On Being Well

Once a month, Mazzoni Center brings you “On Being Well,” a column that aims to address a broad range of health and wellness issues that impact LGBT communities. Mazzoni Center recognizes that wellness means more than just an annual visit to the doctor: It’s about having access to health insurance,and a culturally competent provider who understands your unique health concerns, as well as counseling/mental health and recovery support. It’s about making smart, informed decisions about your body. And it’s also about your social environment, and feeling safe, confident and empowered in your identity and within your community. For more about Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia’s home for LGBT health and well-being, visit www.mazzonicenter.org.


The numbers are staggering. According to the CDC, in 2016, African Americans accounted for 44 percent of all HIV diagnoses, even though they comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population. More than half (58 percent) of those diagnosed with HIV were gay or bisexual men, and 39 percent of those were aged 25 to 34.

 

Influenza, more commonly referred to as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It causes a miserable but relatively mild illness in most people. For most of us, getting the flu means a couple of weeks out of work or school, then life goes back to normal. But for others, the flu is a severe illness. Young children and the elderly are at the greatest risk for the flu and its complications. The flu can be more serious, even deadly, if you have a health condition like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, a weakened immune system or HIV. 

Alcohol and drug abuse is a significant problem in the LGBT community — our community. It affects LGBT individuals in higher rates than it does their heterosexual counterparts. In a 2016 SAMHSA study, it was estimated that illicit drug use among members of the LGB community was twice as high as it is for their heterosexual peers (39.1 percent versus 17.1). Alcohol use was also alarming, if not as much of a disparity, at 63.6 percent for LGB individuals vs. 56.2 percent for their heterosexual counterparts. This study did not include the transgender community; however, in a 2012 study that did, it was found that 20-30 percent of LGBT individuals abused substances compared to 9 percent of their heterosexual peers.

Thanksgiving is upon us again. It is a time to be thankful for the many gifts life has to offer. Mazzoni Center’s patients and clients receive an abundance of vital services, none more so than our food bank. What better time is there to learn more about one of Mazzoni Center’s oldest services than at a holiday that focuses on food and being thankful?

Renewal of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which has provided low-cost health insurance to 9-million children for over a decade now, is in limbo across several states, including here in Pennsylvania. While it looks very likely that the CHIP program will be passed here in Pennsylvania soon, it may come with an amendment that removes trans services for youth. There is a battle to get trans services back into CHIP in Harrisburg, and as of presstime some services were restored, except for surgery. Despite the outcome of this effort, Mazzoni Center will continue to provide service for all youth, ages 14-24, with or without health insurance.

After watching the last episode of “American Horror Story,” a moment during the episode stuck with me for the rest of the night. No, it wasn’t the clowns, but the scene that mentioned PrEP. It was a monumental occasion because this meant that PrEP has finally hit the mainstream media. While this is great for PrEP gaining exposure to a larger audience, the real work of getting the information and services to those who need it is nowhere close to being finished. And this is a journey that many should consider taking.

These three words are the theme of the 16th Annual Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. These words honor the transgender community, which continues overcoming obstacles and moving forward. Some of those obstacles are of a personal nature and may involve self, relationships, families or health. For others, they may be related to age, ability, ethnicity or race. Gender identity and gender expression, along with our diverse individual characteristics, can and often do, call on our reserves of strength and power to preserve as we move forward.

Something’s missing

I was baffled. Was this guy serious? He just asked me if I was “having fun yet” now that I was no longer using drugs or alcohol. “Are you kidding me? Absolutely not,” I said. And, damn, I meant it.

On June 27 we will mark National HIV Testing Day, a federally designated event that has been observed annually on this date since 1995. It is a meaningful one for those of us who work at Mazzoni Center, since HIV testing, counseling, medical care and supportive services have been a core element of our history and organizational purpose for decades, and continue to be a central focus of our day-to-day work.

As readers of PGN are aware, Mazzoni Center is currently in the midst of several major transitions. The recent departure of our longtime CEO Nurit Shein, as well as former board president Jimmy Ruiz, MD, and medical director Robert Winn, MD, represent a major turning point, and also an opportunity for us to examine our goals and core values, and to chart a course that will carry us into the next phase of our organizational journey. 

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