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This week marks the commemoration of National LGBT Health Awareness Week. At DPH this is not only an occasion to celebrate the strides that we as a Commonwealth have made in reducing disparities in health care and health outcomes among people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender– but also to rededicate ourselves to eliminating these disparities entirely.

The cornerstone of any attempt to root out health disparities is first to find out where they are. For DPH, that means working tirelessly to ensure that our data collection methods and materials are as reflective as possible of the populations that we serve. And that includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

DPH has long been a leader in the nation collecting population-level risk and behavioral data on members of the LGBT community.  The adult Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey and the school-age Massachusetts Youth Health Survey have collected data on sexual orientation/identity and sex of partners for over a decade, and in recent years have piloted survey items to assess transgender identity and gender expression.  These data collection approaches – and the published research which has resulted from them– have contributed to our understanding of the public health challenges and other health needs of LGBT residents of the Commonwealth.

In addition, DPH continues to add measures of sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and gender identity and expression to our core epidemiologic data collection to determine the impact of disease and risk on LGBT residents.  And as we continue to develop public health services and programs focused on LGBT individuals at risk, we also collect program delivery data that rounds out our understanding of these communities.

Yet even while the Department has been gathering specific LGBT-related health data, the processes and methodologies to collect that data has taken place in different ways and through different formats. And as time has gone on, that lack of standardization has made comparisons across data sets difficult.

That’s why DPH is engaged in a comprehensive effort to catalog and standardize all of our LGBT data collection – including the specific language of how survey questions are formulated. Our intent is to provide clear guidance to health care researchers and providers on standardized language for LGBT health surveys, and in so doing, increase the overall LGBT response rate – leading to an even larger data set on which to base future programs, services and interventions for LGBT communities. That guidance document for researchers and providers is now in draft format, and we hope to make the final version available later this summer.

Moving forward, the Department has also taken steps to update our vital records processes in a way that speaks to the needs of transgender people.  Starting in 2014, the Registry of Vital Records and Statistics streamlined the process for amending a birth certificate for individuals who have completed sex reassignment surgery – providing clarity for patients, physicians, and city/town clerks, and ensuring that the state’s vital records better reflect the diversity of our people.

To underline the Department’s commitment to ensuring equal access to high-quality health care for LGBT people in Massachusetts, last year DPH named Barry Callis as the Department-wide Liaison for LGBT Health under the Office of Health Equity.  As liaison, Barry plays a central coordinating role for the Department’s extensive data collection and targeted health promotion work directed to the LGBT community of the Commonwealth. What’s more, he has initiated a series of community engagement sessions to name, address, and refine our response to health disparities experienced by LGBT residents.  These engagements provide us the opportunity to listen and dialogue directly with these communities and the providers that serve them. Barry can be reached via email at Barry.Callis@state.ma.us.

Written By:


Commissioner of the Department of Public Health

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