Lesbian plague

A special report by John Gallagher




“We got together around kitchen tables, in living rooms, talking about the needs for providing lesbians with support,” says Andrea Densham, a board member of the Lesbian Community Cancer Project in Chicago, recalling the group’s formation in 1990. “It’s a grassroots organization still run by volunteers.”

McGehee says her research indicated that what lesbians with breast cancer wanted besides partner involvement and respectful health care providers was emotional-support services. While many breast-cancer services exist, they often are not cognizant of a lesbian presence.

Katan’s experience confirms that. She says the shock of her diagnosis was compounded by the lack of lesbian visibility she found in cancer support groups. “I was actively seeking a community of lesbian breast-cancer survivors, and I didn’t find a lot of lesbians coming to those meetings,” she says. “I had nothing in common with these women at the meetings other than the fact that we all had breast cancer.” Katan dropped out of the groups and wrote a play about the disease to come to terms with it.

“I was in support groups that were straight; I was very uncomfortable,” says Doucher, who had a recurrence of the disease in 1994 and again in 1996. “I felt it was inappropriate to come out, and therefore I could not share a lot of the things that were going on in my life.”

“My partner and I were not comfortable with some of the support services that existed,” says Lanoue. “We went to a few different cancer agencies, and they were very well-meaning, but it wasn’t a comfortable place for my partner. And most of the people had very different concerns.”

In their efforts to get the message out about the need for screening, activists were happy to have found an ally in the federal government. And although U.S. funding of the four pilot projects ran out in August, activists hope those programs will be a springboard for a new era in lesbian health care. “It’s our hope and desire that lesbian health advocacy can be done on a broader scale,” says Jeanne Barkey, project coordinator for the Minnesota Lesbian Health Care Access Project. “In the grand scale of things, this was a teeny, tiny project, but it was a starting point. It’s an effort from lesbians saying we should do something about lesbian health now.”

Tags: Women