Ten years ago this week, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to begin granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was a historic moment for the Commonwealth and a groundbreaking achievement in the advancement of equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people everywhere. Since then, thousands of same-sex marriages have been performed in communities across Massachusetts (and we have the statistics to prove it!).
Meanwhile, the march towards full equality for the LGBTQ community continues – and that includes equal access to high-quality health care. At DPH we are renewing our commitment to reduce health disparities and improve health outcomes for all LGBTQ residents of Massachusetts. I’d like to take a moment to describe those efforts today.
Historically the Department has offered a number of prevention and treatment programs which have been tailored to meet the needs of LGBTQ people in a way that treats them compassionately and respectfully. Some of these programs include suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention and treatment, HIV/AIDS care and services, and infectious disease prevention and treatment.
But that was only one piece of the puzzle in improving how health care is delivered to LGBTQ people. In 2013, the DPH Office of Health Equity expanded its Making Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Happen guide to include advice for health care providers on the appropriate and respectful delivery of services to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning community.
Our efforts to reduce health disparities among LGBTQ people are also about looking for ways to ensure that we have the most accurate, complete, and robust data on the health and wellness of this population, and the attitudes that LGBTQ patients have about the care they’re receiving.
While DPH has long gathered data on sexual orientation through various surveillance programs, that data has been collected in different ways and through different formats. While each of these data sets is valuable in its own right, that lack of standardization has made comparisons across data sets difficult.
I’m pleased to announce that the Department is currently underway in an exciting new project to catalog and standardize all of our LGBTQ data collection – including the specific language of how survey questions are formulated. Our intent is that by providing clear guidance to researchers and providers on standardized language for LGBTQ health surveys, we can increase the overall LGBTQ response rate – leading to an even larger data set on which to base future programs, services and interventions.
In all, the Department is dedicated to a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to ensuring equal access to high-quality health care for LGBTQ people in Massachusetts. This will require constant collaboration between all DPH programs which provide services or treatment to the LGBTQ community. To facilitate these partnerships, I’m pleased to announce the creation of a Department-wide Liaison for LGBTQ Health under the Office of Health Equity. This Liaison will play a central coordinating role for the Department’s extensive data collection and targeted health promotion work directed to the LGBTQ community of the Commonwealth. I am delighted that Barry Callis, Director of Behavioral Health and Infectious Disease Prevention in the Office of HIV/AIDS of the Bureau of Infectious Disease, has agreed to serve as this new Liaison.
Barry has served the Department for over twenty years, overseeing BID’s HIV prevention and screening programs. He has played a critical role in the advancement of science-based prevention programming for all populations, as well as targeted innovations directed toward communities of color, immigrants and refugees, persons living with addiction, survivors of trauma, incarcerated individuals, men who have sex with men, and adolescents at risk. He is an openly gay man who is well known and deeply trusted by members of the LGBTQ community for his steady advocacy on behalf of health equity.
Barry holds a Masters in Social Work from Boston College School of Social Work, and has served as a national leader regarding HIV prevention, injection drug user health, and public health responses directed toward gay and bisexual men facing multiple infectious disease challenges. Barry will continue his role in the Office of HIV/AIDS and coordinate his new responsibilities with Georgia Simpson May, Director of the Office of Health Equity. Barry will be the point person for all Bureaus aiming to expand their awareness of the health issues facing the LGBTQ community and will help coordinate the Department’s collection and analysis of surveillance and programmatic data about these issues. Please join me in thanking Barry for assuming these new duties and congratulate him on heading up this important initiative.
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