The seventh Health In Difference conference last week was arguably the most comprehensive forum for LGBTI health workers and advocates staged in Australia.
Bringing together experts in the area of gay and lesbian sexual and mental health, research and policy, it was be a mammoth feat achieved by a still fledgling organisation with no set funding, and but one staff member — the National LGBTI Health Alliance.
Southern Star spoke to that one staff member, Gabi Rosenstreich, as she sat amongst teetering piles of research studies, policy documents and correspondence with politicians.
The aims of the conference reflect the wider aims of the still relatively unknown Alliance — bring the community health organisations together to talk, and then speak with one voice to advocate better policy.
“You need to have one voice when you’re speaking to government,” Rosenstreich explained. “It’s not an exclusive voice though. We want to facilitate organisations getting together and working out what is the consensus in the sector. What are the things that are important to us? Where do we want to push?
“[The Alliance] can then operate as a ‘door in’ for government to what is a diverse and sometimes hard-to-reach sector.”
Working as an umbrella organisation, representing 76 organisations, across the disparate array of health concerns of each community within the LGBTI acronym will present challenges, Rosenstreich acknowledged, but effective communication is the key.
The Alliance aims to set up a comprehensive interactive website, to provide a space for member organisations to share research material, and to discuss and work together on achieving policy outcomes.
“It is a very diverse community, with diverse issues. Ultimately though, I think we all share a common understanding,” Rosenstreich said.
“Discrimination is a serious problem that impacts health and wellbeing.
“It impacts different groups differently, so we need to be mindful of that, but generally there is an understanding that we do all want the best for our community.”
The main aim is to see sexuality, sex and gender diverse people mentioned in all future policy development.
Without a specific minister, government strategy or funding pool for LGBTI health, achieving that objective may be some way off if the LGBTI health sector cannot build up its capacity to interact with government.
“Government talks about working in partnership with the community sector. What is important for them to acknowledge is that the community sector is really underresourced and stretched,” Rosenstreich said.
“There’s no extra there to give people the energy, capacity, or even the skills in some cases, to feed into government policy development.”
The Alliance has struggled to find government funding to add to the funds donated by community organisations, and has yet to be granted a meeting with federal Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon.
“We’re trying to get the minister to see that there is real value in helping the LGBT sector to set up a structure like this, to provide an appropriate partner for government.
“To say you want to work in partnership is all well and good, but if there isn’t the time and resources there to participate in those processes, then those voices aren’t going to be heard.”
And that is how the average member of the public can make a significant contribution to changing the appalling statistics on gay and lesbian health.
“Government needs to get a really clear message from the community, that it’s important that LGBTI wellbeing is addressed,” Rosenstreich said.
She encouraged the public to write to their local MPS and to Roxon about the community’s concerns.
“We need to make sure they know that this is an issue, to keep it on the agenda, and make them aware of LGBTI issues.
“It has to be hard for them to ignore us, because it hasn’t been hard so far.”
info: For more information on the National LGBT Health Alliance visit www.lgbthealth.org.au