Surveying the health of our communities will save lives during a pandemic

As a fifty-five year old gay man who survived the terrifying early years of the AIDS epidemic and who is committed to weathering our current pandemic, I know how much it matters to have queer data and research to help us understand the pressing needs of our communities. Knowing our needs saves lives on the individual, family, and community levels.  

As a result, William Way LGBT Community Center is participating in a statewide coalition to collect LGBTQIA health data to understand the needs of our people, whether we live in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, or any other part of our beautiful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since 2015, this coalition has collected health-related information about our communities from thousands of individuals and more than 900 zip codes statewide. 

This research in past years has shown that more than one in three LGBTQIA Pennsylvanians do not believe that most of their healthcare providers have medical expertise related to their health needs as an LGBTQIA person. With regards to this, our own U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Rachel  Levine has said, “As a physician, I’ve seen the health consequences of neglecting a patient’s needs; as a policy maker, I’ve seen the cost of creating policies that are uninformed; and as a transgender woman, I’ve felt the burden of other’s ignorance. ” 

Since 2015, LGBTQIA Pennsylvanians have been making their voices heard to put an end to the neglect, the lack of information, and the ignorance that stands between them and comprehensive health and social services. 

Now, in 2022, the fourth Pennsylvania LGBTQ Health Needs Assessment is being implemented to measure our community’s concerns, health disparities, and barriers to care. The findings on mental health, sexual health, healthcare utilization, experiences with violence and discrimination, and more will fuel programming and policymaking designed to address the health and social needs of all LGBTQIA Pennsylvanians. In 2020, amidst the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, more community members than ever before participated in the survey, giving voice to their health needs. More than 6,500 responses flowed in from 64 of the state’s 67 counties. 

Thanks to the tireless outreach efforts of more than 30 LGBTQIA community-based organizations including William Way, the experiences of youth, older adults, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community members, transgender and nonbinary community members, and community members with intersex traits were all more widely represented than in years prior. We gained critical insights into tobacco use, HIV, flu vaccination rates, and social isolation that framed the understanding of our community’s risks in the face of COVID-19.

Pennsylvania has emerged as a leader in LGBTQIA health, and it’s been LGBTQIA people leading every step of the way. The data is gathered by and for LGBTQIA community members. We are the ones utilizing these data to support our community centers, to develop programs to address our health and social needs, and to advocate for ourselves at the state and local levels. The momentum has been building with each administration of this statewide health needs assessment. We know we can do even better this year. 

Now, LGBTQIA Pennsylvanians can have their voices heard again this year.

Our voices are important and can help save lives. We can bring together more people across more communities. We can achieve greater representation for every part of our community. We can turn the data on health disparities into a future of health equity for all LGBTQIA Pennsylvanians. The 2022 Pennsylvania LGBTQ+ Health Needs Assessment includes new demographic questions about disabled, neurodiverse, and Middle Eastern/North African ethnicity. We are also asking about access to dental care for the first time. Make your voice heard in this crucial survey for LGBTQIA+ health at the following link: Puedes participar en español aquí:

Chris Bartlett is executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center.

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