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White House, Mazzoni Center Host LGBT Health Care Panel

by Louis  Finley
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Friday Feb 24, 2012
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The White House, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Mazzoni Center hosted the first in a series of panel discussions on LGBT-specific issues at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia on Feb. 16.

The gathering on LGBT health included panelists Kathy Greenlee, Howard Koh and Ken Choe and remarks from Mayor Michael Nutter and Dr. Robert Barchi, president of Thomas Jefferson University. This panel is the first of several gatherings that will take place across the country through June that will focus on issues that directly impact LGBT Americans.

"The goal of these conferences is to empower and inform advocates and organizations on the ground and interested members of the public with information, resources and opportunities that the Obama administration has to offer," said Gautam Raghavan, associate director of the White House Office for Public Engagement. "We want to know what’s working, what’s not working and what we can do better."

More than 300 students, community leaders and LGBT Philadelphians gathered inside the auditorium in the Dorrance H. Hamilton Building. They asked the panel a variety of questions about the lack of visibility of transgender and intersex people, the inclusion of gay couples in Medicare and other topics.

The panelists pointed out to the audience that the Obama administration has been "sensitive" to these issues, pointing to recent non-discrimination policies that include both sexual orientation and gender identity as examples.

The panel also touched upon the understanding that each sub-group within the broader LGBT community does not have the same needs, and must be catered to differently.

"One of the things that we do in our engagement with the public, with the health stakeholders that meet with us on a regular basis, is make sure we distinguish and talk about each separate community," said Greenlee. "As we then set our policy priorities, we also look through our list and say, ’What are we doing with regard to the health issues of transgendered people?’"

She further stressed that HHS continues to gauge the needs of the community.

"Much of the focus has been basic conversation about data collection," said Greenlee. "We have been looking at the specific difference to find a commonality because when we find a commonality we can push for it all together, but also clearly see the distinctions."

John Berry, director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, focused on the need for inclusivity within the health care system.

"Change does not come fast, nor does it come easy, we’ve got to work to make it better," he said. "When I say work, I mean together... local, state and national."

Though the LGBT community has made positive strides within the health care system, Barchi stated that the rates of illnesses remain disproportionately high compared to those among their heterosexual counterparts.

"Despite the progress and tolerance in healthcare access, members of the LGBT community continue to experience worse health outcomes than heterosexual individuals including higher rates of cancer, substance abuse, stress and other serious illnesses," he said.

The confab also offered workshops on aging, working with the Obama administration, sports and physical education, lesbian health and intersex issues.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan is expected to attend the next conference that is scheduled to take place in Detroit on March 9.

Louis Finley is a student at Drexel University, and the former News Editor of the schools independent newspaper, The Triangle.

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