Andy De Llano
As part of Accessibility Awareness Month, UTRGV hosted a variety of events, including a presentation on LGBT care, which took place last Wednesday in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Center on the Edinburg campus.
Harlingen psychologist Ebony Butler, who works with the Veterans Affairs Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System, spoke about the limited access to health care many individuals in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community have faced in the past.
In partnership with the National LGBT Health Education Center, a program of the Fenway Institute, Butler presented students with data collected on several mental and health issues that have adversely affected people in the LGBT community due, in part, to discriminatory behavior or the harsh circumstances many in the community would and still face.
As an employee of Veterans Affairs, Butler noted past policies many veterans had to face while enlisted in the military. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy heavily punished any homosexual behavior and led many individuals to either tightly control their behavior or be dishonorably discharged from the Army with no health benefits once they had left.
These days, Butler told students, the VA has changed its policy to “Do Ask, Do Tell!”
“The VA prides itself in being all- inclusive,” the LGBT coordinator said. “We don’t want to be hypocrites by allowing outdated policies to remain in effect.”
The main topic of the session was introducing students to the 10 ways they and faculty can work toward creating an “inclusive and affirmative health care environment for LGBT people” as cited in a PowerPoint presentation compiled by Harvey J. Makadon, of the Fenway Institute.
The Fenway Institute is a research organization in Boston that aims to increase the overall availability of health care for the LGBT community. The VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System has partnered with the institute in an attempt to bring that goal to the Valley as well. Organizations that specifically tend to the needs of the LGBT community are severely limited in our region, Butler noted.
“How can we change this?” the psychologist asked. “Let us start a group…. Let us meet and see what the problems are.”
Another issue she highlighted during the presentation was the heavy resistance seen in South Texas in providing health care for transgendered individuals.
“There is a national mandate that we provide for transgender care and it is often ignored,” Butler said. “If we can understand what it takes to build an all-inclusive environment, we should work for it.”
The psychologist urged students and staff alike to push for advocacy and talk to the administration about implementing friendly policies that would make it easier for LGBT individuals to be properly informed of all the newly formed policies designed to help them.
“It’s hard for people to access care or even be educated about it because it’s something we don’t talk about,” Butler said at the end of her presentation. “Some ways we at the VA help out is by asking those questions.”