Regional News


Justice Cillo-Smith is a student at Liberty Middle School in West Orange, New Jersey. When she wore her new yellow T-shirt to school on Sept. 25, she didn’t expect to be the topic of the school district’s next Board of Education meeting — let alone land in the news. She just liked the T-shirt based on “The Prom,” a musical about a lesbian who isn’t allowed to bring her girlfriend to prom.

Allentown-based Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center received the 2019 Breast Cancer Community Partner Award from the Pennsylvania Commission for Women last Friday for its data collection through the Pennsylvania LGBT Health Needs Assessment.

The Pennsylvania Commission for Women advises Gov. Tom Wolf on issues affecting women across the Commonwealth. The group’s commissioner BJ Leder joined Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine and Todd Snovel, the executive director for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, last week in presenting the award to the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center’s Executive Director Adrian Shanker and Claire Ippoliti, breast cancer survivor and board treasurer for the Lehigh Valley organization, at the Pennsylvania Governor’s Residence in Harrisburg. 

Bradbury-Sullivan Center was the lone LGBTQ organization among the 10 honorees, which also included Philadelphia nonprofit Health Promotion Council, PA Breast Cancer Coalition, Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center and Northeast Regional Cancer Institute in Scranton.  

“It’s nice to be recognized, but it’s more important that the work that we're doing is making a difference,” Shanker told PGN, adding that the data the Bradbury-Sullivan Center collects “is crucial to being able to promote a high quality of health for all people, including breast cancer screenings for LGBT people with breast tissue.”

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center administers the Pennsylvania LGBT Health Needs Assessment every two years in collaboration with the state Department of Health with the intent of collecting comprehensive data on LGBT health disparities, including those in breast cancer screenings, Shanker said. The tool was first used regionally at the end of 2015 and start of 2016, and then across the Commonwealth in 2018. 

Last year’s responses came from 4,679 LGBT-identified Pennsylvanians from more than 800 zip codes across 64 of the Keystone State’s 67 counties, Shanker said. Philadelphians accounted for 10 percent of participants.

The 2018 assessment revealed that among participants over age 40 and assigned female at birth, 13 percent had never had a mammogram, a breast X-ray that detects early signs of cancer. The results skyrocketed for trans and gender-nonconforming people in the same age range who self-identified as eligible for a mammogram, showing that 46 percent had never had the exam.

"LGBT community members need to get screened for breast cancer because early detection can save lives. It's not just a slogan to those of us who are survivors — it's real,” Ippoliti said. “And we need information, like the data Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center collects through the needs assessment, to demonstrate that here in Pennsylvania, we have an issue with LGBT people not receiving these screenings.”

Bradbury-Sullivan Center’s needs assessment finds that one of the main reasons LGBTQ folks don’t receive mammograms is fear of accessing health care, Shanker said. 

One-fourth of responders said they aren’t out to any of their health care providers, and more than 56 percent indicated they “sometimes, often or always” are afraid of negative reactions from medical professionals, Shanker told PGN. This rate jumps to 75 percent among the trans community. 

Spaces that provide gender-related cancer care, such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, can sometimes be exclusionary, Shanker said. 

“They can sometimes be places where LGBT people don’t feel safe or comfortable accessing care,” he added. “So for lesbian, bisexual women or transgender men, not every health care provider is providing culturally appropriate care to them. We know that these barriers to care sometimes prevent people from accessing the care that they need, especially when it comes to cancer screenings.”

The Human Rights Campaign released a report last month stating that LGBTQ Americans “remain largely invisible to the local, state, and federal officials charged with ensuring their health, safety, and wellbeing” due to a lack of government data collection efforts focused on the queer community. 

Such findings underscore the “critical” need for data collection efforts like the Pennsylvania LGBT Health Needs Assessment, Shanker said. 

He added Bradbury-Sullivan Center’s goal is for the findings to be used by health care providers, public health agencies, LGBTQ organizations and insurance companies to inform more-inclusive health care practices. 

“When we understand the disparities, then we can work to address them,” Shanker said. “It’s very hard to work to address the disparities without the data.”

The next Pennsylvania LGBT Health Needs Assessment will take place in 2020.

According to a 2019 study conducted by, using data from the FBI’s 2017 hate crime report, 12.5 percent of hate crimes in Pennsylvania are motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity, and 11.5 percent in New Jersey. 

