Faith Leaders and Dept. of Health & Human Services Explore LGBT Health Resources
On May 20, the Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) convened a group of national LGBTQ faith leaders to discuss how HHS can bring our LGBTQ community into the work they do with faith congregations around health concerns. This event was part of an ongoing effort by the Obama Administration to respond to the oft-neglected needs of the LGBTQ community.
The LGBT Faith Leaders Table, sponsored by HHS’s Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Initiatives, featured a mixture of religious leaders. The majority of faith leaders were Christian, however, much discussion was had about making future events more diverse.
There were faith leaders present from denominational groups that were welcoming to LGBTQ folks, as well as representatives from organizations that had faith as a major component of their work. The National LGBTQ Task Force was represented by both our Faith Work Director Rodney McKenzie and our Assistant Faith Work Director Barbara Satin.
HHS reported that it is in the process of developing resources aimed at helping leaders of faith gatherings – churches, synagogues, mosques, assemblies, etc. – to address significant health concerns that may be directly impacting members of their faith settings. Faith leaders, in their roles as counselors to individuals or as teachers to the broader faith community, have an important role to play in addressing these issues, including any stress and trauma their members may be experiencing.
HHS staff presented the idea of creating specific LGBTQ related health resources as part of this project. Since the focus of the conversation and the make-up of the Faith Table were leaders from welcoming faith settings, some of the participants countered with a suggestion to start with topics that affect everyone in a faith community – straight or LGBTQ – and write the resource in a way that normalizes rather than stigmatizes the LGBTQ aspects of the issue. Ultimately, welcoming faith communities – and their leaders – need to see everyone as “one” rather than parts of their community, such as LGBTQ people, as “other”.
A suggested example was the issue of bullying, which has a significant health consequence across a wide variety of identities. It would be beneficial to develop a resource that could address not only bullying that affects LGBTQ youth, but also the impacts of bullying on an overweight child, a person with a disability and/or a youth who expresses gender in a non-conforming way.
Aging was another example. People, straight or queer, will all grow old; some elements of aging are the same no matter your sexual orientation or gender identity. However, there are unique health concerns LGBTQ people have that need to be understood in a way that normalizes those concerns rather than presenting them as stigmatizing.
The group agreed that the work that HHS has started holds potential for helping shape a positive response to these issues. As a next step, group members and HHS staff agreed to collaborate in crafting documents that will resonate with faith leaders of welcoming communities. I look forward to continue being a part of this important work, and am thankful that the Obama Administration for its commitment to LGBTQ people.
Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force