The American Lung Association recognizes and celebrates National LGBTQ+ History Month, a time that honors the fight for equality led by trailblazers in the LGBTQ+ community. Members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced a history of oppression and discrimination that directly translates to their disproportionate health risks, including having a greater risk of substance abuse and mental health issues as well as higher rates of smoking and e-cigarette use in comparison to the heterosexual/cisgender community. In fact, Big Tobacco was one of the first major consumer industries to target the LGBTQ+ community, a group that had been largely ignored by mainstream advertising. Advertising in LGBTQ+ media and bars helped to normalized smoking, emphasized the link between the community and the use of tobacco, and benefitted the tobacco industry while harming the community. These discriminatory tactics have led to higher smoking rates. About 1 in 5 LGB adults smoke cigarettes, compared with about 1 in 7 heterosexual/straight adults, and the percentage is even higher at 35% for transgender adults. A 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Survey saw that over 10% of lesbian, gay or bisexual high school students smoke cigarettes—more than twice the percentage of their straight peers. These higher smoking and vaping rates only further hurt the community, as this puts our LGBTQ+ friends and family at higher risk for chronic lung disease.
The American Lung Association has continually supported efforts to raise awareness about these disparities and help everyone end their addiction to tobacco. The fight continues today, and we are proud to celebrate the important work that members of this community do to support lung health.
As we honor LGBTQ+ History Month and National Coming Out Day (October 11), it’s important to remember how we got here. On June 28, 1969, the riot at The Stonewall Inn, a bar in New York City, became a turning point for the LGBTQ+ rights movement as patrons of the bar experienced police brutality simply for congregating. Courageous members of the LGBTQ+ community, largely transgender women of color, led protests to confront the discrimination they faced every day. Exactly one year later, members of the New York City community marched through the local streets to recognize the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. These protests became the start of the worldwide Pride events that we know today. The march was named Christopher Street Liberation Day and is now considered the first gay pride parade.
Over the next several decades, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights continued with both victorious milestones and discouraging setbacks. Today, we are honored to hear our colleagues, volunteers and friends as they share their stories on coming out and what this month means to them.
Lucas Rodriguez is a 26-year-old COVID-19 frontline medical worker based in Louisville, KY and a LUNG FORCE Walk Committee Member. Being on the frontlines, he knows firsthand the importance of our mission and programs like the COVID-19 Action Initiative. Lucas grew up in a religious family in a small town in Indiana where “being gay was not an option.” Although he knew he was gay from about the age of 13, he repressed it. The first time he tried to come out at the age of 16, his parents didn’t take it well. It tore his family apart, and he was bullied every day. At 22, he moved out and met his now husband, and that love gave him the courage to come out . . . again. He told a handful of people and then came out in a Facebook post. “I think it’s a little easier for younger ones to come out now,” Lucas said. “I want to tell them to not be afraid to be you and to not let anyone discourage you from your dreams. I’m proof that it can get better.”
Tracy Paaso, founder of Pride Stride, a nationwide virtual Pride celebration and 5k/10k event with 37 participating cities and counting, knows the importance of National Coming Out Day and Pride. Tracy, like Lucas and many others, grew up in a religious family in Northern California and did not come out until she was in her thirties and fell in love with a woman, a story that many can relate to in coming out well into adulthood. She proudly serves on the LA Pride Board and is a humanitarian at heart. “I’ve taken part in the LUNG FORCE Walk in Los Angeles and, with COVID-19 changing all of our lives, I wanted to support and work with the American Lung Association in any way that I can. It has greatly affected our social lives here in our hometown of West Hollywood where our friend circles are like family,” Tracy said. “Pride events, festivals, and fundraisers around the world have been cancelled because of COVID-19, including important events for the Lung Association. I was so excited to do the LA Climb for the first time and was sad to see it cancelled due to COVID, as was our LA Pride Festival. As a lifelong athlete, I created Pride Stride to bring together LGBTQ+ communities across the country whose Pride events have been affected by COVID-19 and make the focus about health.”
Dan Fitzgerald, Senior Manager of Advocacy for the Lung Association in Rhode Island, lives in a small, conservative southern Rhode Island town with his husband, Nickolas. On coming out, Dan shared, “To me, the hardest person to come out to was myself. Allowing myself to acknowledge this important part of who I really was took me years. My biggest barrier was always the lack of positive representation of what the life of an LGBTQ+ person could look like. I have had the privilege of working for local, state and national nonprofits as well as state and federal agencies; much of that time hiding my sexuality for fear of discrimination in the workplace. Throughout these experiences, I often found myself reflecting on what being queer means to me and more specifically thinking about the power of representation. Being able to live, love, lead, work and play openly as our authentic self is vital to our wellbeing. Being able to show up to work and not have to hide a major part of who I am is so important. I am lucky enough to work for an organization that not only invests in me but also in addressing health disparities in my community. In my advocacy role, that means fighting for public health policy that doesn’t leave populations behind – it means settling for nothing less than equity. The American Lung Association recognizes that representation matters. The ability to live unapologetically matters. Building places for LGBTQ+ youth to exist matters. Being an ally that learns, listens and acts matters.”
Eric Cooper, a Houston, Texas native now living in Los Angeles, is the Captain of a Fight For Air Climb team and an “I Wear Turquoise, Too” Ambassador. During his six years as Team Captain, his Climb team has raised over $80,000 for the Lung Association’s mission. “It’s been an honor to spearhead such an inclusive mega team for the Fight For Air Climb,” Eric said. “COVID-19 hit Los Angeles really hard, so I’m proud that the funds we have raised over the years go toward much needed lung health research.” As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Eric is also very passionate about the opportunity for every person to have the right to be themselves. “Everyone should be free to be who they feel they are without influence from anyone else so that they can show up as completely authentic,” Eric explained. “During LGBTQ+ History Month and on a powerful day like National Coming Out Day (October 11), I am taking a stand for anyone and everyone that doesn’t have the freedom to BE. Coming OUT allows a person to fly. It’s like weights are removed and you get to walk taller and lighter. So many who’ve gone on before us could only imagine what it would be like to openly express themselves with PRIDE. My prayer is that we, all of us, inspire someone to either be more accepting or that someone feels safe enough to step out into their true self. Here is to strength, power and authenticity.”
Commitment to Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The American Lung Association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council is committed to effectively addressing racial and social inequities, including LGBTQ+ issues. The Council serves as an important voice in helping to shape the way the organization functions internally and how we deliver our mission to diverse communities, particularly those most affected by systemic racism, which continues to contribute to health disparities. To learn more about the work of the Council, visit Lung.org/diversity.
Blog last updated: November 2, 2020