By Peder Digre | @pederdigre
Professor David Allen, chair of the Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies department at the University of Washington moderated the session entitled “Queering Global Health” in which a broad range of queer issues related to global health were discussed and introduced the panelists for the discussion. Questions that framed the discussion were: 1) What would queering global health mean beyond LGBTQ populations? 2) What would some aspects of bringing queer participants into global health? 3) What does focusing on health challenges of LGBTQ populations clarify and obscure in global health?
Marcos Martinez, the objective director of Entre Hermanos, an advocacy and support group for the latino LGBTQ community in Seattle gave a brief recount of his work with the organization and the organization’s mission and accomplishments over the past 20 years. Entre Hermanos began at the time when the existence of HIV/AIDS epidemic was a prominent issue in the public eye, but was an issue that primarily affected men who have sex with men (MSM). Entre Hermanos commenced work in Seattle with focusing on HIV prevention with MSN as well as gay pride.
Martinez stated that, “It became obvious that people in the community are much more multidimensional than that”.
Over its history, Entre Hermanos has worked on tobacco prevention campaigns, mujeras diversas (a lesbian health program), Alcoholics Anonymous specifically for the latino LGBTQ community, and the marriage equality campaign.
“We have come to see that people are very interested in issues that don’t really have a lot to do with being queer.”
Martinez projects that for Entre Hermanos, immigrant issues, as well as queer issues will play an ever-increasing role.
Amanda Lock Swarr, an associate professor in the department of Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington gave a glimpse of her research regarding the transsexual population of South Africa in a book due out entitled, Sex in Transition.
“I think that trans has been excluded from global health issues.”
Swarr articulated the history of sexual reassignment surgery in South Africa.
Sexual reassignment surgery in South Africa began in the time of apartheid when the availability was limited racially and the procedure was secret, with people undergoing the procedure urged to cut ties with their past. Few doctors were receptive to providing the procedures and they were afraid of how the public would react.
A question that spans the entire conversation is, “who counts as a true transsexual?” Different answers to that question and corruption produced indescribable accounts of sexual violence (including intentional infection with HIV), direct discrimination from health care workers, medical experimentation, abuse, and neglect in South Africa for trans populations. Black and coloured populations were especially abused with many botched experimental procedures ending in permanent disability or death.
Many of the sexual reassignment procedures that occurred over a span of 40 years in South Africa until apartheid ended in 1993 were part of a project to “cure” homosexuality. Sex reassignment was actually forced. When apartheid ended until 2003 (a span of 10 years) it was legally impossible to change one’s sex on legal documents.
As we enter into a more globalized world, the trans population is especially at risk. There are a growing number of patients educating themselves and their doctor, as well as patients seeking out sexual reassignment surgery in Thailand, where they can afford the procedure as it is typically not covered by insurance. We have entered a new age of “medical colonialism.”
Sid Jordan Peterson, an attorney with the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, works with LGBTQ access projects in King County which examine what happens when you draw a region together and when you educate people who might be inadvertently blocking services to LGBTQ populations.
Peterson’s past is riddled with personal experiences which led him to work within communities of marginalized populations before studying law in international human rights.
“It is interesting that queer people have had to do so much outside of the system,” Peterson states.
This is in stark contrast to his current work, which is very much involved with social norms, regulatory bodies, and the state’s role as protector.
One project that his is currently pursuing is the media project “Put this on the Map,” which examines the experiences of LGBTQ youth in East King County (a largely white and affluently region) and aims to provide a tool for education of practitioners with questions about how to assist people reaching out to them.
“This is the one thing that people know about gay people; they come out of the closet. And once someone finds out you’re gay, they say, ‘Oh, this is what you should do, you should go to Broadway.’ And so you go, and what do you do? ‘Um…I’ll go to Starbucks or something.’”
The “Put this on the Map” seeks to provide a personal narrative to train practitioners to raise awareness and challenge heteronormativity in society and to change the “one thing that people know about gay people.”
When time came for questions, a lively discussion ensued between attendees, many of who had personal experiences to share. One of these attendees was Daren Wade, Director of the Global Health Resource Center at the University of Washington.
“How do you talk about this? How can we manage our programs so we can be inclusive? There’s a heterosexual privilege to do [global health work]. We’re not even considering it. I just don’t see it. Something has to happen.”
Swarr echoed these thought with, “How do you create a [informational] survey that speaks to everyone, but doesn’t categorize and still manages to create useful conversation points?”
Perhaps one of the most disturbing thoughts that emerged was examining a liberal country, like the United States’, role in the criminalization of homosexuality.
“What is our role in the criminalization of homosexuality? It’s actually the conservative right activists in the United States creating the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda,” Swarr remarked.
“Just because something is ‘pro-gay’ doesn’t mean that it’s ‘pro-good,’” commented Peterson.
This session not only looked at the positions of LGBTQ populations abroad, but also in our own country and the relationships linking the issues. Overall, we need to first recognize these issues and acknowledge their existence and become active in any small way possible and stand up for human liberty and equality.