An Activist Fighting for LGBTQ Health
July 27, 2012
by John Long
Dr. Scout, who runs the Network for LGBT Health Equity at the Fenway Institute in Boston, is returning to Kansas City to lead another health summit on Aug. 14. He was last here in September 2008 for the LGBT Tobacco Control Network Summit. This year’s conference [see story on previous page"> is called the 8th annual LGBTQ Health Equity Summit.
Why Kansas City? “Missouri ends up being a hotbed of LGBT health activity right now that I think actually may end up coming up with the model that could be cutting-edge for the country,” Dr. Scout said. “In a lot of our arena, there’s been a big shift to wellness work, which is generally because the feds have run the numbers and found out that we can avoid about 80 percent of our health-care costs if we did a better job with having the full populace eat better, exercise more and stop smoking.”
When I asked about how Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. health and human services secretary and former governor of Kansas, has addressed LGBT health issues, Dr. Scout said, “Sebelius has absolutely taken a huge amount of leadership on this. Each year Sebelius brings in LGBT leaders, and I’ve been at those meetings, to say what’s most important to work on this coming year and then she comes up with an action plan of LGBT health priorities for all of HHS for the coming year.”
Dr. Scout, as he is legally known, is open about being one of the few transgender leaders at the doctoral level involved in LGBTQ health. “For most of my career, there’s only been two Ph.D.-level trans people working in health research in the country, that we knew of. Maybe now there’s three, possibly four.” He has been living as a transgender man since 1993.
Dr. Scout, 46, has three children from a former relationship and is now, in his words, “newly fianced.” His proposal to Liz Margolies at the June 15 LGBT Pride reception at the White House is on a YouTube video that went viral.
Although tobacco is no longer in the name of the summit, Dr. Scout acknowledged that a large part of the conference will still focus on how to reduce the high rate of smoking in the LGBTQ community.
“It’s harder to engage some of our own community members just on the issue of tobacco. It’s easier sometimes to talk with them about health equity more broadly and then make sure you come back to tobacco as being one of the key factors of that,” he said.
“Some of our community leaders also smoke, and I think we don’t do the best job of realizing you can work against tobacco without working against smokers. I used to be like ‘just stop smoking,’ and I was rude about it, you know?” he said with a laugh. “Until you work in the arena, then you realize that actually the people who care the most about getting rid of tobacco are usually the smokers. Because nobody else understands how deep it gets in your system and how almost every smoker wants to quit. I think we have to do a better job of figuring out how to work against tobacco taking over our communities without it being working against the smokers, because they’re the ones who are usually some of our supporters. They need to be part of this effort and should be part of this effort.”
Dr. Scout said the composition of attendees at these summits includes community organizers who will go back to their communities and get their health departments involved, health providers, and state and local government health departments.
“We want to be able to energize and hear from and learn from and help transfer the best-practices messages between anybody in our communities who want to stand up and say, ‘We need better health,’ Dr. Scout said. “Because we really do deserve it. I think one of the biggest things holding us back is we don’t realize that we have profound health disparities and that can and should stop.”
Dr. Scout invited even those who aren’t paying to attend the full day’s events to stop by the summit at the Downtown Marriott.
“Come on over and visit us. And you know something, if you mention Camp, how about we give you a wink and a nod and you can at least come in and say hi. You can’t stay for the free food that we have to pay for,” he said with a laugh, “but you can at least come in and say hi.”