Community Leaders Share Resources, Challenges at First Fenway Queer Women’s Health Roundtable

On Monday, December 5, Fenway Health’s Women’s Health team facilitated its first Queer Women’s Health Roundtable, an evening of open discussion of the issues that affect the health and wellbeing of queer, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women and non-binary people assigned female at birth.

Tanekwah Hinds, Women’s Health Program Coordinator, organized the roundtable to uplift and center the voices of community members speaking on behalf of the diverse populations that the Women’s Health Team serves. The representatives from each organization present were leaders who self-identified as cisgender women, transgender women, or non-binary individuals.

“We wanted to provide a space for community leaders to network, identify important health issues of their respective communities, and create actionable steps for future collaboration with other community leaders,” explained Hinds.

The roundtable brought together a wide range of Boston area LGBTQ organizations including the Bisexual Resource Center, Boston GLASS, Boston Pride, the Family Equality Council, Flashback: Elders of Color, GLAD, Lesbians of Color Symposium Collective, MASALA, Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, RALLY, The Meeting Point, The Network/La Red, the Theater Offensive, and TransCEND. Fenway Health staff members from a number of departments were also present to listen and be available as resources.

The experiences and concerns shared during the roundtable were as diverse as the organizations present. Senior LBT people, for example, expressed the challenges they face with accessibility to medical and behavioral health care on Medicaid, limited mobility, income disparities versus their non-LGBT peers, affordable senior housing, and an increase in social isolation as they age.

LGBTQ youth, especially youth of color or street-involved youth, often find sterile, imposing medical facilities unwelcoming and avoid routine health screenings, putting them at higher risk of adverse health outcomes. LGBTQ-friendly pediatricians are also rare and difficult to access without insurance.

Transgender women and transfeminine people are currently suffering from a nationwide shortage of lifesaving injectable estrogen. Transgender women of color disproportionately experience homelessness, poverty, HIV infection risk, and violence, especially those who are involved with sex work as survival.

Bisexual women face the same health care disparities as lesbian and queer women, but with the added stigma of constantly having to come out to providers. They also struggle to find acceptance within the greater queer community as people with non-monosexual identities.

LGBTQ people who are immigrants or who do not speak English as a first language face serious accessibility barriers when trying to navigate the health care system or find culturally competent providers. They are also in danger of facing anti-immigrant discrimination and violence. People of color, transgender, and non-binary people are rarely able to find providers who look or sound like them, making it less likely that they will feel comfortable or safe in those clinical spaces.

The discussions started at this week’s roundtable are the beginning of what the Women’s Health Team hopes will be a continuing dialogue between Fenway and the larger LGBTQ community.

“I first brainstormed the roundtable six months ago when I was interested in planning outreach events for the Women’s Health Team,” said Hinds. “In the process of talking to community leaders about the role of Fenway, I realized that the Queer Women’s Health Roundtable was also essential for Fenway Health as an institution to reflect the diverse needs of the LGBTQ community. I am excited about the involvement of diverse voices and leaders in the community. I hope that we can return to the table to discuss how we can mobilize our resources and move forward together.”

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