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Is the Bush Administration Ignoring Gay/Lesbian Health Issues?
by Pam Chwedyk Minority Nurse Writer
So far, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Initiative to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health--launched in 1998 as part of former President Bill Clinton’s Initiative on Race--seems to have survived the transition to a new Republican administration with its minority health advocacy agenda reasonably intact. But some health experts and policy makers are concerned that George W. Bush’s HHS is failing to address the health care needs of one the nation’s most important minority populations: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans.
According to an article published last fall in the Washington Blade, a newspaper serving the District of Columbia’s gay community, a growing number of gay health activists say they are worried that the Bush administration may be systematically ignoring and marginalizing this population’s health concerns. “Gay and lesbian health issues were clearly on the agenda during the Clinton administration,” says Judy Bradford, a panelist on a landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report on lesbian health. “Now, it’s as if they’ve vanished. They’re off the radar screen.”
The National Coalition for LGBT Health, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) and other advocacy groups cite HHS’ last-minute decision to withdraw funding earmarked for the National Lesbian Health Conference 2002, and the lack of references to LGBT populations in the department’s 2003-2008 strategic plan, as examples of how the Bush administration is backpedaling on the commitment to gay health established during the tenure of Clinton-era HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. “The [Bush] administration has reneged on promised support, censored [LGBT] health information and pushed health programs that render gays and lesbians non-entities,” charges GLMA President Christopher E. Harris, MD.
Fortunately, the Blade reports, gay rights groups aren’t the only ones taking Bush’s HHS to task on this issue. In October 2002, Rep. Constance Morella (R-Md.), Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and 17 other House members wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson requesting that HHS “identify the actions that have been taken or will be taken across the department to ensure that health disparities due to sexual orientation and gender identity are being addressed and reduced.” Added Waxman, in a written statement, “The Bush administration has ignored many important gay and lesbian health issues.”