As a queer, genderfluid Punjabi person of color, I want to shake up your thinking. To know me, you ought to know that my gender pronouns are she, her, they, them. I am an undergraduate student committed to becoming a physician so I can provide and advocate for equitable healthcare for LGBTQIA communities. As healthcare settings begin to work to enhance care for LGBTQIA patients and their families, it is critical that healthcare professionals listen and take into account the testimonies, experiences, and perspectives of young people, particularly queer people of color. Many advocates in healthcare settings are established professionals and have degrees ranging from LCSW to MD to PhD. These degrees are useful assets as people come together to implement change. However, these degrees also signal an academic perspective. To have a truly diverse team, change collaborations need to include younger folks even if they do not yet have the degree expected of a health equity advocate. Young voices are essential to making the right changes happen!
I became involved with the UC Davis Health System based on my interests and a referral from my community. When I encouraged my young activist peers to join me, there was great resistance to and distrust of collaborating with a healthcare institution. My experience is that many social justice centered organizations do not engage in conversations with institutions fearing tokenization, mistrust, and miscommunication. This gap in communication and collaboration perpetuates further mistrust in the systems and committees that exist to implement change.
Building trusting collaborations with younger folks requires that young activists not be tokenized in creating change. If young voices are invited to the table solely for the sake of image rather than true collaboration toward change, the relationship will deteriorate. To avoid tokenism, healthcare advocates must build a platform on which youth can work directly to improve the care of the LGBTQI community. Voices often not heard include young queer trans* people of color. Those with enhanced perspective because of their intersecting identities need to be invited into the spaces of change. The intersecting identities are often homogenized into binary categories; it is critical this not happen because health disparities pile up when identities and needs are left uncounted.
Remember too that younger voices are not there to simply educate uninformed healthcare professionals or to represent the communities that they are a part of. Each person has their own unique experiences and it is important not to tokenize younger voices as “experts” on the needs of the entire LGBTQIA community.
I long to see my trans* activist peers lead policy committee meetings. I want to see healthcare providers make an effort to educate themselves by accessing resources. I want to see productive and inclusive conversations between doctors, researchers, students, activists, educators, and healthcare professionals. As institutions such as UC Davis Health System engage younger voices, it is critical that they create safe and respectful spaces for young queer people of color to be heard and supported.
LGBTQIA patients and their families are often comprised of young people, many of whom are in the process of developing their identities. Including these younger voices is an investment in future generations. It is our future that is being advocated and planned for. If younger voices are not invited to the table now, our voices will be lost from this conversation shaping change in healthcare. Providing quality healthcare requires that providers establish communication and trust with younger folks. To assure quality care, providers face a critical challenge: to listen to our needs and engage in dialogue about health advocacy. Only in that way can change not only be created but also sustained. Established healthcare advocates can mentor young activists in how to access systems and trigger change.
Many young folks are still in the process of exploring, finding and forming language that resonates for them and their queer identities. Each generation develops its own queer politics and language, which continue to evolve over time. An example is the “queer” identity, which has been reclaimed by younger generations even though it makes many from older generations cringe! The stories and lived experiences of younger folks are so different from those of older generations. It is important to recognize that these experiences are just as valid and important. Our voices are necessary in conversations about research and policy change to improve care. Working with young activists is always a two way street: both sides have important knowledge and information to share. There is a need for a space in which young voices can share their perspective and knowledge. I encourage young folks to take up space and access these systems of change because we have the right to be heard.
Younger voices are well positioned to bring in a perspective critical of established norms within the system. By questioning and challenging the current healthcare and institutional systems of power, we create conversations around the layers of systemic inequities and provide a proactive approach for creating tangible change. Young voices dream large and are less likely to settle for assimilation within the current healthcare system. We should be given the opportunity to organize and lead projects, which is what the LGBTQIA Health Equity Internship attempts to do. This internship invites younger voices, particularly undergraduate and graduate students, to join the various committees, conferences, and projects so that we have an opportunity to provide our insight and knowledge. Therefore, younger voices must be given an opportunity to be a leading part of the healthcare reform. An invitation to the table is a wonderful start but it is only the beginning of ongoing collaboration.
This blog submission is from a current UC Davis undergraduate student who wishes to remain anonymous.