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Better Safe Than Sorry: DC Strides to Protect the LGBTQ Community

Though D.C. is home to the largest LGBTQ population percentage in the country, the lack of representation on a federal level continues to serve as an impediment to the LGBTQ community in the capitol. According to the most recent Report on the Health of the LGBT Community in the District of Columbia, 10.7 percent of D.C. adults and 18.5 percent of D.C. youth identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, with LGBTQ members at a disproportionate risk for suicidal thoughts, mental health issues, substance abuse and bias-related offenses. In February 2019, Congresswoman Eleanor Norton (D-DC) introduced legislation that would protect LGTBQ and reproductive rights in the District. The bill would end federal religious securities that have been historically used to discriminate against the LGBTQ community and women.

Limited access to health care facilities only add to the rising public health crisis that the District faces. Residents living east of the Anacostia River have little to no access to a primary-care doctor in their communities and are forced to commute downtown where services are clustered and costly. The city’s only public hospital, United Medical Hospital, was forced to close due to malpractice, leaving the entire Southeast corridor without access to maternal services.

Moreover, obstacles in transportation, dwindling access to healthcare facilities and limited healthy shopping options have become an intersectional issue that affect the LGBTQ community disproportionately, especially as some institutions are still protected by religious freedom.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has also played an integral role in public health in the District. In December 2018, Mayor Bowser passed a bill that extends D.C.’s conversion therapy protections for LGBTQ youth to LGBTQ adults who are under the care of guardians.

Earl Fowlkes, Jr., the President and CEO of the Center for Black Equity, the only Black LGBT international organization in the world, notes that the “D.C. Health Department, in the last few years, has been doing a good job of addressing these issues…Often health departments can’t react to issues because the number affected doesn’t meet a particular quota.” He adds, “In the time I’ve spent in D.C., I’ve seen the city grow and the tax rate and property value increase. It’s becoming a first class city, but it’s still not offering top care to LGBT people of color, especially the trans community… D.C. has the highest population of LGBT people in the country, but the resources haven’t been representing that number.”

Recent cases of violence against members of the LGBTQ community in DC, especially towards transgender men and women, call to question what more local leaders are doing to prevent further acts of violence and protect residents. Congresswoman Norton held an LGBTQ-centered town hall in July titled “Violence Against Trans Residents Goes Against D.C. Values”  to discuss the recent surge of violence against the LGBTQ community, particularly against black trans women.

While current legislation has addressed many ongoing concerns, there is still much more to be done to protect LGBTQ rights and address the public health crisis within the community.

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