meditation.
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? And most importantly, we must do all this for more than just one week every March… being whole and healthy is an ongoing and lifelong process!

You see, when we control our health, we preserve our health—individually and as a community. And what better way can there possibly be to…be queer, be proud, and BE HEALTHY!

Erik Libey is the Gay Health Coordinator at AIDS Rochester, Inc. and can be reached at 442-2220 or by email at elibey@aidsrochester.org. An archive of his previous articles, as well as other gay health information, can be found at www.aidsrochester.org/gayhealth.

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