Sunday, December 5

“The need for change is immediate.” – 20+ Ohio LGBTQ+ orgs & leaders pen open letter to Equitas Health

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A group of Ohio LGBTQ+ organizations and community leaders have published an open letter to Equitas Health, calling for a change in organizational culture and leadership.

This is the latest public statement in an ever-growing chorus across the state responding to the “culture of discrimination” documented in a Columbus Dispatch piece  written by Erica Thompson and published on October 5th.

A flurry of statements from other organizations and Equitas Health have been published online.

The full statement released today reads as follows:

As members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community both in Columbus and throughout the State of Ohio, the undersigned stand in support of former and current employees of Equitas Health in calling for an apology for and acknowledgement of a culture of racial discrimination from the organization and for culture shift within the organization.

We continue to value the important mission of Equitas Health in providing necessary and specialized health-care services to the LGBTQ+ community, and we continue to laud the dedication and expertise of frontline employees who work to provide this much-needed care. However, we acknowledge that this important work of the organization must be viewed separately from the leadership of the organization.

We are also mindful of the legal and cultural realities that exist in our state and further complicate this discussion. Ohio remains one of 28 states that does not yet have statewide nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ Ohioans. In addition, legislation passed this summer has many LGBTQ+ Ohioans (and those perceived to be such) questioning their ability to access healthcare free of discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in rural regions. We are mindful that BIPOC LGBTQ+ Ohioans seeking health care, who might have utilized Equitas as an affirming alternative, may now be less likely to utilize their services because of recent revelations. This barrier to healthcare for BIPOC LGBTQ+ Ohioans must be addressed and removed as quickly as possible. A community that is more likely to report fair to poor health, experiences higher rates of disability, and has higher rates of chronic conditions like cancer and asthma,[1] simply cannot wait for bureaucracy to take its course.

Therefore, we call for an end to the culture of discrimination against Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color (BIPOC) as described by former employees in an article published by the Columbus Dispatch on Oct. 5. We feel that Equitas’ initial statement, reported on in a subsequent Columbus Dispatch article of Oct. 8, does not go far enough. Although Equitas pledges to “become a more anti-racist organization” and to institute a new position of chief people and culture officer, we see these as stopgap measures. Although this pledge could eventually lead to positive change, the need for change is immediate. That is, when an organization is not currently seen as antiracist, it’s not possible to become “more” antiracist. Furthermore, hiring an individual to take responsibility for what should be an organization-wide effort seems more like setting up a scapegoat to take the blame for continued discrimination. Furthermore, Equitas’ apology for its “role in perpetuating such” is a vague nod to systemic and societal conditions, rather than an expression of personal regret specific to its own situation.

It is our belief that the former employees’, current employees – and the community’s – call for an immediate change of leadership will stand as the first step in the right direction. Further steps in the immediate future should include appointing a Board-level officer to oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with hiring a diversity, equity, and inclusion professional. This C-suite level executive(s) should be equipped from both staff and budget perspectives to begin the work of meaningful culture change at Equitas Health so that its very important mission and work can continue unimpeded well into the future.

In Solidarity,

Jaron Terry
President of Board
PFLAG Columbus

Alana Jochum
Executive Director
Equality Ohio

Erin Upchurch
Executive Director
Kaleidoscope Youth Center

Chris Cozad
Board President
Lesbians Benefitting the Arts

Densil Porteous
Executive Director
Stonewall Columbus

Heidi Weaver-Smith
Founder & Executive Director
LOVEboldly

Kimberly Sue Griffiths, MLIS, JD
Executive Director
OCTOPUS LLC (Organizing Communities Transgender Outreach Promoting United Support)

Sarah Inskeep
Ohio State Policy & Movement Building Director
URGE: Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity

Queer Partnership for Black Liberation

Black Out and Proud

Amanda Cole
Executive Director
Plexus LGBT & Allied Chamber of Commerce

Thomas Grote
Community Advocate

Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, JD
Community Advocate

Rev deniray mueller
Legislative Liaison
Diocese of Southern Ohio

Jane Cera
Clinton Township Trustee

Karen Hewitt, M.Ed

James Knapp
Chair
TransOhio. Inc.

Kristen Pepera M.Ed., LPPC-S
Counselor & Co-Founder
Colors+ Youth Center

Curtis Davis
Community Advocate

Michael Smithson
Community Advocate

Aaron Eckhardt
Community Advocate

[1] Choi, Soon Kyu; Wilson, Bianca D.M.; and Mallory, Christy. “Black LGBT Adults in the US: LGBT Well-Being at the Intersection of Race.” The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, January 2021.

(Editor’s note: Equitas Health is an advertiser on the website of The Buckeye Flame.)

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The Buckeye Flame amplifies the voices of LGBTQ+ Ohioans to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging content that chronicles our triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences.

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