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Opinion: If we’re going to end HIV, we need to start with ending stigma

  

U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito said it all in very few words. They contend that the hallmark LGBTQIA ruling in our country’s history, Obergefell v. Hodges, was arrived at wrongly. Make no mistake, this is the first salvo in the latest chapter of a never-ending assault on LGBTQIA rights.

Amidst this attack, and in observance of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, a renewed focus on the rights and health care issues of more than 180,000 Missourians who are members of the LGBTQIA community is vital.  

To ensure our LGBTQIA friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors can achieve equality, it’s critical that we eliminate barriers to full participation in our communities in all their forms. More than 50 years after Stonewall — and at a time where the rights of LGBTQIA individuals are again under attack — we all need to act as individuals, organizations, and governments to secure the rights our LGBTQIA family members and friends rely on for their very lives. 

As the leader of Vivent Health, one of the country’s premier providers of HIV prevention and health services for thousands of LGBTQIA people, I see firsthand the affirmation of all the studies on the disparity in health outcomes because of stigma and discrimination. LGBTQIA individuals are far more likely to have poor health, including higher rates of many types of cancer, HPV infection, obesity, and HIV/AIDS. Mental health issues are also much greater in this community, including suicide, mood and eating disorders, and alcohol, tobacco, and substance use and abuse.

The causes of these deadly disparities are far too common: lack of health insurance, lack of access to medications, denial of health care by providers, lack of education, and stigma, discrimination, and institutional biases.  

Vivent Health will continue to aggressively provide access to the health care and social services the people we serve rely on to thrive. But, these times call on us to go even further.

To this end, I am proud that Vivent Health is committing to this work through the introduction of our new anti-stigma initiative and announcing our full support for the adoption of the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA). MONA is well past it’s due as it protects Missourians from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This legislation has languished for more than two decades in the statehouse and must be a priority in the upcoming session.

Adoption of the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act introduced by Rep. Greg Razer and Rep. Tom Hannegan last session and supported vociferously on the floor by Rep. Mike Stephens is a strong bipartisan start to addressing stigma and discrimination and helping to overcome health disparities for the LGBTQIA community. The legislation provides protections for the community in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other critical areas.

Vivent Health is launching its own plan to address LGBTQIA disparities including enhanced advocacy in support of LGBTQIA equality at all levels of government, further educating staff and the community, promoting culturally competent care, and investing in LGBTQIA health strategies.  We are hosting a virtual forum on these issues and efforts on Oct. 21. Go to ViventHealth.org to learn more.

The time is now for everyone to join together in advancing equality for all members of our community. I hope you will join us.