“The challenges we face require equity investments. “
David Ernesto Munar has dedicated his career to advancing LGBTQ issues and helping vulnerable populations. Since 2014, he has headed Howard Brown Health, the nonprofit organization that provides health care and social services to the LGBTQ community. Previously, he was CEO of the AIDS Foundation Chicago. As a bilingual, gay Colombian-American living with HIV, Munar serves as a role model for what is possible. He engages with new staff and patient groups and can often be seen at Howard Brown clinics in contact with staff.
Crain’s:There has been a wave of anti-LGBTQ measures in state legislatures. Do you see that feeling creeping into Illinois?
Munar: According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures, and at least 17 of those bills have been enacted. This makes 2021 the worst year in recent memory in terms of anti-LGBTQ legislation. Lucky for us, we haven’t seen any anti-LGBTQ bills tabled in Illinois. During the spring legislative session, we saw numerous bills promoting equity in LGBTQ health matters passed. That being said, we have seen both homophobic and transphobic arguments against these pro-LGBTQ measures.
Equal access for transgender people has become difficult – why is it?
We started to see less of these (anti-trans) bills, especially after the huge backlash North Carolina received after adopting its infamous bathroom bill. A few years later, we are witnessing a new wave of anti-trans legislation. This time, it is largely aimed at trans youth, either through participation in school sports or through access to gender-based care. In the past, the “problem” was that allowing trans people to use a public toilet would increase sexual assault, and now the problem is that allowing trans girls to participate in sports will lead to unfair competition and a lack of opportunity. for cisgender athletes. There is no data to support that either of these issues occurs.
Do you see mistrust of the vaccine in your communities, and how to deal with it?
Mistrust and / or reluctance to accept the vaccine is unfortunately something our patients feel and express. This mistrust is rooted in historical events where the medical industry has not acted in good faith with the health of black and brown communities. As clinical providers, we must recognize and listen to patient concerns, offer compassion and share what we know without underestimating the human instinct for caution. Howard Brown has developed a series of videos addressing common patient concerns.
Increasingly aware of inequalities, companies are investing funds in initiatives, especially to open up opportunities for blacks and Latinos. Does this corporate interest benefit Howard Brown? If yes, how ?
We have responded to a large number of corporate requests for training and education on LGBTQ + and clinical topics, including efforts to practice public health with an equity lens. Last year’s confluence of the pandemic, disproportionately affecting black and brown communities, and protests against police brutality have opened hearts and minds. He also lobbied companies to think about how their priorities and practices might contribute to structural inequality.
Does this movement have any weight or will donors lose interest in it?
The challenges we face as a company will present a compelling case for continued equity investments. The challenges of climate change, viral pandemics and community safety require equity approaches. They disproportionately affect communities of color and others facing stigma and discrimination. Investing in equities is the way forward to make the world a better place for everyone.
What are Howard Brown’s main priorities when exiting the pandemic?
We remain deeply concerned about the relatively low percentage of Cook County residents who have been fully vaccinated. We will also continue to focus our attention on the geographic areas on the south and west sides of the city where the needs are greatest. Other priorities include meeting the needs of LGBTQ + youth, especially those who are homeless.