As part of the Healthy Harvey Coalition's mission, the county organization seeks to work together to improve the health, safety and success of all people in Harvey County.
When Harvey County Extension agent Aaron Swank joined the coalition as co-chairman over the summer, he noticed when it came to all those people the organization seeks to serve, there was at least one group among which representation was lacking — the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Seeking to make sure the needs of truly all the individuals within Harvey County were met, Swank helped form the LGBTQ Health Alliance, which convened for the first time in September. Business partners and other local health service providers came together to discuss better, more inclusive care for the LGBTQ community.
One of the first goals discussed among the alliance was working to get population data on just how many residents in Harvey County identify as LGBTQ. While some local health service providers do track that, there is no national resource for that information, which adds a level of difficulty to the group's mission initially.
"The reason we want to track that is not so that we can profile or really track anyone specifically, but it's really so that we can figure out how we can continue to provide the best services possible that are orientation and culturally competent," Swank said. "Right now, what we know is that the services that are inclusive of LGBTQ people are lacking in our community."
Questions brought up at that first meeting touched on who is serving the LGBTQ community in Harvey County and who is not, as well as if the alliance could identify services willing to be more inclusive.
Like the Healthy Harvey Coalition, Swank said, the LGBTQ Health Alliance is focused on the total well-being of the community it seeks to serve. What happens when a teenager comes out to an unsupportive family and has no other support system to rely on? That is part of why there is a push to identify just who is providing services to the LGBTQ community.
Another aspect that got brought up in the alliance's first meeting was that local members of the LGBTQ community are "half in and half out of the closet" — being in the closet in Harvey County and out of the closet in neighboring Sedgwick County/Wichita. That situation is of concern to the alliance, as Swank noted health-related issues can emerge when there are large groups of people who don't feel included, represented or able to identify safely/comfortably within their community.
"Really what we looked at was there's a major lack, not that they don't exist, but there's a lack of inclusive spaces, so it really is just being able to be out in the community and feel included," Swank said. "That's really important for psychological and physical health."
While the alliance is focused on serving the LGBTQ community, Swank said it is open to any individuals also wanting to learn more about sexual/reproductive health in general. Future meetings of the alliance will be open to individuals wanting to be informed of those health issues, the mission of the alliance or the LGBTQ community. Swank was also clear in stating that hate would not be welcome at the group's meetings.
The next meeting of the LGBTQ Health Alliance will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 17 at the Newton Public Library. With the group's formation, Swank is hopeful that the Healthy Harvey Coalition's goal to improve the total well-being of all residents can be taken one step further.
"Everyone deserves access to an inclusive, competent, culturally and orientation-sensitive service provider and community," Swank said. "I think where that representation and that identity comes into play is really important and I think that people forget that when their identity and their existence is never questioned."