We Need More Education for Quality Health Care and Legal Protections for All LGBTQ Americans

Note: This piece was written by Positively Positive, a queer, Black, HIV+, transgender, asexual, aromantic, non-binary, grey aromantic, grey asexual, Seattle native. They are a business owner and the founder of Positively Positive Education Productions. To learn more about Positively, please visit: https://www.positivetobepositive.net/ . To support their work, their venmo is Positively-Positive and their paypal [email protected].

At a time of crisis, when so many Americans are facing difficulties securing employment, finding housing, and accessing health care, it’s important to ensure no one is denied these services due to discrimination. I know firsthand how it feels to be rejected simply for being who you are. As a Black, queer person living with HIV, I have dealt with stigma and judgment for most of my life. 

So, this summer’s recent Supreme Court decision affirming employment protections for LGBTQ workers nationwide was encouraging, especially in the midst of the health crisis and nationwide demonstrations in support of Black lives. The ruling was an important moment for legal equality for all Americans, but our work is not finished. 

Although my home state of Washington passed a law in 2006 that prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, there are still 29 states that lack comprehensive laws protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in housing and public spaces.

I know firsthand what discrimination feels like. For years, I have dealt with the stigma of living with HIV, transmitted to me by my mother at birth. In a previous job doing educational programs for middle school students, I was reported to the school principal for sharing that I was born with HIV to students, and reprimanded by management, saying that I shouldn’t be speaking about living with HIV. My manager seemed to be uncomfortable working with someone who was HIV-positive. Far too many LGBTQ Americans living with HIV have been denied or lost employment and/or housing due to discrimination. 

Because of what happened, I feared that I would lose my job, even though HIV status discrimination is prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lack of support and stigmatization made the work environment uncomfortable so I eventually moved on. This is one of many experiences that inspired me to start Positively Positive Education Productions, a social justice and HIV/AIDS education performance arts company, to provide classes and workshops to the community. 

It seems that HIV is still associated with the 1980s and that people think it is a death sentence, but I have been living with it for 31 years. There is now more education about HIV and AIDS, but most people still don’t understand that people living with HIV can be untransmittable, due to consistently taking prescribed medications and keeping their HIV viral load undetectable through testing. 

“I know firsthand how it feels to be rejected simply for being who you are. As a Black, queer person living with HIV, I have dealt with stigma and judgment for most of my life.” – Positively Positive

Seattle is better than many places in terms of accessing care, but medical providers often have many questions about sexual activity, which is frustrating for me, as an asexual LGBTQ person. This lack of medical providers being LGBTQ and asexual competent can make conversations difficult. Accessing mental health care with a provider affirming of nonbinary, transgender and intersex identities is also hard too, but especially with COVID-19 limitations. 

It would be nice to see more medical practices hiring doctors and medical providers who are part of the community – LGBTQ and asexual people, people living with HIV, disabled people, and Black and Brown people, and also see more proactive education on LGBTQ health and HIV. 

LGBTQ and asexual people, especially those living with HIV, have always faced barriers to health care, whether because of unwelcoming attitudes at the doctor’s office, a lack of understanding from providers and staff in many health care settings, or a lack of explicit protections from sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in health care in a majority of U.S. states. This leads to many LGBTQ and asexual people being prevented from seeking the care they need, except in situations that feel urgent – and perhaps not even then. This is particularly harmful while the whole world is experiencing a pandemic.

No one should be discriminated against because of who they are, who they love, or their health status. That’s why it’s more important than ever that Congress pass federal comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for ALL LGBTQ Americans, in all areas of life – including health care, housing and public spaces. 

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