After years of progress, LGBT health is under attack. As a lifelong activist for greater access to health care and for the health of women and LGBT people, I can’t be silent as Congress moves to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. And the LGBT community cannot be silent either.
I have been fighting for my community for my entire life. I saw our community step up to provide health care for women and families who were struggling during the early days of the Women’s Building. Then, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, LGBT people had to step up once again to fill in for a health care system that was failing to provide lifesaving and compassionate care while gay men were dying all around us. As a health commissioner in San Francisco, I helped create the Healthy San Francisco program and made affordable coverage available to everyone in the city regardless of immigration status.
We’ve made tremendous strides since those days. In 2010, the ACA (also known as Obamacare) brought the country even closer to the goal of universal coverage for all Americans. Today, the uninsured rate is at its lowest point in U.S. history and the gains for LGBT Americans have been even greater: the uninsured rate for low- and middle-income LGBT people dropped from 34 percent in 2013 (about one in three people) to 22 percent in 2017 (about one in five people).
There is still work to do, but access to health insurance is the first step in addressing LGBT-specific health disparities like higher rates of cancer, HIV, heart disease, tobacco use, and substance use disorders.
But instead of building on that progress, Congress and the Trump administration want to take us backward.
The current effort to repeal the ACA is disgraceful. Nonpartisan analysis of the American Health Care Act — or, as I like to call it, the #CareLESSPlan — finds that 24 million people will lose their health care coverage by 2026. The proposed cuts to Medicaid and subsidies for low-income adults hit the most vulnerable in our communities hardest — including our LGBT communities. Repeal of the ACA and cuts to the Medicaid program would make health insurance a luxury that many LGBT could not afford while cutting taxes for the wealthy, the insurance industry, and drug manufacturers, among many others.
On top of that, the AHCA singles out Planned Parenthood, an important provider of health care for women and LGBT people. Planned Parenthood is, indeed, one of the largest providers of health care for transgender people. By defunding Planned Parenthood, the AHCA would make it harder and, in some areas of the country, impossible to access culturally competent sexual health, preventive, and transition-related care.
President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan think that they can force through an ill-conceived bill that will rip coverage away from tens of millions of Americans. But we won’t let them get away with it.
We know what it’s like to fight what feels like a hopeless battle, and we can’t give up hope.
When we worried about how to keep the doors of the Women’s Building open, friends and family chipped in to pay our rent – even sponsoring me in a cross country bicycle ride from California to Maine.
When the anti-LGBT legislators put the Briggs Initiative on the ballot in California — a measure that would have made it possible to fire LGBT teachers — we held informational meetings, blitzed the media, and walked precincts to defeat it.
When hospitals sought to quarantine people with HIV or refused to treat them at all, we volunteered our time to make sure that our brothers and sisters didn’t have to struggle alone.
We know how to fight, we know how to show up for our community, and we know how to win. That’s exactly what we need to do now. Whether you’re new to the movement, or we fought together in San Francisco, we are all in this together.
The AHCA is the first big legislative battle of the Trump era, but it won’t be the last. The current administration will test LGBT activists in many ways — rolling back hard-won nondiscrimination protections, targeting LGBT immigrants, and nominating extreme anti-LGBT judges. We can set the tone for the next four years with a win right now.
And there’s no better time to start than this week when we’re celebrating LGBT Health Awareness Week.
To get involved, join the campaign to #ProtectOurCare. There, you can find information about how to share your health care story, write a letter to the editor of your local paper, attend a rally or town hall, or contact your members of Congress. Anything you can do, no matter how small it seems, helps in the fight to protect our loved ones and the progress we’ve made together.
There are many ways to make a difference — the one thing you can’t afford to do is sit on the sidelines. Our values — and our health — are at stake.