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‘There was intentional divestment’: Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Commissioner Kevin Morrison join LGBTQ leaders in town hall on health inequities amid coronavirus

Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Alice Yin

During his late teens, Kevin Morrison’s doctor peppered him with questions each time he asked for an STI test: “Aren’t you in a committed relationship? Why — do you think you have an STD? Why would you need to be tested again?”

Morrison, now Cook County’s first openly gay commissioner, said the pushback was discriminatory to him and shared the incident during a virtual town hall with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and leaders of the LGBTQ community Wednesday because he wanted to highlight long-standing health inequities.

“My primary care doctor would shame me for asking to be tested,” Morrison, D-15th, said. “I was just following the guidelines I had been provided to get tested every six months. And every time I would ask to be tested, he would shame me. And so I had to find another primary care doctor who never made me feel like that.”

Morrison, who noted the barriers that LGBTQ people of color face are far greater than his, said the LGBTQ community’s fight for health care access harks back to the HIV/AIDS outbreak beginning in the 1980s, when patients were stigmatized and critics panned President Ronald Reagan for his response to the epidemic. Now with the new coronavirus disproportionately hurting Cook County’s Black and Latino communities, he said the topic of health equity is as important as ever.

Rectifying such injustices means looking at the institutional barriers that these groups face — not marking them as less healthy or inherently more susceptible to COVID-19, said Aisha Davis, director of policy for AIDS Foundation of Chicago.“When we’re talking about the systemic oppression that these groups have been facing, we can’t use language that makes it seem like it just happened,” Davis said. “There was intentional divestment. There’s intentional resources that were being held away from these communities.”

Preckwinkle noted the stark divide in which parts of Cook County have the most access to jobs, education, food and health care. That contributes to why a recent study found a 30-year gap in life expectancy between the Streeterville and Englewood neighborhoods, she said.

“What’s happened in this pandemic is it’s laid bare, stripped bare, the inequities that we see across communities in the city and in the county,” Preckwinkle said.

One example of inequity that LaSaia Wade, founder and executive director for Brave Space Alliance, is grappling with is the bid for funding among health centers, she said. As leader of a Black and trans-led LGBTQ health center on the South Side, Wade believes there needs to be millions more in cash for Black-led health centers.

Centers such as Brave Space Alliance are especially crucial because trans and Black people don’t always feel comfortable within the LGBTQ community, Wade said.

“On different levels even within the LGBT population, trans people face a different type of rhetoric and pushback,” Wade said. “There’s a lot of trans people that do not want to go into an LGBT health center, especially Black trans people or Black LGBT people on the South and West sides, because they feel more comfortable or want to go to a Black-led health facility.”

During the town hall, speakers also knocked an earlier Cook County Board resolution to share positive COVID-19 addresses with first responders, a measure that spurred Preckwinkle’s first veto as board president. The day after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd, Morrison said, one of the commissioners who supported the resolution told him they would have opposed it had Floyd’s death occurred before the May vote.

“They recognized some of the intrinsic and systemic racism that does attach on decisions like that,” Morrison said about the address-sharing policy.



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