We Must Speak Up

Impact Brief CEO Message – May 2022

In the past month, several incidences have underscored the continued oppressions that many people of color and within the LGBTQIA+ community experience daily. We saw acts of violence, again occur due to racist and xenophobic beliefs. We saw the introduction of or advancement of legislative action throughout the country that seeks to reduce bodily autonomy for people who become pregnant as well as legislation attempting to limit, ban, or criminalize access to gender-affirming treatments for transgender youth.

Racism and bigotry are behaviors of the powerful to keep some communities marginalized from society. When basic human rights are denied, such as a right to identity or medical care, we see higher rates of sickness and death.

Studies have shown that gender-affirming care greatly improves the mental health and overall well-being of transgender, gender diverse, and nonbinary youth. Denying gender-affirming care will exacerbate an already substantial mental health crisis amongst LGBTQIA+ youth.

LGBTQIA+ youth who are accepted by their families have lower levels of suicide, substance misuse, and homelessness. The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 52 percent of transgender youth considered suicide within the previous year and that 70 percent experienced symptoms of major depressive disorder. According to research by the Family Acceptance Project, LGBTQ youth whose families affirm their gender identity and sexual orientation are almost 50 percent less likely to make a suicide attempt compared with those whose families are unsupportive.   

We must ask why we are legislating against what research and science shows to be in the best interest of the health of these children and young adults. (Read our statement acknowledging LGBTQIA+ gaps to accessible healthcare and keep an eye out for our statement supporting gender-affirming care coming soon.)

This month we also learned through leaked sources that millions of people may soon lose their protections to receive an abortion in their state. Again, research demonstrates that marginalized communities will be disproportionally affected. Black women—who already are most likely to have serious complications or die during childbirth—will have the most severe health and life consequences from restricted access or bans on abortion.

The attack on a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. is another example of the growing threat racism is as a public health issue. When people cannot safely participate in their community to go for a jog, grab some vegetables at the store, or visit a salon, we are removing choices that enable people to live healthier lives.

We also must acknowledge the senseless loss of life in Uvalde, Texas. We continue to support our partners in injury and violence prevention as they work to reduce gun violence and facilitate lasting and meaningful change.

As public health professionals, we have strong opinions about many of these topics—and at times many of us have avoided engaging too heavily in discussion because of fear of political fallout. Ethically, we are bound by what the science tells us and what stands to make our communities the healthiest. I hope we can all agree that it is public health’s role to help people live healthier, longer lives. To do this, we must speak up when and where we can on these issues.

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