The Star Tribune Editorial Board's editorial criticizing the Walz administration's commitment to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion and equity in its COVID-19 vaccination efforts is dangerous, out of step with Minnesota and, frankly, ignorant ("Cut vaccine query on sexual orientation," March 6).
As health care leaders and members of the LGBT community who believe in strong and effective public health policy, we know firsthand that collecting relevant and appropriate demographic data is fundamental to both measuring how we are doing, and where the gaps and inequities are.
Asking people to self-identify their race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation is a basic and critical set of information we need to understand who we are reaching, who we're not reaching, and demographic trends in the pandemic. This data is critical to understanding how racism, homophobia, transphobia and discrimination are playing out.
The Editorial Board's position about collection of sexual orientation data in the context of COVID-19 vaccinations is so shocking because of how COVID-19 has illuminated the depth of disparities and inequities debilitating our country. We are in the largest public health crisis this country has seen in decades and people who experience marginalization, including the intersectional LGBT community, are bearing the brunt of the crisis in every single measurable way.
Why? Higher levels of poverty, pre-existing conditions, lower rates of being insured, and less family and community support, to name a few.
The Walz administration, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and the public health experts at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are gathering this data in order to understand how race, gender, sexual orientation, income, ethnicity, age and other factors impact people's access to COVID-19 vaccination. That makes sense and is important. Ignoring these factors is reckless, or worse, erasure.
The Editorial Board's argument is essentially this: by asking a few demographic questions related to sexual orientation the Walz administration is somehow disenfranchising elders. This assumes a) that there are no LGBT people over 65, b) that people over 65 don't know any LGBT people, c) that excluding LGBT people is necessary for the inclusion of people over 65, and d) that being LGBT is assumed to be negative so asking questions about sexual orientation is bad, wrong and/or offensive.
Not only is this stance homophobic, it is also out of step with just about every national and statewide health care demographic practice. Health care clinics and systems recognize that collecting sexual orientation and gender identity information is vital. And, of course, people can always decline to answer demographic questions.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board's erasure of LGBT people under the guise of concern for our elders is nothing short of appalling.
Alissa Light is executive director & CEO, Family Tree Clinic. Roxanne Anderson is co-founder of Rare Productions and director of the Minnesota Trans Health Coalition. Nathalie Crowley is associate executive director, Family Tree Clinic. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Andrea Jenkins is Minneapolis City Council vice president. Megan Peterson is executive director and Erin Maye Quade is advocacy director, Gender Justice. Jeremy Hanson Willis is CEO, JustUs Health.