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A letter to the community: The lesbian cancer epidemic

Earlier this year I lost a dear friend, V Kingsley, from cancer.

Just a few days ago, we lost another amazing LGBT leader, Paula Ettelbrick, also from cancer.

It wasn’t so long ago that Lisa Tonna and I were working to finalize a book on how to run an LGBT tobacco cessation group, little did we know she, a nonsmoker, would die of lung cancer herself just a year later, at the age of 38. Now I struggle as two other lesbian friends are diagnosed with cancer, both near my age.

I’m struck by how many lesbians I know who are facing cancer early; while at the same time, we can't even go to federal officials showing the profound need for LGBT cancer research and programs, because what looks like an epidemic to me, is absolutely invisible when no one asks if we’re LGBT on health surveys.

It’s crazy-making.

And now next weekend, I'll be flying to Florida, for the memorial service of my mother's lesbian lover. She also died way too young, from health problems known to correlate from the stress that being LGBT acts out on our lives.

Worse yet, I had to endure the horrible experience of being in the hospital as they turned away from my mother and repeatedly went to the legal next-of-kin for end-of-life decisions.

Despite being engaged for years, the laws banning them from getting married meant my mother became invisible in the intensive care unit as her lover died.

But before I go to that memorial service, I'm going to D.C., to attend a meeting with CDC officials, put together in part because we complained that LGBT people have been fundamentally left out of the $750M dollars in new wellness programs.

Unfortunately, even with three quarters of a billion dollars in new programs for exercise, nutrition, and tobacco control, almost none include LGBT tailored projects. For example, I can't think of a single LGBT-focused exercise program in the country.

This must change.

So many of these people I loved have inspired me beyond words. I fly down to DC regularly to speak up for LGBT health, but I’m done with waiting, I want to start change now.

Many of you know my partner, Liz Margolies, head of the amazing National LGBT Cancer Network.

After walking and talking about this for hours, Liz and I have decided to create the first-ever, LGBT health charity team for the New York City Marathon on Sunday, Nov. 6th. We’re calling it "Solvitur Ambulando," or It is Solved by Walking.

We’ve vowed every dime raised will go towards some national LGBT wellness program we can jointly run between the Cancer Network and our Network for LGBT Health Equity.

What all this means in that less than three weeks, we will attempt to walk the New York City marathon to raise awareness and funds for LGBT wellness.  I’ve never asked anyone for money before, neither has the Network for LGBT Health Equity. Heck, we even give away most of our cultural competency trainings for free.

But now I am going to ask you.

Will you please, on behalf of all the work we need to do, and of the LGBT people who are struggling with health disparities - will you join us and be part of this historic LGBT Health marathon team?

Everyone who donates will be part of our team. If you can donate $100, we will even send you an official team T-shirt.

I admit, I'm daunted by even thinking of walking the 26.2 miles, blisters and achy legs have become a regular part of my life. But I’m trying hard because this is so important ... let us know we’re not walking alone and show your support by making even a small donation.

Like I said, this is a homegrown team we just created because we need to speak out; there is no coaching or massive organizational overhead, so when you donate, every dollar of money we get will go into a new LGBT wellness program.

My communities are my inspiration, some LGBT people, some allies, all dedicated beyond belief. Whatever you are able to do to support me in this new goal, please know this, you are the real source of my strength, and I thank you for it.

With love and the deepest respect,


Want to be even more inspired?

Read Liz Margolies' excellent Op-Ed about Paula’s passing and the lesbian cancer epidemic in The Advocate last week.

It may change the way you think and force you into action.

About Scout

Dr. Scout is the Director of The Network for LGBT Health Equity (formerly the National LGBT Tobacco Control Network), an Adjunct Assistant Clinical Professor at Boston University School of Public Health and the former Director of Science Policy for the National Coalition for LGBT Health.

He is a frequent public speaker and cultural competency trainer who specializes in tobacco, wellness, transgender health, social determinants, health disparities, and surveillance. As Director of The Network, he leads a team that provides a variety of technical assistance for state and federal health policymakers and works to link local LGBT health advocates to each other, follow their activities on their blog.

Dr. Scout has been doing policy advocacy for LGBT health for over ten years, he has written a series of briefs on surveillance and inclusion in funding, his most recent is LGBT Cultural Competency in Funding. He is a co-author of the Gay And Lesbian Medical Association Provider Guidelines for LGBT Care and an online LGBT cultural competency training, also offered by GLMA.

He was the first recipient of the Community Service Award from the National Coalition for LGBT Health and has received the President's Award from the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Addiction Professionals. Dr. Scout is an openly transgender father of three kids, a vegetarian, and usually travels with his folding bicycle.

The Network is a proud project of The Fenway Institute at Fenway Community Health in Boston, MA.

You can also follow Dr. Scout on Twitter or on Facebook.