In 2010, President Barack Obama directed the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, to identify ways in which HHS could improve the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families. As a result, Secretary Sebelius created an LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee, co-chaired by Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, Administrator of the Administration for Community Living and; Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathy Greenlee, and Deputy General Counsel Ken Choe. On June 19, 2012, the Committee released a reportdetailing the steps that HHS undertook in 2010 and 2011 to reach the objective set forth by President Obama. The report also outlines the Committee’s goals for 2012.
The report shows that HHS made numerous strides in their efforts to improve the health of LGBT individuals. One area that the Department has chosen to focus on is data collection. In the summer of 2011, HHS announced its LGBT Data Progression Planthat examines ways in which the Department can collect health data on LGBT individuals and families. By doing so, HHS will be better equipped to address the numerous disparities that LGBT individuals and families face, such as access to insurance coverage or health care that can adequately address their needs. HHS also developed a question on sexual identity for use in the 2013 National Health Interview Survey. In addition, Healthy People 2020, a document detailing objectives for promoting health and wellness and disease prevention that was released in December 2010, “proposed the first-ever objective regarding LGBT data collection.” Finally, in October 2011, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released Women’s Health USA 2011, which contained health data for lesbian and bisexual women.
HHS also is undertaking efforts to improve the lives of LGBT youth and families. In April 2011, the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) issued a memorandum recommending that state, tribal, and territorial agencies educate the foster care system about LGBT youth and ways to ensure that they are protected and supported while in foster care. The memorandum “provides information on …workforce development, foster and adoptive parent training and recruitment, and the safety needs of LGBT youth in foster care and sets forth a list of resources available to child welfare agencies on LGBT issues and child welfare.”
HHS also is taking steps to combat bullying of young people, and created the website www.stopbullying.gov, with a section devoted to LGBT youth. The Department’s efforts to improve conditions for LGBT families include a directive from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) giving states the ability to extend the protection of assets that exist for spouses in long-term care, such as homes, to same-sex partners. They also clarified rules that protect the right for same-sex partners to make medical decisions for their loved ones.
Finally, HHS has integrated LGBT awareness into many of its day-to-day operations. Many of the Department’s Funding Opportunity Announcements now encourage applicants specifically to address impacts on LGBT health or encourage LGBT-focused organizations to apply for grants. In addition, “various HHS agencies reached out to LGBT community-serving organizations through listserv messages, social media, stakeholder engagement, and conference exhibits to highlight funding opportunities that could benefit LGBT communities and to help these organizations understand how to apply for HHS competitive grants” in 2011. In addition, HHS agencies provide LGBT cultural competency trainings to “among health care providers, HHS grantees, employees, and the greater health care community.”
The report also details HHS’ 2012 goals with respect to the LGBT community. The Department will continue its efforts to expand data collection within the LGBT population. The National Institutes of Health is tasked with releasing a report that “will inform NIH and the greater research community about important areas in which to advance biomedical research on LGBT health.” HRSA will offer eight grants through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program’s Special Projects of National Significance that will allow funded programs to identify and retain in care transgender women of color who are either at high risk for or infected with HIV/AIDS. And the Office on Women’s Health will add to HHS’ current anti-obesity efforts by “fund[ing] pilot studies in five locations across the nation to identify and test effective and innovative ways of reducing obesity in lesbian and bisexual women,” who experience higher rates of obesity than heterosexual women. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration will build on its anti-tobacco use efforts by targeting messages toward the LGBT population.
In the last couple of years, many recipients of Community Transformation Grants have targeted LGBT communities, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will now work with those grantees to “assess the impact of chronic disease prevention programs on these communities.” In 2012, for the first time, CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey will also include data categorized by sexual orientation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will also “create and execute a plan to disseminate existing tools to behavioral health and primary care practitioners to help them assess, treat, and refer LGBT clients in a culturally competent manner” and ACF will address the issue of runaway and homeless LGBT youth, a population that estimates suggest is up to 400,000 young people each year. Finally, CMS and the Administration for Community Living will engage in cultural competency training activities regarding the LGBT elderly population with hospitals and long-term care facilities.
HHS LGBT Issues Coordinating Committee, 2012 Report, published 19 June 2012, accessed 19 June 2012,
Nico Sifra Quintana, Josh Rosenthal, and Jeff Krehely, “On the Streets The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth,” Center for American Progress (June 2010), accessed 30 June 2012,