People who are black and queer have many things to be proud of, from their cultural contributions to language, to the radical activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. But the health of black LGBT people is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
Jonathan Lassiter, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Muhlenberg College and author of Black LGBT Health in the United States: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, is shaping the conversation around black health in the LGBT community.
Originally from Augusta, Georgia, Dr. Lassiter began studying black queer health issues in New York City by doing HIV prevention research and psychotherapy. Lassiter considers his work as a form of activism on behalf of communities that deal with racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.
Lassiter and his co-editor, Dr. Lourdes D. Follins, began collaboration on the book in 2015 after learning about lack of information on the health of black queer communities. Lassiter and Follins decided to take a “for us by us” approach in documenting the health of queer black men, women, and those who fall outside the gender binary.
“Too often the people writing about Black LGBT people are either Black heterosexuals or white gay men,” Dr. Lassiter told Blavity in an email interview. “The stories of Black LGBT people are filtered through the cultural lens of others and may not capture our full humanity."
Black queer folks face the same health problems as their white counterparts, but experience these challenges at higher rates because of systemic inequality. Lack of health insurance, access to jobs that pay a living wage and an absence of social support networks are just some of the obstacles that black LGBT people face that their white peers just don’t.
Lassiter’s research shows that black LGBT people have higher instances of suicide attempts than white people of the same category. In his studies, he also found that black trans women are more likely to experience violence or hate crimes than white trans women.
Health is a complicated subject within the black LGBT community. The issues that affect black gay men aren’t the same as the issues that affect black lesbian women. The diversity of gender and sexual identity amongst black LGBT people means that members of the community are impacted in different ways.
“We typically tend to see worse health outcomes among bisexual and trans people within Black LGBT communities,” Lassiter said. “This is often due to the fact that bisexual people experience discrimination from both heterosexuals and (lesbians and gays)."
“Also, trans people experience discrimination due to their gender identities and lack of gender role conformity — which tends to be visible and thus easier to discriminate against,” Lassiter said.
According to Lassiter, finding a solution for these problems is going require action at individual, community and systemic levels. But the current political climate is making things difficult for queer people of color. Both black and LGBT health is almost intrinsically tied to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, which the current administration is trying to repeal.
“The ACA made it illegal for health care providers who take Health and Human Services funding to discriminate against sexual and gender minorities,” Lassiter said. “It also made it possible for same-sex families to have joint health insurance, as well as eliminated lifetime caps for chronic diseases such as HIV.”
Lassiter's book, which was published in 2016, outlines remedies for these social inequalities around health and Lassiter says it has been well received. He said there is one major takeaway he wants readers to get from this book.
"We are dedicated to helping (black LGBT people) live healthier, fuller, more whole lives," said Lassiter.
We echo that!
For more information on black LGBT health read Lassiter's book here.