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LGBTI Health Summit looks at Obama’s LGBT health record [26 August, 2009]

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The LGBTI Health Summit came in the thick of very intense national conversations around health care, especially at various Town Halls across the country.  Despite the national spotlight on an issue that clearly has the attention of more than the approximately 50 million uninsured, the gay community’s response to the health crisis has been relatively muted.

On August 17, Sean Cahill, managing director of public policy for the New York-based GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis) and Chicago’s David Munar, vice president of AIDS Foundation of Chicago, presented “the Obama administration’s efforts to develop a national AIDS strategy” to discuss LGBTI health issues.  In the process, they shed light on both the successes and shortcomings of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Cahill pointed out that while he agreed with some of the criticism of the Obama administration, such as that around the Department of Justice memo stating that it does not support the Defense of Marriage Act, he was also struck by the fact that few people noted the advances made: “I’ve asked people: Do you realize that Obama fully de-funded abstinence-only education until marriage?” He said that most people were completely unaware of this, even though it has a significant effect on the sexual and reproductive health of both straight and LGBTQ students.

“Forty-seven percent of high school students are sexually active, and 4 million young people contract STDs each year,” said Cahill.  In addition, such programs carry  aregressive gender stereotypes,” presenting boys as “sex-crazed” and girls needing to “manage the [supposed] sexual predation of boys.”  They are also anti-gay, presenting AIDS as the inevitable result of homosexuality.

Cahill discussed HIV/AIDS, including the HIV travel ban that prohibits travelers with the virus from entering the country.  He said that this has a detrimental effect on the health of immigrants because it “discourages people from coming forward to get tested or access treatment.”  In New York city, 24 percent of new HIV diagnoses were among immigrants and, of those, 50 percent were more likely than native borns to be dual diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, which means that they are likely definitely testing later because of a fear of being deported.

As for HIV/AIDS in the general population, Cahill said that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) now estimates that 56,300 were newly diagnosed in 2006—40 percent more people than was previously counted.  In the U.S. today, 1.1 million are living with HIV, and the racial and ethnic disparities are clear: While Blacks make up 13 percent of the U.S population, they account for 43 percent new HIV diagnoses; while Latinos are 13 percent of the population, they account for 18 percent of new diagnoses.

Originally published in Windy City Times on 26 August, 2008.

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