Tag Archives: Stigma

Hero of the Week: February 8, Kathleen Sebelius and the Dept. of Health and Human Services

8 Feb
Hero of the Week

Hero of the Week

In the wake of the tragic shootings in Newton, national attention centered on the issue of guns. One frequent sidebar, however, was mental illness. The NRA seized on this, insisting, ironically, on a national registry of the mentally ill. For a while it seemed that shrill voices and fear would capitalize on the existing stigma and further marginalize those with mental health issues, making care for the mentally ill even more challenging. Fortunately, calmer voices are prevailing.

In a wonderful editorial this week, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlines the recent history of mental health care and what her agency intends to do to improve things. Like too many caring, common sense aspects of government, inclusive approaches to mental health started nearly 50 years ago and have been undermined by the Reaganite approach to strangling government programs. Sebelius intends to reverse that trend.

She rightly identified the main problems as stigma, early diagnosis and care, and well-funded and accessible programs. Building on the fundamentals already rolling out thanks to the Affordable Care Act, HHS will be working on new programs to ensure people get the care they need and encourage people  seek timely, meaningful help. Thank you, Madam Secretary, for taking this growing problem seriously and treating it with humanity and dignity.

Thanks to my friend Jennifer Carey for this week’s honorable mention. In another welcome move from the Obama administration, the Department of Defense has announced plans to begin implementing benefits for same-sex partners of military personnel. Sadly, because of DOMA, many of the more than 1100 benefits provided to heterosexual couples are blocked. With the dismantling of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, however, gay and lesbian military personnel can be open about their families and the government can provide some basic benefits for them. It is delightful to see another agency taking the mandate of the President’s second term seriously and moving forward — with or without Congress — to do the right thing for the American people.

Christmas Eve 2012: Feeling Grateful

24 Dec

pride-social-justice-progressiveWhile I am not a religious person, I am spiritual and find god in reading Walt Whitman, or watching the ocean during a winter storm, or witnessing the kindness in people I am fortunate enough to have in my life. Here on this Christmas Eve, I have been reflecting on how grateful I am for so many of the people in my life and the many kindnesses offered to me and accepted from me.

I am grateful that I have a life partner that travels with me on this, often times bizarre, wild journey called life.  I am exceedingly privileged that I have family, friends, and education.  It is a tremendous gift to be included in a network of folk that are social justice activists working for equality and equity for all.  I am grateful and privileged to have mentors who help guide me and encourage my growth as a social justice activist.

There is so much for me to be grateful for and there is also so much we all have yet to work for towards equality and ensuring people are treated with dignity and respect.  My wish list for things to happen within my lifetime is ambitious, but doable if we all act collectively for the rights of others — if we create a choir of voices for the rights of women, of the LGBT community, of all communities that are marginalized and stigmatized. We — all of us — must use our voices to eradicate racism and poverty, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and all of the intersections of oppression; this is my greatest wish.

It is difficult not to be in a reflective mood after Sandy Hook and the exceedingly idiotic remarks of Wayne LaPierre.  I think we would be far better off if we put a teacher in every gun store, rather than a gun in every school.  During this holiday season and in the wake of great tragedy, I hope everyone hears the words, “I love you” from a dear one, and that everyone exchanges a hug with someone.  May we all feel compelled to look for the goodness in others and to stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized.

World AIDS Day, 2012: Getting to Zero!

1 Dec
Let Us All Work to Getting to Zero!

Let Us All Work to Getting to Zero!

December 1 marks World AIDS Day.  While the atmosphere is looking rather optimistic and we have a President who is supportive of health care for all, we must not grow complacent. We must remain ever vigilant if our goal is to get to Zero new infections and Zero new deaths due to the impact of HIV.

For those of us that were alive in the 1980s, we saw the devastation of the gay male community, where doctors would refuse to treat gay men impacted by HIV.  We had to witness President Reagan not even saying the word AIDS or recognizing the epidemic.

The Gay Community had double the stigma: being gay and impacted by HIV.  Most of us can talk about friends we lost.  Let us hope those types of conversations have been — or soon will be — relegated to the past.

Today is a great invitation to the world to stand in solidarity with all of our brothers and sisters who are impacted by HIV.

Mental Health and Stigma

8 May

Progressive Health Care

Part of social justice is working to enfranchise marginalized populations.  Sadly, people living with mental health issues are too often marginalized and worry about stigma.  I was even anxious when I talked about my own struggles with depression.  I say with great certainty that most humans either struggle with some form of mental illness, or have family and friends who struggle.

Here in the United States, we can’t even talk about health care for all much less actually talk about treating mental health issues.  Here is where I would like to call attention to the amazing and progressive country of New Zealand.  New Zealand is tackling the issue of mental health with an advertising campaign that is compassionate, humane, and affirming in the attempt to remove stigma.  Click here to see part of this video campaign.

Action steps: not only do we need to make sure the Affordable Health Care Act passes, but we need to expand the act to take care of all of our brothers and sisters.

Milton Hershey School: Playground for Discrimination

7 Dec

Say NO to Discrimination

When I think of schools, I think of places designed to educate, empower, and enlighten students in a safe and nurturing way.  Granted, I know not all schools live up to this notion, but to learn of a school that actively discriminates against an already vulnerable population is profoundly disturbing.  What is unforgivable to me is that a school, the Milton Hershey School, is contributing to the stigma and prejudice that exists against those living with HIV.

When reading the mission statement of the Milton Hershey School, I have to say that it sounds like such a wonderful environment and resource for students:

Milton Hershey School nurtures and educates children in social and financial need to lead fulfilling and productive lives.

The vision statement is even more impressive:

Today, Milton Hershey School is a cost-free, private, coeducational home and school for children from families of low income, limited resources, and social need. The School is funded by a trust established by Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine. Milton Hershey School offers a positive, structured home life year-round and an excellent pre-kindergarten through 12th grade education. Our vision focuses on building character and providing children with the skills necessary to be successful in all aspects of life.

To learn that the Milton Hershey School denied admission to a 13-year old who is living with HIV seems to run contrary to the mission and vision of the school.  How is the school “building character” when they are modeling discrimination?

I spent some time trying to reach anyone at the Milton Hershey School for comment, but to no avail. I encourage all TSM readers to take action by clicking here and signing a petition telling the school that it is unacceptable to deny admission to students living with HIV.  How sad that we have to educate a school about HIV and that it is not an easily communicable disease.

While discriminating against anyone living with HIV is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Milton Hershey School states:

…we cannot accommodate the needs of students with chronic communicable diseases that pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others.

The school is desperately in need of an HIV 101 education class, for then they would know that admitting this 13-year old boy does not pose a threat to the health and safety of others.  Is this 1985?  Is Ronald Reagan still alive and now working at the Milton Hershey School?

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