Health care has been a major topic on everyone’s mind throughout the pandemic – not to mention one of the most divisive issues in the US. Former President Trump campaigned on getting rid of Obamacare. President Biden ran on strengthening it. Meanwhile, the back and forth on access to health care has left many Americans in need of trusted health care providers and affordable coverage, especially minority communities and those who identify as LGBTQ+.
According to the CDC, Black people are two times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white counterparts. That number increases for Hispanic and Latino people, where the rate is 2.3 times more likely. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ+ community has long faced health care barriers for many reasons, including discrimination and heteronormative assumptions that can exclude members of the LGBTQ+ community. (Example: The idea that queer women don’t need birth control, which is false).
Some health care providers are stepping up to the plate and saying ‘we see you’ to marginalized communities, who may not be aware of the services they offer. Enter: Planned Parenthood. The org’s CEO and President Alexis McGill Johnson chatted with theSkimm about their newest campaign called Be Seen — which specifically targets the Black, Latinx, and LBGTQ+ communities.
Below are some excerpts from the conversation. Please note that some of the quotes are edited for length.
What is Be Seen?
What is the goal of the campaign?
"The Be Seen campaign is a love letter...with a simple message: No matter what the world says, we see you – the whole you.” And you are worthy of care, respect, and support. It’s been launched in partnership with Planned Parenthood affiliates in five cities: Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, Orlando, and Miami.
Every person deserves high-quality, compassionate health care. Every person deserves information and education about their health and sexuality to best decide how to care for themselves. When you feel seen, you have full control over your decisions and your body. You can fight for what you're passionate about. You can create the society you wish to see. You can help your community. Or you can just live and be.
Right now, people need trustworthy, high-quality care and information to make decisions about their lives and futures – especially as we face one of the most hostile state legislative sessions in recent history that specifically attack access to sexual and reproductive health care.”
How is this campaign different from others that Planned Parenthood has done in the past?
“First, it is our timeliest and most pointed effort to speak directly to young people. And it comes amid the most intense national race reckoning our country has seen since the 1960s. Young people's passion for social justice also makes this campaign unique as we show them that sexual and reproductive care is very much worth caring about.
[We] realize that many of the young people we serve are more tuned into social justice issues and interested in finding ways to plug in and make the world better. We also know that many young Black and Latinx people often feel misunderstood, unheard, and unseen. For these young people, there’s a striking and disheartening dissonance between feeling like you have so much to offer while feeling invisible at the same time. Be Seen is our way of letting these young visionaries, leaders, and activists know that what they believe matters and what they have to say is important.”
LGBTQ+ and reproductive health care
How are you hoping that Be Seen supports the LGBTQ+ community?
“Our hope is that this campaign sends a message to LGBTQ+ people that their voices, experiences, and joy are important and deserve to be honored. They deserve to be supported, affirmed, and seen for their whole and full selves – both in and outside of our health center doors. We’ve long stood with LGBTQ+ communities in the fight for civil and human rights – many of whom turn to us for health care, information, and education.
We know that invisibility can mean vulnerability for some LGBTQ+ people, and we hope this campaign sends the message that Planned Parenthood is a place where you can feel safe, respected, and seen for who you are.”
What specific services do you provide for members of the LGBTQ+ community?
“Across the country, Planned Parenthood health centers are committed to delivering vital health care services and education to people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, and gender identities with care and respect. In addition to services like cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, birth control, abortion, and more, Planned Parenthood health centers in 39 states offer gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender patients.
Many of these health centers are currently offering hormone therapy through telehealth, helping to ease barriers to health care access during the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2019 to 2020, the number of patients seeking GAHT from Planned Parenthood increased by 35%. We proudly provide high-quality care and support to transgender and nonbinary patients — many of whom rely on us as their only source of care.”
Confronting systemic racism in health care
How does Planned Parenthood tackle systemic racism in health care?
“Systemic racism in health care runs deep and the COVID-19 pandemic laid its depth bare. The pandemic clearly revealed who is most vulnerable to barriers in accessing health care, and the reality of what this means for health outcomes, including everything from delayed or missed diagnoses of reproductive conditions to higher rates of maternal morbidity and mortality. This has to change.
Health equity is at the center of Planned Parenthood’s mission and our advocacy because we understand that in order for people to be able to decide their own futures, they must have access to quality health care and the resources they need to make the vision they have for themselves a reality. [Our] work also demands that we hold ourselves to high standards by acknowledging and learning from our own history, but also addressing the harmful systems our own organization has upheld – internally and externally."
Why is it important for Planned Parenthood to confront social justice issues? And why now?
“[We are] a critical part of the public health infrastructure, and our lens for decision-making is our patients. That means we have an obligation to think differently about health equity. If we want to deliver on our mission, we have to understand that it doesn’t stop once a patient walks out the doors of a health center.
They could be undocumented. They could face discrimination because of their gender identity, or police violence because of the color of their skin. They could be facing issues related to having a low income or living in a zip code where resources are just out of reach. It’s our job to show up with them at those intersections.
We know that there can be no health equity without race equity. The past year has only made that clearer. In order to provide high-quality services for patients, we have to understand that racism in health care doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Systemic racism impacts education, housing, immigration, and every other sector. So if we are committed to contributing to a world in which each person can live up to their full potential, we must also be committed to advancing social justice at large, not only in the context of sexual and reproductive health.”
The push forward
How is Planned Parenthood keeping up with cultural changes?
“Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of sex education, and our resources are built to support young people as active participants in their own health and wellness. For us, it’s really important that all young people see themselves and their experiences accurately reflected in sex education, without shame or stigma.
Recently, we launched the Ask the Experts video series that answers common questions young people have about sex, sexual health, and their bodies – with gender-inclusive, age-appropriate answers and bold, fun graphics. Other tools, like our period tracker Spot On and sex-ed chatbot Roo, provide young people with the information they need about their sexual and reproductive health in an inclusive, open, and non-stigmatizing way.”
Note: For those seeking better access to health care options, there are resources you can use to find what you need. Keep yourself informed, learn about your sexual and reproductive rights from reputable sources, and find out what systemic racism in health care looks like. Find a trusted doctor in your network by calling your insurance company and asking for a list of providers in your area. (In-network doctors are usually less expensive than out-of-network doctors.) Look up reviews on health care providers before making an appointment. And if you fit the criteria, take advantage of government resources like these.
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