Whether it is dealing with the high suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth or other health related issues, the LGBT+ community faces issues similar to other underserved communities.
Whether it is dealing with the high suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth or other health related issues, the LGBT+ community faces issues similar to other underserved communities. Credit: cdn.britannica.com

S.E. Williams

When it comes to making a case for change, the numbers matter. In 2022 researchers examined hate crime data from the 2017-2019 National Crime Victimization Survey. As the first nationally representative and comprehensive criminal victimization data to include information on the sexual orientation and gender identity of respondents the findings were concerning.

The report found members of the LGBT+ community were nine times more likely than non-LGBT+ people to be victims of violent hate crimes. 

And yet, this is only one of a myriad of issues impacting this community. Another important area of concern is health. Whether it is dealing with the high suicide rate among LGBTQ+ youth or other health related issues, the LGBT+ community faces issues similar to other underserved communities. 

“Equality means more than passing laws. The struggle is really won in the hearts and minds of the community, where it really counts.”

Barbara Gittings

In  July 2018 California enacted a new law requiring most departments, including the California Department of Public Health, to collect and report voluntarily provided self- identification information data anytime they collect ancestry or ethnic origin information.

Collecting this information was deemed important by a series of studies that found consistently collecting and analyzing such data on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) enables state agencies to identify groups within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) communities who are disproportionately underserved. Armed with such information, agencies are better able to direct targeted outreach and other services to these populations.  

This approach can only be useful if everyone complies with the law and reports the information. That, however, is not the case. A recent report by the CA State Auditor found 

The state’s Public Health department collects such data on only a small portion of its forms intended to gather demographic data. 

Of the 129 forms reviewed by state auditors, 105 were exempt, but not prohibited, from collecting this information. Most of these forms were exempt because the data is collected by a third party, such as a local health jurisdiction. This exemption, however, “severely limits the amount of SOGI data the department is required to collect.”

In a letter by the California State Auditor dated April 27, 2023 noted how the state’s Department of Public Health has missed opportunities to collect and report sexual orientation and gender identity data. (Graphic source: auditor.ca.gov)

Auditors further noted how a lack of “clear and consistent policies and procedures” have served to hinder the departments ability to collect the requested data. 

Of the remaining 24 forms required to collect SOGI data, only 17 do so in a complete manner. Worse still, because of resource and technical limitations, Public Health apparently cannot export the data it does collect for over 100 of the 128 reportable disease conditions in its reportable disease information  exchange system. 

The auditor further noted that despite Public Health’s critical role in gathering this information on SOGI individuals, the department has not provided any guidelines, training or resources to local health jurisdictions or health care providers to collect this information in the field. 

The auditor provided recommendations for the  the legislature to step in and amend the law requiring Public Health to collect SOGI data from third-party entities, including local health jurisdictions, on any forms or electronic data systems unless prohibited by federal or state law.

Having credible demographic information is important on nearly every issue involving underserved communities as a way to direct funding to the right areas for the right reasons whether it be funding for underserved minority students in school, directing funds to communities to provide services for seniors, or providing funding and services to those identified as SOGI communities who remained underserved–data is important, numbers matter, especially for the underserved. 

This is just another glaring example of how important it is to track demographic information as a way to fairly allocate public funding according to need. It is also another glaring example of how the legislature passes laws designed to make progress toward mitigating  longstanding issues related to structural and systemic bias, there is never enough teeth in the legislation to repair the problem. 

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real. 

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.