Having met regularly since spring, now that summer is almost at its end, the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities has been working in an advisory manner with both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II for several months to address the causes of racial disparities in COVID-19 care. Regarding LGBTQ-specific issues, Executive Director of LGBT Detroit Curtis Lipscomb serves as the Task Force's only LGBTQ-specific advisor. BTL caught up with Lipscomb to discuss the strides the group has made so far.
Statewide Leadership and Statewide Goals
"If I could say I have one thing that I'm most proud of, it's that we have a true statewide leader. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said publicly that racism is a public health crisis. So, all of the things related to COVID-19, it disproportionately affects Black people and is therefore also a health crisis, and the lieutenant governor is the chair of this," Lipscomb said. "What an honor to be appointed to this body. And two, it's great to see these people, predominantly Black people in the area, committed to lending support to identify these barriers and offer solutions to that."
So far, the Task Force has secured the testing of all household members within a family and even those who are asymptomatic; it has identified the most vulnerable communities of color and used data-driven strategy to add testing facilities there; provided follow-up care to support those in quarantine who cannot afford food, personal protective equipment and hygiene products; and more. To date, the Task Force is near its target goals in the expansion of mobile and community partner testing sites and more.
Detroit LGBTQ Community Achievements
On a local level, Lipscomb has worked to curb the spread of COVID-19 via educational campaigns to spread awareness of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus prevention guidelines. He said that he still regularly sees behavior that doesn't adhere to social distancing — particularly in LGBTQ spaces.
"I see it every day. The nation has given us guidelines for the reduction of the spread of COVID-19, and I see in LGBTQ spaces, particularly limited LGBTQ spaces, that people have organized in areas that will put them more at risk of transmission," Lipscomb said. "And with the summer being a time where all people want to be with family and cook and be in parks and all of that, you have a lot of people who have to change their behavior. That has been the hardest thing in Detroit: asking people to adhere to the CDC recommendations to reduce transmission and to encourage people to practice."
However, despite the struggles involved in persuading people to change their habits, Lipscomb said he's seen forward strides, too. Most notably, he said, during Pride season.
"I think the biggest thing we've done to reduce transmission was move Hotter Than July [the world's second-oldest Black gay Pride] from a traditional experience to a virtual one," he said. "And we've had a tremendous amount of success of people understanding our commitment to people that we serve, making sure that we are following our nation's guidelines and informing the public about why this is important."
Looking to the Future
Currently, Lipscomb is gearing his efforts on the Task Force to push for even more educational resources, and even entertainment, "to support our physical and emotional wellbeing so that the public can see it at a safe space — wherever they dwell."
Long-term, Lipscomb hopes that LGBT Detroit can become a well-known provider of PPE, testing and, ultimately, vaccinations.
"We haven't gotten to that point yet, we are still on the prevention side because, as you know, there's no vaccination yet. But, believe me, the moment that there is, you're going to see not only this institution but a number of people seeking that opportunity," Lipscomb said. "I know that we're highly concerned about education, 'What can we do right now to reduce transmission?' That's always on our mind."
To learn more about the Task Force and its achievements, visit this link.