Q&A with Hutson W. Inniss of the National Coalition for LGBT Health

September 2011 | Hutson Inniss, Executive Director of the National Coalition for LGBT Health

Hutson Inniss, Executive Director of the National Coalition for LGBT Health, talks about the Coalition’s work, LGBT older adults’ health, and HIV/AIDS.

What is the National Coalition for LGBT Health ?

The National Coalition for LGBT Health (the Coalition) is an organization committed to improving the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals and communities throughout the United States. We work towards changing public and private sector policies, laws and regulations; increasing resources to expand the provision of culturally competent health and social service delivery to a diverse and inclusive LGBT population; and disseminating knowledge regarding LGBT populations’ health status, access to prevention and health care services, and other health-related information. As one of our core values, we seek to eliminate health disparities that occur based on sexual orientation, gender identity and presentation, age, race/ethnicity, education or income, disability, nationality, and geographic location.

How does the Coalition fulfill its mission to improve the health and well-being of LGBT populations?

The Coalition was founded in 2000 as a membership organization of concerned LGBT health service providers, researchers, and community advocates acting on the belief that collective action on the federal level would improve health outcomes for LGBT individual, families, and communities. Today, we have a membership of over 80 national advocacy organizations, LGBT community health centers, academic institutions, health departments, professional associations, and community-based organizations from around the country. The Coalition derives its power and legitimacy from its membership; and we are committed to working in consultation and partnership with our members in carrying out our work. We accomplish this by advocating for the health needs of LGBT people with federal officials; supporting a wide range of policy initiatives that increases access to affordable diagnostic, care and treatment services; and educating the LGBT communities and its allies on the importance of health as a social justice issue.

As it relates to LGBT older adults, what trends are you seeing around the overall health of this particular population, especially as the Baby Boomers begin to retire?

The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Health Issues and Research Gaps and Opportunities published a report in March 2011 that gave an overview of current trends in health for LGBT individuals in later adulthood. Although there is a limited amount of data available from current research, the committee listed several key findings including: depression levels seemed to be elevated among older lesbians and gay men; lesbians and bisexual women may have higher rates of breast cancer than heterosexual women; and limited research suggests that transgender elders may experience negative health outcomes as a result of long-term hormone use.

From research conducted by SAGE and other advocacy organizations, we know that LGBT older adults experience stigma, discrimination and victimization across the life course. These experiences combine to create a level of minority stress that causes LGBT elders to seek health services at lower rates than the general population and believe that they will not receive respectful, competent care as they age.

Research trends show that HIV in older adults is on the rise, both with newly diagnosed cases of HIV in older adults, and with people living longer with the disease. How does the Coalition expect to work on the policy implications of these trends?

Within the Coalition, there are several organizations that focus on meeting the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS by providing direct services (like many of our LGBT health centers and community-based organizations) or through their advocacy efforts (like SAGE, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, and the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition). We look to our membership to help us shape our policy initiatives, as well as engage federal officials in addressing various health disparities like the HIV epidemic.

The Coalition will continue to partner with its membership and other advocacy organizations to ensure that the needs of older adults living with HIV/AIDS are addressed by our congressional leaders and the federal administration. We are members of the Federal AIDS Policy Partnership (FAPP), a group of organizations dedicated to protect the civil and human rights and dignity of all persons living with HIV, by advocating for additional funding to support evidence-based prevention interventions; access to care, treatment, and housing services; biomedical, clinical, and behavioral research.

Research has shown that HIV disproportionately affects communities of color. In your opinion, what policy and activism work should be done to address the needs of LGBT people of color who are aging with HIV, given that they may be potentially more vulnerable to society’s hardships?

This is a very important topic for all of us who are concerned about the vast disparities in health based on race/ethnicity in the United States. The HIV pandemic is just one example of how lack of access to appropriate diagnostic, care, and treatment services disproportionately affects LGBT people of color. There are several action steps that each person can make that will impact the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the overall health and wellness of LGBT communities. Educate yourself and others on various health disparities that affect your local community, especially those that are exacerbated by social, economic or environmental factors. Join a local coalition or network that is working towards improving health and well-being in racial/ethnically diverse communities, and advocate for the inclusion of LGBT populations (especially older adults) in their advocacy priorities.

Many of our allies, and even some members of our community, are not aware of the differences in health outcomes that are based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocate for the collection of sexual orientation and gender identity demographic information in local and statewide health assessments and survey. In order to improve the health status of our communities, we need our public health agencies to gather data that will inform policy and funding decisions. Finally, we encourage everyone to engage local and state officials to advocate for health policies that are inclusive of the needs of LGBT people.

What do you predict will be the most important change over the next 10 years in the health policy field that will affect the well-being of LGBT people as they age?

The most important policy development that will impact the health of LGBT people as they age is the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under its provisions, an estimated 46 million people will be able to obtain affordable health insurance. This number of uninsured includes many LGBT individuals and families who are twice as likely as the general population to be uninsured due to discriminatory practices in employment, federal recognition of our relationships and insurance coverage. After 2014, LGBT older adults who are living with a chronic condition like high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV or cancer will not be denied insurance coverage based on pre-existing conditions. Also, all insurance plans that will be sold under the state exchange systems must be certified as “qualified health plans and cover a minimum of essential benefits that include ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; and preventive and wellness services including chronic disease management.”

Hutson W. Inniss is the Executive Director for the National Coalition for LGBT Health, in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Coalition’s staff, he was the Vice President – Community and Organizational Development for Tapestry Health, Inc. where he served as the project director for its Among Men/For Men Project, a HIV prevention and substance abuse treatment access program funded by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Inniss also founded the agency’s Health Initiative Partnership, a capacity development program for local minority-serving community based organizations, funded by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: Office of Minority Health.