I was sitting in the conference rooms of the Empire State Plaza. Not exactly the bowels of the Edward Durrell Stone marble and concrete behemoth that holds the seat of state government in New York State but not a place with the best cell reception either.
I was there because my client, the Community Health Care Association of New York State, was holding its annual Advocacy Day on Monday, March 2nd-yes the same day that the 1-95 snow storm hit New York City and the east coast.
Despite the weather, a few hundred advocates came to Albany to talk to their legislators about strengthening the state's healthcare safety net. Community health centers have always been at the forefront of providing quality primary care regardless of a person's ability to pay.
Throughout the AIDS crisis, health centers have been there for people living with HIV and AIDS. In New York City, the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center housed the first community-based HIV clinic and today is New York's premier provider of sensitive, culturally competent and clinically appropriate health care and related services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as well as for people with HIV and AIDS.
As President Obama grapples with the economy and trying to make healthcare accessible, if not universal, it is important for us, as a community, to remember that the nation's economic, education, national security and healthcare issues are also our issues. While we wait for the supposed "golden age" of LGBT rights to dawn, we also have to recognize the role we can play in the larger issues surrounding us.
Despite the stereotype that the LGBT community, gay men in particular, have more disposable income, we've all been impacted by the economic downturn. We've lost jobs just like everyone else. We've lost our health insurance and will find it difficult to pay COBRA just like everyone else. We bought less holiday gifts just like everybody else. We've lost homes to foreclosure and some of us are even homeless.
Our businesses are feeling the impact. The nation's oldest and the Big Apple's first gay bookstore, The Oscar Wilde Bookshop is closing at the end of this month because of, as the owner says, the current economic crisis. A Different Light in West Hollywood will also go dark soon but its sister-shop in San Francisco and its online store, ADLbooks.com, will remain open and active.
Because so many of our gay or lesbian-owned businesses depend on the disposable income of our community and since that disposable income is getting smaller and smaller by the minute these days, many of our businesses are feeling the crunch.
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That lack of disposable income is also having an impact on our community's charitable giving. Always willing to give to support the myriad organizations in our community-local, statewide and national-everyone is scaling back on their charitable donations and many of our organizations are feeling it.
Lambda Legal cut 10 positions. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation made some cuts last fall. One of my favs, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association is down to two staff members. Even the venerable fund raising machine, the Human Rights Campaign, is trying to renegotiate its contract with 75 workers who are members of 1199 SEIU.
Our present economic climate is more like a blizzard of continual bad financial news. This week, the Dow closed below 7,000 for the first time since 1997.
But the one thing the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has going for it is that we're survivors. We know how to weather storms of all sorts-from the AIDS crisis to hate crimes to being fired not because profit margins are down but because homophobia is up.
Despite all the hardship, we have the opportunity to set the example just like we did during the early days of the AIDS crisis. We banded together. We formed organizations like the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and the Gay Men's Health Crisis. We took care of each other-we cooked, we cleaned, we wiped brows.
Today, we face an economic crisis--one that knows no race, religion, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation. This is an opportunity for us-just like those pioneers who formed community health centers in the face of health disparities in underserved community. This is an opportunity for us to reach out to our neighbors, people we may never have spoken with and lend a hand. You never know, they may help you right back.