Thursday, October 20, 2011

Secretary Sebelius: “We Have Begun to Push Open Doors that Seemed Shut Forever”

Secretary Sebelius, the Secretary for the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke at the annual meeting for the National Coalition for LGBT Health on October 17th. Her speech included the accomplishments of the current Presidency concerning LGBT health issues and motivated listeners to press on through the battles to come.

The National Coalition for LGBT Health was created ten years ago to help create an LGBT component to the government’s ten year plan called “Healthy People 2010.” After forming the “LGBT Companion Document to Healthy People 2010” the National Coalition continues their work through research, policy change, programs, and the promotion of professional and cultural competency. PFLAG National is one of over 70 organizations with Coalition memberships, and hundreds of individuals hold memberships as well.

Sec. Sebelius opened with the progress made on the new Healthy People 2020, a national health improvement initiative which will now include a full section on LGBT health. “I’m sure you agree it was about time,” the Secretary declared.

She continued with a strong list of accomplishments the Obama Administration has facilitated over the past two years. Most widely known was the new law concerning hospital visitation rights, which now allows patients to make their own decisions about who is allowed to visit them, including same-sex partners and spouses. Less publicized, but certainly no less important, is the LGBT data progression plan which spurs the integration of sexual orientation and gender identity variables into federal HHS surveys.

HHS itself has also taken steps toward greater inclusivity, and now mandates all employees to serve anyone who is eligible for their programs regardless of race, national origin, color, religion, sex, disability, status as a parent, genetic information, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. HHS is and has taken steps to assist community health centers to better help their underserved patients.

Sec. Sebelius brought up other issues that may not be related to health issues at first glance: homeless LGBT youth, LGBT foster children, and bullying in schools- all issues central to PFLAG National’s work with the Obama Administration which focus on building safer schools, opening more homes to foster youth, and addressing the challenges of family rejection. She ties in these important topics with her equal health mission by stressing the importance of a safe environment that can provide appropriate care for these young people.

Nearing the end, the Secretary spoke of the benefits LGBT people will obtain from the Affordable Care Act, and calls for her audience to support the act in the coming months as it is debated in the political arena. Lastly, she discusses her concern for the HIV/AIDS epidemic, especially in regard to gay men of color. “We have come a long way in ten years,” she says, “but we still have a long way to go.”

In closing, Secretary Sebelius once again stresses the importance of promising “dignity and support” to LGBT people who deserve to achieve their full potential. “We have begun to push open doors that seemed shut forever. Looking ahead, the future gives me real hope. And I’m looking forward to working with you to make it as bright as possible.”

Secretary Sebelius is the 21st Secretary of the HHS. She took office in 2009 and has fought for some of America’s most underserved populations including young children, those with disabilities, and the elderly.

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