Friday, April 2, 2010

April is National Minority Health Month

Or alternately speaking, it's Health Equity Month, which sounds better (at least to me, being labeled "Minority" has this whole 3/5ths of a person ring to it, that I don't particularly relate to. Not so much.

But again, it's a federal month dedicated to inspiring positive health outcomes, behaviors, and access to people who have been historically left out of the picture, and to those new populations (or newly visible populations) who contribute to the greater landscape of diversity, parity, and unfortunately disparity.

I went to an awesome symposium at the Mass General Hospital Disparities Solution Center. The conversation was led by two out MDs; Graham McMahon M.D. M.M.Sc., and Jennifer Potter, MD. Both leaders in their field, and both very active in their respective communities; and I'm guessing what I mean by that is: they are gay, and it's not a hidden type of thing. It needn't be.

I'm no close-eyed kid: I grew up in the South End of Boston, when it was very much in transition from being Latino, then African-American, later people started to move in from Chinatown. At each point, we were the minority, due to my mother's habits; the results of her Schizophrenia. We shared a racial and socioeconomic reality to the others in our area, but we were isolated in some other, glaringly different realities as well.

Years passed as they do: both repetitive and dynamic. The old neighborhood went through it's evolution in two well-defined phases: pre and post gentrification. At it's lowest when the combat zone wasn't a flurry of posh restaurants and overspill of Tufts Medical Center and my beloved Tufts Medical School, it very much wasn't a place for anyone.

That's precisely when the neighborhood had an uptick of the gay population. Now, when I say that, or write it, I pause. Am I saying it right? Do I sound offensive? Is this capturing what I'm really trying to communicate? And I think, on some levels, it's that measured tone, that strange dance of distance and respect, that difference that can and does get in the way of transparency, care, and truth. It can. But, just like in real life, some folks dance better than others. I like to think my jig is cute.

I at least try.

And, its also the truth, the neighborhood changed a lot. People moved in. Others shipped out, voluntarily and ehh, not so much. Some stayed and contributed to a more thriving environment. I titter when I think of people being nervous now, in the neighborhood. I hold back tears when I recall how the victory gardens were places of gay-hate crimes, some I witnessed as a 12 year old kid, simply sitting on my stoop at the base of a (very) public block.

But my point, ultimately is, how we define minority, diversity, equity, parity, really is all up for interpretation (and action-oriented discussion). We can be talking about color, accent, class when we say any of those key-words mentioned above. Or not. Perhaps we're really getting at ideas of ability, inability, who you love currently, who you've loved in the past, who you make love to when no one is watching. Or, what your habits are.

This month however, (and especially if you're in the business of health) make an effort to spread a healthful message to someone who may need it. And as much as you may be itching to say it: sorry. The idea of: enforcing sex-partner reduction, balking at cultural healing practices and prayer, not using a medical interpeter/translator, or other culturally inappropriate practice, with nearly any community, is dead, paternal, and judgemental. Create a message that people can stick to, without demonizing 'em. Engage respectfully. Recall humanity, humanely.

That and (please) don't talk to me about my eating habits. I'm still working on just saying "NO!" to cookies.