How The Return Of Kathy Griffin Highlights The Challenge California Faces When It Comes To Our LGBT+ Health Care Divide
This morning while conducting my morning ritual of catching up on news while in the bathroom, I came across a couple articles on Kathy Griffin returning to public performing via the annual Aid for AIDS fundraiser Best in Drag Show which benefits the Alliance for Housing and Healing, a non-profit that serves Los Angeles County. Some of the other famous names in attendance included Dylan McDermott, Selma Blair, Holland Taylor, Marc Cherry, Patrick Rush and Debbie Allen. How awesome it is that our LGBT+ movement has grown that wonderful straight and LGBT+ celebrities no longer fear retaliation for publicly supporting our community. However, I couldn’t help but feel frustrated while reading at the same time. Here’s why....
As the executive director of an LGBT+ non-profit in the Central Valley, not a day goes by where I am not struggling to raise money to keep our organization’s doors open. Last year, the William’s Institute released a report called The LGBT Divide in California. The report outlines that an estimated 40% of the LGBT+ population live outside of Counties that are anchored by large urban cities and that those who live outside of those counties experience non-acceptance at a larger rate and that the quality of life of those people are less than their counterparts. Out of the over two dozen LGBT+ organizations that serve those areas last year, only the San Joaquin Pride Center and The LGBT Center Orange County could afford paid staff. The other organizations survived via volunteers and many operated with very little programming or services. Without staff nor funding, these agencies are unable to hold their local government agencies accountable for conditions that have led to great health disparities for their LGBT+ people. A perfect example of this is how local counties spend their California Mental Health Services Act funding. These funds were initially supposed to address reducing mental health disparities within targeted demographics (including the LGBT+ population) yet counties were given extreme flexibility in its spending and many of the counties outside of the large urban hubs are straight up ignoring many of the recommendations. (First, Do No Harm: Reducing Disparities for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Populations in California) For example, services earmarked for LGBT+ populous in San Joaquin County are recommended to an agency called BACUP, an agency created to serve the mental health needs of the African American population despite a major recommendation that mental health services should be “required to be safe, welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ individuals and families across all races”.
I don’t have an answer to solving this disparity beyond we need to start funding our LGBT+ organizations in California in a more equitable way. The matter is only going to get worse. Especially in the Central Valley were access to funding has its own unique challenge. Without a philanthropic base and without big name celebrities to champion our causes, our organizations are set up to fail (as was the case in Fresno, Merced and Stanislaus Counties with each enduring closing of their LGBT+ centers). To make matters worse, the one opportunity for fundraising growth, our annual Pride Festivals, has been handed a rotten egg with the news that LGBT talent agencies PEG and EPRT have merged. In the past we would get lucky and find a big name celebrity to headline our smaller festivals at an affordable cost or they would reduce their fees because they cared enough but this merger signals those days might be over.
I will admit that I am being self-centered. You see, our Center has a fundraiser coming up this Sunday and I’ve only sold a handful of tickets and I’m feeling frustrated. Par for the course for our fundraising though. Just once I wish I had a Kathy Griffin or a RuPaul Drag Queen winner call me up and say, “Hey, I get it. LGBT+ kids who are born outside of SF or LA or San Diego deserve the same chance to succeed and thrive. I will be your headliner!” (Note: I am not celebrity shaming or blaming them for any of this. They support their local causes just like everyone else. But it wouldn’t hurt if more of them thought about how the funds they raise tend to stop at the county border.)
Just this past Saturday we hosted our fifth annual LGBT+ Youth Summit (a free summit that drew over 200 participants, making it one of the largest LGBT+ youth events in the country). One of those participants was a teen-age boy who lives at a foster group home. At the end of his workshop he stood up and with tears in his eyes told over 100 other youth, “I thought I’d lost my family forever. Thank you for helping me find family today”.
Folks, we gotta find a way.