Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

With Boston Pride and Black Gay Pride New England (formerly Unity Pride Boston), one would think that the LGBTQ community is well represented. But the group Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) offer an alternative for a group invisible, if not silent, in the queer community.

QWOC+ Boston is a grassroots organization that has successfully, since its inception in 2006, been dialoguing about women’s issue and social networking with the multiracial LGBTQ community of Greater Boston. This week, QWOC has launched it first ever annual QWOC Week 2008  (August 4-10), a multicultural pride festival for people of all backgrounds, “from older African-American lesbians to immigrant college queers; from Latino gay guys to transgender pacific islanders; from political allies to nonprofit health educators.”

QWOC Week 2008 will feature a series of panel discussions on a variety of subjects, from race-related issues such as inter-racial dating, queer friendships across the color line and the challenge of providing health services to culturally layered queer identities.

On August 4, I sat on the panel “Complex Identities: The Challenge of providing Health Services to LGBTQ People of Color.” Lula Christopher, founder and president of the Boston Black Women’s Health Institute (BWHI), Jacquie Bishop, director of Community Initiatives of the American Diabetes Association and Lisa Moris, a social activist affiliated with the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, The Network La Red, and the Dudey Pride Coalition joined me to discuss issues critical to LBTQ women of color: health disparities, HIV, depression, anxiety, multiple minority stress (“triple jeopardy”), identity and other related issues as they pertain to us.

The health disparities among LBTQ women are glaringly obvious, not only by the absence of our stories, but also by the fault lines of race and class that contribute to the substandard quality of care we receive.

“I see this all the time,” said Christopher, who stated whose mission at the BWHI is to promote optimum healthcare for Black women across their life span — physically, mentally and spiritually.

Where most hospitals are culturally incompetent when it come to LBTQ women of color, patient advocacy is imperative. To become a good healthcare consumer, we must obtain information necessary to direct our path toward healing.

“I have visited ob-gyns, endocrinologists, in vitro specialists and more. I have endured the heartbreaking news that my symptoms are real and that there isn’t much anyone can do for me and the indignities of a specialist saying, ‘if your hormones were regular you probably wouldn’t be a lesbian.’ He implied that the testosterone domination [of] my endocrine system is the cause of my homosexuality. He said this after making a comment about my anatomy that I found curious at best,” Bishop told the audience.

Moris described a doctor who asked her whether or not there was a chance she could be pregnant. Morris said no, that she was a lesbian, and pointed to her partner, who was along for the visit. “I was outraged,” said Morris, as the doctor performed the test anyway. “He ignored me and my insurance paid for a test I didn’t need.”

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was told that lesbians are at greater risk for it because we are more obese than our heterosexual sisters, smoke more, abuse alcohol more than the general population, and, oh yeah, if we did not bear children. But the risk for breast cancer among lesbians could be drastically reduced by at least 50 percent if we just birth one child.

“I know that even in the most progressive areas of this country homophobia is a major impediment to healthcare, as is racism, misogyny, anti-immigrant fervor and so much more,” said Bishop. “I love the programs I am able to create to help educate our public about their body, how the healthcare system works and how they can become their own advocate.”

QWOC+ Boston’s proactive year-round outreach to underrepresented members of the queer community has given voice and visibility to us women of color. And by QWOC collaborating with the various but fragmented communities of color it has shown us all the truly diverse and magnanimous community we are.

“It’s been most rewarding for me to meet the range of incredible, inspiring women I have met over the past few years, and from all over — the nonprofit sector, healthcare, the service industry, music, art, academia etc. My circle of friends is so diverse, so progressive, and just so much fun because of it. So, my biggest wish for QWOC Week is that people make these valuable connections,” said Adora Asala, a QWOC founder.

Published August 7, 2008 in The New England Blade.

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