The month of June, especially if you’re a person who identifies as intersectional, calls for many deep moments of complex reflection, conversations, and learning – ergo many hyperlinks to educational materials in this editorial. June is the month of Juneteenth and Pride, both events sharing a history of social justice struggles, pursuit of cultural affirmation, and celebration of persistence, solidarity, and thriving in a world wrought with injustice.

During Pride month, we often think of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion as the origination story of the LGBTQI+ Liberation Movement. I, among some historians and activists, have a different perspective and lens that traces the Pride movement back to the years of Juneteenth. Juneteenth set the stage for questioning the meaning of freedom, freedom for whom, freedom for some or all?

For consideration and reflection, is the idea that Pride may have some origination dating back to the 19th century Juneteenth movement via the determination of Trans and Queer folks. Legendary Black Trans activist William Dorsey Swann aka “the Queen” among friends. They were born in Maryland in 1860 as an enslaved person. They then became the first known US activist to lead a queer resistance group, demanding inclusion in the broader Juneteenth agenda of social justice and freedom for formally enslaved people.

For further consideration and reflection, music is one of the most primal human artistic expressions that reflects the zeitgeist of when and where it is composed – times of culture wars, social and political polarization around issues related to identity and social justice. Movements for social justice are often defined by evocative anthems that rouse emotions and eulogize in perpetuity the history and traditions of a people.

Many Juneteenth celebrations involve singing what is now known as the Black national anthem or “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” written by NAACP president and composer James Weldon Johnson and his brother J. Rosamond Johnson at the turn of the twentieth century.

Similarly, the 1970s/80s Queer disco scene post Stonewall maintained and amplified the call for persistent freedom. Sylvester James Jr. aka “Sylvester” released the song You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) in 1978. The song became the Pride anthem, a strong call to action to keep the drum beat of freedom, connectivity, solidarity, and change moving.

This year’s 2023 New York Pride theme is “Strength in Solidarity.” Like many times in the not-so-distant past, the need for lock step clinched fists and arms in solidarity for LGBTQI+ social justice is on fire. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin gives us a soothsayer’s insight into our insatiable need for the pursuit of social justice, he concludes with, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time!” The time for a commitment to solidarity and change is Now!

So, what needs to change?

Changes in policy, a commitment to health equity in all that we do: According to the Human Rights Campaign, there have been more anti-LGBTQI+ bills introduced in state houses this year than in each of the previous five years, many of them specifically target transgender and non-binary people. These bills strip away dozens of legal protections and rights for LGBTQI+ people, coming as the newest form of attacks on the community.

Changes in health systems that become resilient and trusted mechanisms for health and healthcare delivery: LGBTQI+ people are more likely to experience health inequities compared to their non-LGBTQI+ counterparts – LGBTQI+ people are more likely to report:

  • Being in fair or poor health.
  • Higher rates of ongoing health conditions and disability or chronic disease.
  • Negative provider experiences, including being blamed for health problems or having their concerns dismissed.
  • That they or a household family member has had problems paying medical bills, a challenge that sometimes impacts their ability to afford basic necessities.
  • Having had a recent mammogram or ever had gynecological exam.

We’ve known for decades that health inequities are not inevitable or destiny, they are situations that are preventable, and they are situations that can be changed through ongoing vigilant advocacy, policy reform, and all other societal efforts that address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare.

The fight for social justice is deeply embedded in the DNA of LGBTQI+ communities. During Pride, we celebrate and remember the expression of that DNA into the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, the powder keg and watershed moment for what would become the modern-day LGBTQI+ Liberation Movement. We remember and salute the defiant warriors of Stonewall– Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, Stormé DeLarverie, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.

More than 20 years ago, Rabin Martin was founded by LGBTQI+ advocates that had lived experience in addressing the HIV epidemic. They had an early and profound understanding of learnings from HIV to advance health equity for those effected and affected by HIV that can be applied to solving some of the greatest health challenges of our times. These learnings include three broad, foundational strategies, irrespective of disease:

  1. Mobilization of community voices with lived experience and patient advocacy groups to gain insight into unmet needs related to access to care and meaningful participation in developing measurable solutions that are sustainable and implemented at scale.
  2. Promoting health equity in all policies by advancing global policies to support high-quality delivery of science-based diagnostic, prevention, treatment, and care interventions that create both activated patients that participate in care management and healthcare professionals that promote informed shared decision making.
  3. Convening public-private partnerships across multiple industries to address the social determinants of health that act as barriers to health equity.

These learnings and commitment continue today at Rabin Martin through our work to advance access to healthcare, health equity and improve the health outcomes of medically underserved populations worldwide.

Terri Jackson

Terri brings an advocate’s passion and evaluator’s rigor to the challenges of increasing health care quality and equity, drawing on an innate know-how born from two decades of experience providing direct services for vulnerable populations in the U.S. Throughout her career, Terri has been at the forefront of local and national programs in and policies for HIV prevention and care, sexual and reproductive health, substance abuse prevention and mental health. At Rabin Martin, Terri helped lead the development of a training resource to improve the skills of HIV care providers in serving at-risk patients. Previously, as Vice President of Access to Care for Housing Works, Terri developed integrated care initiatives for HIV-positive individuals. At the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, she oversaw service integration and health informatics. For Planned Parenthood of New York, Terri led programs for under-served communities, facilitated the integration of HIV testing into clinic visits and improved data collection and analysis. Terri was recently elected to serve on the board of the Public Health Association of New York City.