Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Relationship Awareness Project: Health Concerns for LGBT Community

Jessica Mason
WS265 Sexualities and Orientations - UB
Prof. Bernadette Hoppe

The Relationship Awareness Project:
A Summary of the Preliminary Process

The idea for this project wasn’t my own. My partner, Sandy and I were having coffee at the Be True To Yourself Coffee house, before it burned down, in early September. I was excited at the thought of the project suggestions provided for us on our course syllabus, especially the prospect of having a sex toy party. While reading aloud the suggestions to Sandy, I anxiously admitted that I would not be satisfied unless I came up with an original project idea of my own. Moments later we were discussing how crummy it was that the form I filled out at my new dentists office, didn’t have space for me to identify my relationship- so I had circled married and specified beside it that the marriage was not legally, but that I am partnered. Sandy suggested I do my project to improve the situation in medical facilities. In fact, she suggested that I write to physicians to inform them of the situation. At first I didn’t want to commit to an idea, in case a better one came along, but it didn’t, and I realized that creating an awareness and making this effort would be not only an adequate project, but also an admirable achievement.

Although a sex toy party sounded exciting, I decided to wait on that, and perhaps have a party for pleasure in a non-course credit related environment. Initially, my goals for the project surpassed the time constraints and caliber of the assignment. This was apparent in my project proposal. Professor Hoppe seemed confused and asked me to narrow my project idea. Receiving feedback from Hoppe at such an early stage was a helpful learning experience for me because certain issues were brought to my attention. I wasn’t brief and clear enough about exactly what I was planning on doing. I was concerned about being descriptive, and as a result, made a very simple project seem like a complex one. My project proposal also reflected that my plans were too extensive for a twenty five hour assignment. I needed to take a step back and simply state what I was planning to do: research health care projects and programs and write letters to health care offices in the area. Professor Hoppe offered the advice that I do some internet research on health care programs aimed toward creating a healthier environment for GLBT members of the community in health care facilities. From the brief searches I initially conducted on line, I wasn’t able to find extremely relevant information, but after trying different key words, I came across some very interesting information.

As my project log of hours reveals, October was my month of research and preparation. The information that I collected didn’t drastically affect the final products (letters) in my project. Doing the research, however, was beneficial because in order to successfully reach a goal, you need to do your homework : background preparation. Research was an integral part of this project, and it raised my awareness. Some of the information that I collected is included in my project notebook. Although I couldn’t find much local information off of the internet, Massachusetts’ GLBT Health Access Project was reviewed in the American Journal of Public Health, which I considered a reputable source. I highly recommend the report, Health Concerns of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community. It addressed many significant points, although it didn’t offer any information that directly related to my goals. It was more of a general report on the invisibility of the GLBT community as health care consumers. Although it revealed information about Massachusetts, the issues for the community are the same across the country.

Most of the work for this project was completed in November. During this month, I reviewed my sources, planned and wrote drafts of my letter, completed a survey as part of the project, and sent the letters out. During min-November, I was becoming worried that the project wouldn’t end up fulfilling the required twenty-five hours. Again, my darling Sandy came to the rescue and calmed me of my debilitating anxiety, simply suggesting I add something small to my project: a survey. A survey was ideal because it would add to my awareness on the subject and involve outside parties. I created the survey in a few hours time.

Because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to create a significant and appropriate survey, I conducted a search on google.com looking for a free survey format. Using a “trial survey” was risky, but I didn’t have any other options and using a professional program would enable the participants to easily fill in answers without having to copy and paste the survey into a new email. Since this was an extension of my original plans, I wasn’t depending on the survey, and this made it easier to prepare and send out. After completing the questions on the trial site, I began to prepare the list of survey participants. This was confusing and complex, and I couldn’t seem to access certain aspects of the website in order to edit my title. Unfortunately, although I had a better turn out than I expected, the program I used sent it out without adding my name to the survey and with an incorrect title attached (Movie Rental Survey, which was the template that I was given to work with.) I’m honestly not sure how that happened, but I did receive some emails in response asking if this was something I sent. Luckily my email address was attached, so all was not lost and people were able to figure out it wasn’t junk mail. Of course, that didn’t work for everyone, and my father deleted his.

The survey wasn’t the major component of my project, but it was a great idea and I think it was just what my project needed to be complete. I had been interested in hearing other opinions on the subject, and this served as a helpful final section to my project; it was a great way to fulfill the required hours. The results that I received are included in the project binder. Those individuals who completed the survey are people that I am acquainted with. If I had done this survey as my whole project, I would have done much more in terms of contacting a broad base of individuals of different backgrounds. Also, I would have spent more time preparing the survey, making the questions direct and simple and using reputable sources as guidelines for creating a valid survey. After I had finished the survey, I sent it to more than a hundred people right away, because I was afraid of losing information on the website I was using. So, making the survey on a free trial template on line was not the best way to complete a survey, but it was practical for my purposes. As soon as I sent out the survey, I began receiving responses, so I hurried to present Sandy with my survey. She pointed out that I used double negatives in my questions and that the range of strongly disagree to strongly agree wasn’t the best format for my questions, and in fact, made it more confusing. Luckily, there weren’t many questions in the survey, and everyone’s answers were consistent, so I guess they didn’t feel too overwhelmed with the negatives or the choices.

There were just under twenty responses to the survey, expressing a range of opinions. Since I knew the people filling out the survey, I was able to predict some of the responses, but there were also some answers that surprised me. Most individuals knew how they felt about the ‘Marital Status’ question, but some were unsure about how they felt about what should be done or whether or not it was limiting. This just reveals that there are many individuals who do not think twice about these options because they are heterosexual or married. One individual added a note that the question of sex in the survey was confused with what should have been a question of gender. The individual who noticed this obviously is informed of the general confusion between sex and gender. I couldn’t change the format of the question from sex to gender on the survey, because that part of the question was permanent, but her response made me frustrated because I am not sure what the best thing for physicians to ask is. My way of trying to make this inoffensive, since I couldn’t take away the word sex in the question, was to provide an option of other, so those who found the question troubling could express that- as only one individual did. This is significant issue, and it has been brought to my attention in various classes, but no one seems to offer a way or handling the confusion of sex and gender. If sex refers to a vagina or a penis, and not a male or a female, then the question should be sex : vagina, penis or other. When I filled out the survey, I picked female as a sex, and female meant vagina to me, and I can identify with a vagina for sex more than a female gender, but the question was about sex not gender. It is difficult to address this situation because this misconception is so strong and widely accepted, and I don’t know how we can possibly make this happen any time soon. If gender is a variety of identities, then the options of male or female are far too narrow, and the question should not be followed with options, but rather a blank space to be filled in. Although the goal of my project was not to address the sex/gender confusion, this confusion is central to larger goals for improvements in health care facilities.

Overall, I was successful in reaching the goals that I initially set for this project. I wrote a strong letter to over sixty health care providers, learned more about the situation than I knew to begin with, raised the awareness of strangers and acquaintances, and hopefully made a difference in the way at least one person thinks about the GLBT (etc) experience of health care in the United States. I am proud of what I attempted to do and what I accomplished, even though it was a small step in comparison to the big picture of the need for change. The projects and organizations that I came across on line were encouraging, and if I chose to become further involved in this commitment to change, I know great sources to start with.

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