THE BLOG

How About an LGBT Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation to Support Our Health and Wellness?

02/20/2015 05:27 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

We have had five nor'easters in a month and nearly four feet of snow are still piled high here in the boondocks of eastern Connecticut. Throw in arctic temperatures, ice, wind, the monotony of a gray-and-white landscape, and cabin fever, and even a resilient Yankee heart can sink.

Last January Connecticut created a new Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation "to increase the resilience and sustainability of vulnerable communities and individuals" living along the state's coast and rivers as they are affected by the growing impact of climate change. The institute is expected to "develop and deploy" natural science, engineering, legal, financial, and policy best practices to create a "climate-literate public." It will assist residents to understand their vulnerabilities so they can "make scientifically informed, environmentally sound decisions."

The LGBT community needs our own version of an Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation. Rather than track and interpret weather patterns, our institute would develop and deploy emerging scientific research about our resilience in best practices, policies and programs aimed at supporting our vulnerable communities and individuals.

Like Connecticut's new institute, our LGBT institute would equip us with the information and assistance we--and those who work with us--need to make informed, sound decisions that keep us healthy and well. Its mission would be to help us, especially our young people, move beyond the role of victims, to claim the full power of our community's heroic legacy, to live as people conscious of our resilience, heroes of our own personal stories.

You might say this institute would help us adapt to a changing climate in which we will be able--and expected--to participate as equals.

Increased social support for LGBT equality, and laws to undergird that support, have allowed behavioral scientists for the first time to compare the impact of anti-gay laws on our physical and mental health--and contrast it with what can be called the healing effects of supportive laws.

In a 2011 Pediatrics article, Columbia University assistant professor Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D. reported that in "unsupportive" Oregon school districts--he looked where there were no school-based Gay-Straight Alliances--gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth were five times more likely than their heterosexual peers to have attempted suicide in the previous twelve months.

That much is all too familiar. But what's surprising is the positive effect that supportive policies have on our health, as Hatzenbuehler found in a study of the effects of legal same-sex marriage on Massachusetts gay men's health care use and expenditures. In 2012 he reported in an American Journal of Public Health article that after the state in 2003 became the first to legalize same-sex marriage, the men had fewer medical and mental health care visits and lower medical costs. While researchers have said for years that marriage is conducive to better health, simply having the right to be married--after lifetimes of being denied that right--seems to have had a salubrious effect on gay men.

Hatzenbuehler's work offers the kind of empirical evidence that our LGBT institute can use to advocate for increased resources aimed at building healthy, resilient men and women. In a January 2013 report, the National Institutes of Health's LGBT Research Coordinating Committee recommended the institutes ramp up their research on how resilience among LGBT populations "develops, may protect health, and may buffer against the internalization of stigma and/or other negative experiences associated with sexual or gender minority status."

The time is right for our community's advocates to urge the National Institutes of Health to put our money where their mouth is. Fund research. Translate it into best practices. Support the development of interventions and programs that will counteract the harm inflicted on us by the beatings, bullies, damnations, firings, insults, rejecting families and laws that treat us as second-class citizens.

"You have to give the people hope," is how Harvey Milk used to put it in the 1970s. The nation's first openly gay elected official knew that inspiring hope in a young person could mean the difference between life and death.

So, yes, a new LGBT-focused Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation to apply science to real life, help us to live fully conscious of our own resilience, inspire hope, and believe we have a future worth living for.

Even in the depths of winter, this resilient Yankee's heart sings with joy at the thought of it.