A giant leap for LGBTs

  • by Rick Eisenlord
  • Wednesday August 6, 2014
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You know you've arrived when the White House calls. In the past year, it has twice summoned LGBT leaders from around the nation to discuss issues affecting our community and health care.

I had the honor of participating in both events, last September and this July. They were truly "pinch-me" moments, and remarkable because of the realization that we have finally achieved a place at the table. It was stunning to see over 100 LGBT leaders invited and welcomed at the White House.

Those who wield power are listening sincerely to our concerns.

The statistics for the LGBT community and health care are grim. Based on 2013 surveys by the Department of Health and Human Services, it is estimated that 1 in 3 lower- to middle-income LGBT adults don't have health insurance. Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth leave home before the age of 26, resulting in loss of health care coverage from their parents' plan. Transgender individuals continue to face challenges in securing affordable health care from qualified doctors.

When you take into consideration that 63 percent of new HIV infections involve the LGBT community, the need for affordable competent health care becomes even more crucial.

The latest event was an afternoon briefing on July 24 at the White House about the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with officials from the West Wing and HHS. The objective was to "gear up" for open enrollment for the ACA on November 15. LGBT leaders came from states large and small, from the liberal North and West to the Midwest heartland to the conservative South. More than 30 states were represented.

What is so remarkable about all this is the support and involvement of the White House and HHS with the LGBT community. It's reassuring to know that we not only have a friendly ear at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but LGBT individuals are part and parcel of the Obama administration.

High on the list of concerns for me and others is ensuring that specialized treatment for HIV patients is accessible under HMOs that provide care to many Medi-Cal patients. This is especially important because of the rise in HIV infections among young gay men and minority populations.

Among other challenges is ensuring that coverage is available under the ACA for same-sex couples. Currently, a patchwork of laws around the country creates barriers that keep some legally married same-sex couples from enrolling for family coverage.

The truly big news, however, isn't what was being talked about. It's the fact that the dialogue with the LGBT community is even happening. Not only are we at the table, but LGBT leaders are assisting in shaping and developing policy and guidelines as it relates to the ACA and the LGBT community across the United States. LGBT individuals within the Obama administration are actively working with local organizations in securing health care coverage for those who have historically been underserved by the insurance industry.

Over the past 25 years, the shift has been nothing less than dramatic in public perception and acceptance of same-sex marriage and relations between consenting LGBT adults.

In chronological time, that may seem like a lot for those of us involved in the movement. But in historical time, it's the blink of an eye. It's also been far quicker than acceptance of blacks and women into the mainstream.

Let's examine some of the numbers.

Major surveys conducted in the past two years by Pew and Gallup reached the same startling conclusion: Since 2001, the percentage of those supporting LGBT issues has risen by one-third to 55 percent, while those opposed has dwindled by one-third to 40 percent.

If you begin the comparison only a few years earlier in the mid-1990s, the numbers are even more stark: Those who accept same-sex relationships nearly doubled, while those opposed declined by half. That's a stunning turnaround in less than 20 years.

As you'd expect, significant differences exist based on generation, politics, and religion (the younger, more liberal and less religiously affiliated, the more accepting). Women are slightly more accepting than men.

As those demographics continue to shift, acceptance of same-sex families should become even broader. The momentum seems irreversible.

Surveys are a great indicator of the underlying beliefs of a society. But the ultimate test is how those beliefs translate into action.

Look around you, and see how many others share the same beliefs. In some communities, the ratio is high, and you feel more accepted and safe.

But go outside those areas, and you are the outlier. Because you are different, you are treated differently. Too often, that translates into being treated less well, less fairly, more suspect. These will be our battlegrounds of the future. Acceptance may be slower because resistance is deeper.

The danger now is slipping into complacency. If that happens, hard-fought gains can be lost quickly. The next major test will come in the November midterm election. Will we continue to have friends in the Senate? Or will we lose control of it and hobble the White House?

Being invited to the White House conference wasn't the first step for the LGBT community. Many preceded it. But it is a giant step. The challenge is to keep up the momentum.


The Reverend Rick Eisenlord, M.Div, who is gay, is pastor of Good Shepherd Church Pasadena near Los Angeles. He also is co-founder of the San Gabriel Valley Gay and Lesbian Center. Since being ordained in the mid-1970s, he has advocated on behalf of helping the neediest in the LGBT community. For more information on Eisenlord and his ministry, visit the church website at http://www.GoodShepherdPasadena.com.