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Advocates: Inequality Enhances Health Disparities Among LGBT Families

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Thursday Mar 22, 2012
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Naz Meftah was pregnant with triplets when doctors told her that one of her sons had not developed properly in her womb. She underwent a procedure at a Los Angeles hospital after she received the diagnosis on Christmas Eve. Meftha’s wife, Lydia Banuelos, who she legally married in California, was unable to accompany her from their Arizona home because her employer would not allow her to take time off because it did not recognize their relationship.

"We lost our son on Jan. 10, and she couldn’t even come with me," an emotional Meftah told EDGE. "Those kinds of wounds are real hard to heal. It would have gone a long way to help heal them had we been able as a family to be there together and go through it together."

Meftah and Banuelos are among the same-sex couples featured in a report that the Center for American Progress, the Movement Advancement Project and Family Equality Council released last October that highlights the inequalities that LGBT families continue to face because of societal stigmas and a lack of legal protections. As a follow-up to the "All Children Matter" report, the three groups and the National Coalition for LGBT Health will release a brief on Monday that will further detail the health disparities that LGBT parents and their children face because of this discrimination.

The brief highlights a series of laws, regulations and policies that exacerbate these disparities. These include the Defense of Marriage Act, a lack of second parent adoption rights in more than 30 states and restrictions on caregiving and medical-decision making.

Other factors are far less obvious.

Jennifer Chrisler, executive director of the Family Equality Council, recently took one of her twin sons to see a specialist. As she was filling out forms in the waiting room, she realized that they asked for the mother and the father’s health history and contact information. Chrisler is married to former Massachusetts State Sen. Cheryl Jacques.

"Language is both symbolic and very practical in the ways in which people can access really important government programs and services," she said. "If what you say is a child must have a legally married mother and father in order to be able to have access to health care or to be able to apply for a government program, that has really tangible and significant outcomes for the children-and there are more than two million of them today who may have two moms or two dads."

It is unlikely that lawmakers will repeal DOMA during this Congress because House Republicans continue to defend it, but the brief offers additional recommendations that its authors stress will help address some of the long-standing inequities that LGBT families and their children face. These include the expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to include care for domestic partners of same-sex spouses and the addition of LGBT-inclusive definitions of "family," "child" and "spouse" in the health care reform bill that President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010.

"The families report in particular really shows the huge range of issues that LGBT people and their families face and the many needed policy changes... that have to come for us to really have full equality for the population," said Jeff Krehely of the Center for American Progress.

White House Moves to Address Discrimination Against LGBT Families
The president in April 2010 directed all hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding to allow same-sex couples to visit each other. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services advised state Medicaid programs last June that they could extend limited spousal protections to same-sex and domestic partners, although DOMA still forbids the federal government from legally recognizing gay and lesbian relationships.

Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) are among those on Capitol Hill who have been particularly strong advocates on issues of inequities and discrimination against LGBT families and their children. Congressional staffers attended a briefing on the "All Children Matter" report, but advocates reported that some lawmakers appeared surprised over its findings.

"We continue to use the report to brief lawmakers and staffers about ways they can effect changes to existing laws or draft new laws to ensure full equality for our families," said Joseph Jefferson, senior policy associate at the National Coalition for LGBT Health.

Meftah is scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., next week to attend a briefing on these inequalities and discrimination. She is optimistic that her and Banuelos and other same-sex couples’ stories will prompt legislators to act.

"Folks who have put the time and effort together to write this report have really done so in a way that should have made it so easy for our lawmakers to help their constituents get the equal rights and equal protections," said Meftah. "And the services their families and their children not only deserve but are entitled to as citizens of the United States."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.

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