According to the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), prevalence of smoking, lack of culturally competent medical care, hate violence against transgender people, HIV and obesity are among the most pressing health issues facing LGBT Chicagoans.
CDPH has released its citywide LGBT Community Action Plan in coordination with the Mayor's office. City officials presented the document at a March 30 meeting with elected officials and service providers who helped draft the plan.
Published as part of the city's "Healthy Chicago" initiative, the document lays out health disparities among LGBT people along with 22 strategies for combating those disparities.
"We have come a long way," said 44th Ward Ald. Tom Tunney, an openly gay man and longtime AIDS advocate. "We still have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction."
Tunney said he believed that the plan could become a model in other parts of the country.
According to CDPH Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair, the city has identified obesity among lesbian women of color, tobacco use, school bullying, cancer in lesbian women and HIV among gay men to be posing some of the most serious health risks to the LGBT community.
The plan stresses the need for healthcare providers to collect sexual orientation data in their records before 2014 when the Affordable Care Act kicks in. City officials want to use that data in ongoing policy work around LGBT health.
The plan also suggests training for healthcare providers in LGBT health issues and working with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to ensure that transgender people report hate crimes.
Mona Noriega, director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, said that a lack of reporting means that the city is unable to intervene and compile information used in preventing hate crimes.
"To me, it's a real priority that we identify violence in our community as a social issue that's a health issue," she said.
The plan seeks to combat bullying by encouraging school staff and faculty training, and it states a commitment to discouraging tobacco use, fighting obesity, educating landlords and employers about HIV, and offering LGBT-specific resources on pregnancy. Finally, it includes a plan to advocate for increased state funding for LGBT mental health.
Choucair said that CDPH has been aggressive about implementing the "Healthy Chicago" strategies promised in other areas and that LGBT health would keep pace. CDPH releases monthly reports on the progress of "Healthy Chicago," he said, and LGBT strategies would be included in those reports now. That report goes to Mayor Rahm Emanuel as well the City Council.
Service providers questioned Choucair on the vacancy of the director of CDPH's Office of LGBT Health, which has remained unfilled since June 2010, leaving some speculating that that office might close. Choucair said that CDPH is committed to filling the position in the near future. An initial search for the position did not produce a hire, he said, but efforts to fill the seat were being renewed.
Choucair stressed that the LGBT plan would primarily focus on policy work within CDPH, while the city would work with health providers on making those policies a reality through programs.
"This is a lot more than just announcing a set of strategies," he said. "Now the real work begins."
More information is available at: www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdph.html .