It is impossible to fight inequality unless you first bring it into the light. That’s why we were alarmed when, earlier this year, the Trump administration threatened to strip questions from two of the largest national health surveys that help identify the health inequities for our LGBTQ population. Trump’s threats were part of his comprehensive effort to marginalize, delegitimize, and oppress minorities across the country. For LGBTQ residents, in particular, Trump’s threats suggested that they would be effectively erased from our health data, pushing the community back into the shadows.
To confront that risk, and to address our own Department of Health’s historic inconsistency in collecting data, we drafted the LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act of 2018 in June. We wrote the bill to ensure that, regardless of any changes the Trump administration makes, the District of Columbia will collect, report, and utilize critical health data on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression for every age group as frequently as possible. Health disparities arising from sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression can be every bit as profound as the health disparities arising due to age or race. Just as we would reject a survey that failed to identify the differing health outcomes of African-Americans or that did not distinguish between the health needs of teenagers and senior citizens, we should reject any survey that hides how risk factors differ based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Our bill specifically requires the District to continue to collect sexual orientation and gender identity data in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which is conducted in our schools, and in the Behavior Risk Factor Survey, which is conducted over the telephone. This data remains anonymous and participation in either survey is voluntary. The data we collect further research on issues like physical activity, diet, tobacco use, alcohol use, immunization, sexual behavior, bullying, depression, and self-harm.
The legislation requires that information from both surveys to be aggregated and analyzed in regular reports that identify trends in the health of our LGBTQ population and gaps in services. With that information, we can expand funding for the specialized resources and supports our LGBTQ neighbors need to address health impacts arising from family rejection, discrimination, and marginalization.
The D.C. Council’s Committee on Education held a hearing on this critical legislation on October 17th, International Pronouns Day – a day when people take ownership of, and share, their own identities and learn not to make harmful assumptions. At the hearing, we heard testimony from medical students, physicians, researchers, and service providers who shared their need for greater access to health data in order to better serve our LGBTQ community. We also heard about the profound health risks the community still faces. LGBTQ youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide compared to other youth. 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ. And a staggering 40% of transgender adults have attempted suicide. Recent health research also demonstrates that chronic stress is intensified among population groups that are victims of systemic discrimination, including the LGBTQ community. This stress can damage the heart, kidneys, and immune system, and even alter our genes. We cannot begin to address these disparities unless we identify them, measure them, report them, and fund solutions.
As we prepared to pass the legislation out of the Committee on Education, we were confronted with a new front in Trump’s continuing effort to erase the LGBTQ population. He is now considering redefining the term “gender” under Title IX with the goal of eliminating legal protections for transgender people. Thankfully, the District has already enshrined protections against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in local law in our DC Human Rights Act. But the continued desire of this administration to systematically attack the most at-risk members of our community means we must continuously be on guard.
More than ever, we must stand together as a community. The LGBTQ Health Data Collection Amendment Act reflects our continuing commitment to our LGBTQ community, and particularly LGBTQ young people, that we will not let you be erased, ignored, or denied. We hear you, we see you, we care about you, and we will fight for you.
Robert White and David Grosso are members of the D.C. City Council.