The Center is rooted in the understandings, intentions, and commitments of its members. While they are individually developed and put into action, they are also influenced by larger events and activities. For the members of our Center, a number of significant events and actions served to inform them and shape their thinking about the importance of health research related to sexual orientation and gender identify/preference.
Some of our founding members were greatly influenced by the policies and actions of Governor Milton J. Shapp of Pennsylvania who in 1975 committed his administration to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identify/preference. Governor Shapp had a strong record in support of non-discrimination in the provision of governmental services including health and welfare services. In 1976, he established what we believe to be the first governmental body in the world committed to work towards ending discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/preferences- The Pennsylvania Council for Sexual Minorities (follow this link to the 1976 Executive Order and the subsequent 1978 Amendment which served in maintaining the Council).
During his administration his Council identified issues of concern related to governmental services. The Council learned that traditional governmental services such as children and youth, drug and alcohol, STI testing and treatment, mental health, and health education did not serve people of all orientations and identifies very well because of poorly trained health and welfare providers, lack of policies and funding, political interference, lack of program models, and lack of research (as outlined in the Council’s 1977 and 1978 reports). While the Council had many successes such as protecting state employees from discrimination, funding of competent mental health centers, training state workers and others, fundamental changes in health and social welfare programs were hampered because of the need for strong research identifying the problems and for models to ameliorate them- two of the current goals of the Center. Governors serving after Governor Shapp had less interest in these issues. Although both Governors Thornburg and Casey did use the Council for developing AIDS policies, they and their successors did not devote the resources and support the Council needed to continue to function in a proactive way. As a result, the Council is currently dormant.
In various reports since 1994, the National Institute of Mental Health,1 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,2 the American Medical Association,3the American Public Health Association,4 the Institutes of Medicine5 and others have pointed out that health care and health care research affecting gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people are inadequate. For health problems that are similar for sexual minority populations and the general population, access to health care is a major problem for sexual minority people. The Surgeon General’s Healthy People 2010 report described the health disparities affecting people based on sexual orientation. A companion document (written by a group of experts in LGBT health and organized by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association) to his report described the data available supporting these disparities and pointed out the need for additional research. Most recently, an article was published in the American Journal of Public Health that described the deficiencies in public health college and university programs related to the health of lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people.6
1,2 Conceptual Foundations Workgroup, Research Design Workgroup, Measurement & Sampling Workgroup, Ethics Workgroup, Workshop on Suicide & Sexual Orientation, Atlanta, GA. Recommendations for a research agenda in suicide and sexual orientation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. 1995; 25(Suppl): 82-88.
3 AMA Council on Scientific Affairs. Health care needs of gay men and lesbians in the United States. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1996; 275(17):1354-1358.
4 APHA. APHA policy statement 9819: The need for public health research on gender identity and sexual orientation. American Journal of Public Health. 1999;89:444-445.
5 Institute of Medicine. Lesbian health: Current assessment and directions for the future. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.
6 Corliss H, Shankle M, Moyer M. Research, curricula, and resources related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health in US schools of public health. American Journal of Public Health. 2007; 97(6):1023-7.