Living as a college student in Washington D.C. was an incredibly formative experience for me: beyond my education, it was my first experience living as a gay man, figuring out how to navigate the world as an LGBTQ person. I started dating, had my first relationship, and came out to my family and friends with a wonderfully warm reception.

This time brought new challenges too. My first encounters with healthcare providers left me feeling judged and stigmatized, and made me want to skip the appointment instead of taking care of myself. Eventually I was lucky to find a doctor who was gay himself and specialized in LGBTQ health. It was through him I began to understand the ways in which the healthcare system had been failing me.

I learned of sexually transmitted infections (STI) tests that hadn’t been administered, despite the fact that as a gay person I was at risk. I had been falling through the cracks and I didn’t even know it.

Thanks to this doctor, I began to understand the unique healthcare needs of a gay man like me, and how to advocate for my health.

After college, I was excited to be coming back to my home state, but a part of me was acutely aware of the fact that I would be leaving my network of accepting friends and providers, and moving to a city where I didn’t have any of those things. I was scared of being judged again.

Thankfully, there was a Planned Parenthood health center near my new apartment and I was able to receive affordable, quality, non-judgmental care. As a young person who was new to Portland, it was a huge relief to know that I had a place to go.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences in healthcare since I saw news of the rising rates of STIs in Maine and the country. A new CDC report shows the rates of three STIs – chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis – are at the highest they’ve been since 1991. Gonorrhea cases alone have increased by 63 percent since 2014.

This news is even more troubling for someone like me, who experienced firsthand inadequate sexual health care because I’m gay. The same report found that gay & bisexual men were disproportionately affected by the increase in infection rates.

There were several factors the report found were responsible for this rise in infection, but most notably: public health funding cuts coupled with health center closures. LGBTQ folks already have to worry about finding accepting, capable healthcare providers, so when clinics close and healthcare funding is cut, we are often some of the hardest hit and the first to feel the effects.

How can we reverse this? Start with protecting Title X funding.

Title X is the nation’s largest program for affordable sexual and reproductive health care. It was created to ensure folks who may not otherwise be able to afford it have access to critical care including STI tests and treatment. This year the Trump-Pence administration implemented a medically and morally unethical gag rule designed to harm Title X providers like Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is an established and trusted healthcare provider for LGBTQ folks, and this attempt to score political points is already having real and lasting consequences on the health of millions of Americans of all backgrounds. Nearly 900 health centers have been forced out of the Title X program because of the gag rule. Five states, including Maine, no longer have any Title X providers. When coupled with LePage Administration cuts, it means that Maine’s reproductive healthcare system is seriously underfunded.

I am counting on elected officials to implement policies to improve our lives. Four million Americans obtain their health care through the Title X program each year, including more than 20,000 Mainers. In the midst of a public health crisis, the last thing we need is less access to health care.

I urge everyone to fight back and make themselves heard. Maine lawmakers should end the cuts to the state family planning system and our leaders in Congress must take action to protect Title X. If our current leaders won’t invest in our health and our future, then we will elect ones who will.

 

 


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