This Pride Month, we are highlighting five leaders whose work focuses on LGBTQIA+ health equity.
The LGBTQIA+ community faces many health disparities due to systemic inequality, including lack of access to health care. LGBTQIA+ people are more likely to have negative experiences with health care providers, and more likely to be refused medical care. And, as a result of stigma and discrimination, LGBTQIA+ people are disproportionately affected by certain diseases, including mental health conditions, sexually transmitted infections and cancers. However, it is also imperative that we recognize how identities and communities within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella have specific, unique health needs.
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Vital Strategies is working toward a world where everyone is protected by equitable and effective public health systems, and this must include equity for LGBTQIA+ people. For example, in Peru, Vital is building on partnerships formed through the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics program to help ensure LGBTI people have access to gender-congruent civil registration and identity documents, which serve as a gateway for exercising individual rights and protections, including health care. The team has also added a new module on LGBTI equality for the Legal and Regulatory CRVS Toolkit developed as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Data for Health Initiative.
The five trailblazers we are celebrating have advanced LGBTQIA+ rights through policy work and advocacy, art, writing, and leading health care practices with culturally competent and community-based care.
Monica Raye Simpson
Queer, Black leader, activist, and artist
Monica Raye Simpson leads SisterSong, a national reproductive rights organization in the United States with a mission to “strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice by eradicating reproductive oppression and securing human rights.”
A North Carolina native, Simpson worked at the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Community Center and co-founded the city’s Black Gay Pride Celebration. A certified doula, Simpson also writes for many publications on civil and human rights.
Currently based in Atlanta, Simpson’s activism influences her work as a singer and spoken word performer, and her art highlights LGBTQIA+, Black, and women’s health issues. She founded Artists United for Reproductive Justice, a platform for artists to share their art focused on reproductive justice.
LGBTQIA+ mental health advocate and author
Along with other young leaders in mental health, Juan Acosta recently spoke at the White House for Mental Health Action Day, alongside Dr. Jill Biden, Selena Gomez and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Born in Mexico and now living in California, Acosta co-authored “Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Community” with Lady Gaga. Currently, he is a regional manager for CalHOPE Warm Line, a telephone hotline that connects people struggling with mental health issues with a peer counselor who has dealt with their own mental health problems.
Medical doctor, author, activist
Dr. Anastacia Tomson is a doctor, author and LGBTQIA+ rights activist in Cape Town, South Africa. A transgender woman and primary care practitioner, Tomson provides a range of services, including gender-affirming care and mental health care. Informed consent and respect for autonomy are priorities in her medicine and activism, which are guided by values of compassion, inclusiveness, respect, agency and ethics.
Outside of her practice, Tomson is a blogger, storyteller and author of “Always Anastacia: A Transgender Life in South Africa.” Her activism includes garnering support to pass the Civil Union Amendment Act regarding same-sex marriage in South Africa.
Dorjjantsan (Jack) Ganbaatar
Mongolian queer rights activist
A native of Mongolia, Dorjjantsan (Jack) Ganbaatar is a queer rights activist, speaker, researcher and author, and currently serves as the health program manager at the first and only LGBT Centre in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. After receiving a medical degree in Mongolia, he attended the University of Melbourne for a Master of Public Health degree. Ganbaatar’s master’s research focused on LGBTQIA+ youth in Mongolia, identifying gaps in health care and leading to improved access to care for LGBTQIA+ Mongolians. In addition to being a consultant for the United Nations Free & Equal campaign, he volunteers at LGBTQIA+ centers and programs around the world.
Social justice leader, attorney and strategist
Before dying of cancer in May 2022, Urvashi Vaid had worked as an LGBTQIA+ activist for four decades. As a lawyer based in New York, she shaped a range of progressive issues, from HIV/AIDS advocacy and prison reform to gay rights. Vaid held many leadership positions in academia, philanthropic organizations, advocacy groups and community-based organizations, and her writing on social justice and liberation has appeared in many publications.
Vaid’s work in HIV/AIDS activism is legendary. She spearheaded the ACLU’s work on HIV/AIDS in prisons and co-founded the National LGBT/HIV Criminal Justice Working Group, among other organizations. As the Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, Vaid advocated for policy change. She is remembered for the poster she held at George H.W. Bush’s address on AIDS in 1990, from which she was ejected. The poster read: “Talk is cheap. AIDS funding is not.”
This month and throughout the year, Vital Strategies celebrates pride, protest and the advancement of LGBTQIA+ rights around the world.
About Vital Strategies
Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. We work with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Our goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. To find out more, please visit www.vitalstrategies.org or Twitter @VitalStrat.