To Those Who Feel Helpless
By Jake Bjork (Motivated Citizen)
During an LGBTQ+ leadership conference I attended in Chicago (MBLGTACC), I listened to one of the speakers explained why LGBTQ+ healthcare in America is a failure. She kept rattling of statistics like these: 19% of transgender individuals were refused care from their primary healthcare providers because of their gender identity. 83% of LGBTQ+ people hide some of their identity at work. The wage gap between gay and bisexual men and with cisgender straight men is 10-32%. PrEP (an FDA-approved drug that effectively prevents HIV) has a flat rate value of $1800 per month, and with the most recent federal budget cuts, insurance co-pays and financial assistance for this vital drug are at a huge risk. It was all overwhelming.
At the end of the weekend, I walked away with a brain full of new knowledge, but a mind swarming with self-consciousness. Homophobia exists. Biphobia exists. Transphobia exists. I knew that. But doctors refusing care to transgender people? Policy makers creating financial barriers to crucial medication needed to prevent a life-altering illness? Employers paying gay and bisexual men less for being out about their sexuality? I didn’t want this. I never asked for this.
In a much broader sense, there are millions of uncontrollable factors that affect how we live our lives. Being apart of the LGBTQ+ community, I naturally notice statistics like the ones above because they impact me directly. Everyone from all types of backgrounds and identities deals with their own personal struggles that are often perceived as inevitable and never-ending. However, I believe all of us are capable of overcoming these challenges.
For an example, I come from a family of pig farmers and mechanics. Now, I’m attending a top 20-ranked university in the hopes of becoming a surgeon and fashion designer. From my older relatives to me, A LOT has changed.
Both of my parents are first-generation college students who come from low-income households in rural Illinois. However, they were committed to receive collegiate degrees, even though they lacked critical financial (and social) support to do so. Through a diligent work ethic, financial aid, and Pell Grants, they now have a master’s degree and a stable job in their respected area of study.
After attending this conference in Chicago, I may have felt a little defeated, but reminding myself of my parents’ backgrounds gave me some inspiration. Ultimately, I’m the one in control of how I handle my current life situation. I’m committed to pursuing a career as a physician. I will do my best to provide non-judgemental and affordable access to healthcare to people from all walks of life. I will educate my future coworkers about LGBTQ+ issues and work with them to close the wage gap for people of all identities. I will work to make sure that people of all kinds are treated fairly and with respect. I will do all of these things, and more, because I will not let my personal anger and disappointment with the staggering statistics or the “system” inhibit my ability to make a significant positive impact in the world.
To those who feel helpless: you are capable of being optimistic. You are capable of helping others. You are capable of inflicting mass change. You are capable of so much-- don’t let your struggles overpower your ability to achieve greatness.
I’m a gay man who comes from mechanics and pig farmers, yet I am determined to become a doctor. How will you conquer your struggles?
*Here's one way author Jake Bjork suggests you can get involved: Join the Global Youth Action Network
Take Action Now: LGBTQ+