Friday, February 17, 2012

White House Hold LGBT Health Conference

via Advocate, by Andrew Harmon

PHILADELPHIA — The White House rolled out its first campaign-season LGBT conference Thursday, one focused on health care issues facing the community and headlined by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The conference series was first announced by the White House last month.

Sebelius didn’t break big news on health care initiatives during a morning address at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University.

But the White House’s engagement on the issue, coupled with the HHS secretary’s attendance, brought national visibility to what Sebelius accurately described as a health care system that has been “especially broken for LGBT Americans,” who have lower rates of coverage and have been historically excluded from federal health surveys.

“Given the discrimination that often is faced in the workplace, LGBT Americans often have a harder time getting access to employment-based coverage,” Sebelius said at the conference, also attended by gay White House officials including Gautam Raghavan, the LGBT liaison in the Office of Public Engagement; and John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management.

But “all Americans, regardless of where they live, what age, sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, have a basic right to get the health care they need here in the United States, and that’s a principle we are committed to fighting for in this administration,” Sebelius said.

The speech was similar in tone and structure to Sebelius’s address before the National Coalition for LGBT Health in October, where she enumerated the administration’s regulatory accomplishments over the past three years — most famously a hospital visitation mandate for same-sex couples — and touted health care reform as a major step toward improving health care access for the community. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the law’s constitutionality in late March.

The lack of marriage rights can be a major barrier to care, as Sebelius discussed with The Advocate in an interview published last month.

President Obama has endorsed legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, though the White House has not budged in recent months beyond talking points of the president “evolving” on the issue of full marriage rights and opposing “divisive and discriminatory” measures against same-sex couples — this in reference to anti-gay marriage ballot measures in states such as North Carolina and Minnesota.

The issue-specific LGBT conferences, ranging from HIV/AIDS to aging-related and antibullying efforts, are slated to take place around the country over the next several months, ending in June.

Invites have already been sent out for a March 9 event in Detroit focused on housing and homelessness.

At the Creating Change conference last month in nearby Baltimore, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, announced the agency had finalized a rule prohibiting antigay and antitransgender discrimination in housing programs that HUD oversees.

The rule, Donovan said at the January conference, “says clearly and unequivocally that LGBT individuals and couples have the right to live where they choose.”

Donovan has stood out in pushing the envelope on LGBT rights in Obama’s cabinet, coming out ahead of the president in support of full marriage equality last November.

The Democratic Party has been urged to follow suit by supporting a pro-marriage equality platform with inclusive language on the issue, as proposed earlier this week by the group Freedom to Marry.

A spokesman for Rep. Nancy Pelosi told Metro Weekly Tuesday that the House Democratic keader supports the proposed language (read the report here).

Another trending topic discussed Thursday was that of cultural competency standards for health care professionals treating LGBT patients.

There are no uniform standards for doctors and medical staff on how (and how not) to treat LGBT individuals.

Sebelius said in January that she does not necessarily believe codified regulation needs to be implemented, though the Office of Minority Health is working to add sexual orientation and gender identity into the language of its Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care standards.

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