The same study shows that Pennsylvania has .07 LGBT-bias incidents per 100,000 people, with a higher rate of .57 incidents per 100,000 people in New Jersey, making it the state with the 11th highest rate of bias-fueled crimes, the highest being District of Columbia. About 58 percent of crimes motivated by sexual orientation-bias were targeted toward gay men.

These statistics may not necessarily accurately reflect the actual number of anti-LGBT crimes in the U.S. because law enforcement agencies fail to report these types of crimes to the FBI and the definition of a hate crime varies from state to state. 

Last year, Pennsylvania added sexual orientation and gender identity to groups protected by discrimination laws, but the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission still defines a hate crime as “a criminal act motivated by ill will or hatred toward a victim’s race, color, religion or national origin.” New Jersey includes sexual orientation and gender in its state hate crime laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project. But many states, including Georgia and Virginia, do not include sexual orientation or gender identity in their hate crime laws. 

Another reason for imprecise data reflecting LGBT-related hate crimes is that victims themselves often fail to report crimes to the police. According to a November 2017 report conducted by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, about 15 percent of LGBTQ people have avoided calling the police because of fear of discrimination. The likelihood of this more than doubles for LGBTQ people of color. More than one-quarter of queer people say they or an LGBTQ friend or family member has been unfairly stopped or treated by the police, the report continues. 

While the study also shows members of LGBTQ-plus communities are more at risk of falling victim to hate-fueled crimes than African Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and other racial and religious minorities, when taking into account each group’s makeup of the entire U.S. population, the report does not take intersectionality into account.

The Human Rights Campaign reports that at least 18 transgender people have been killed so far in 2019 — 16 Black trans women, one Black trans femme teen and one trans man; in 2018, 26 transgender people, most of whom were Black women, lost their lives due to hate-related violence. In the FBI’s 2017 report, 118 incidents were labeled as anti-transgender.

Southern New Jersey Gay Pride celebrated its 11th year last Sunday with the festival’s largest-ever turnout.

Founder and organizer DeAnn M. Cox estimated that just shy of 1,000 Pride-goers traipsed Cherry Hill, New Jersey’s Cooper River Park, enjoying a spread of over 100 vendors and a dozen live acts. American Idol alumna and Broadway star Frenchie Davis headlined the free event.

“Everyone kept saying they're not used to everyone being so nice,” said Cox.

The late-summer sunshine enhanced the festival’s warmth. Every year Cox puts great effort into curating a come-one-come-all atmosphere, and this year, she invested in Facebook marketing using promotional photographs to highlight diversity.

“That’s something I work very hard at — to make sure everyone feels welcome,” said Cox.

Last Sunday afternoon drew attendees from Atlanta, New York City and the Jersey Shore to the family-friendly park, a three-mile stretch of green that surrounds manmade Cooper River Lake.

Food truck favorites like Potato Patoto, a tater tot dispensary and peach-pie purveyor, Yours Exclusively Desserts, lined the river bed beside vendor tents like Seizure Dogs, a nonprofit that trains service dogs to aid those with epilepsy. Investment bank Morgan Stanley, AT&T and the Human Rights Campaign were all first-time vendors. 

The event also kicked off Cox’s annual anti-bullying campaign that runs through December.

Now in its fifth year, the Comcast-sponsored campaign, which coincides with the start of the school year, shares resources, personal stories and videos to raise awareness about the effects of bullying on the LGBTQ-plus community.

Entertainers Miss Theresa, Queen of New Jersey, a drag queen and plus-size pageant host and Michelle Tomko, an Atlantic City comedian, took the stage as part of the campaign, sharing what Cox called down-to-earth stories about their experiences.

This year, Frenchie Davis starred in a promotional video where she shared her struggles with bullying as an adult. Cox said the out performer reflected on negativity in her 2003 American Idol run and her experiences with body shaming.

“That's what I want people to hear. I want them to hear real stories. I don't necessarily want to keep concentrating on prevention, prevention, prevention, because we can't control people. So, you need to be able to control yourself in a manner where you know how to handle the situation. And you do that through dialogue, through people telling their stories and what they've been through,” said Cox.

Cox said the decision to launch the anti-bullying campaign, which now includes a hotline and resource listing by county, came after she took a look at her behavior.

The organizer said she had been using her social media influence to call out businesses for unacceptable behavior — for example, Cox recalled an anniversary date that became a racist incident. 

“I'm not sure if it was me who did it, but the restaurant closed not too long after I did a post. I'm sure they were on their way out, but it was a really bad incident. And after that, I was just like I need to really sit back and think about how I am affecting people's lives,” said Cox.

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