Queer Health Advocacy Program with Kimmie Andersen-Reed and Storm O’Brink

Health Cross with various LGBTQ flags

By: Katie McCullough

A conversation with Kimmie Andersen-Reed and Storm O’Brink of the Rape Victim Advocacy Program (RVAP), a program that addresses sexual violence within eastern Iowa communities and on campus. RVAP provides direct services to survivors of sexual violence, including medical, legal, systemic and holistic based-advocacy, and also focuses on sexual violence prevention.

In a 2017 national survey by the Center for American Progress, 29% of transgender people and 7% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in the United States said they had experienced unwanted physical contact from a healthcare provider such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape. To address statistics like this, Kimmie Andersen-Reed and her colleague Storm O’Brink started the RVAP Queer Health Advocacy Program.

The Queer Health Advocacy Program is a program in which queer health advocates are trained as volunteers who will accompany and advocate for members of the community who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, trans-gender, intersex, asexual, aromantic, queer, or questioning during medical appointments.

The trained Queer Health Advocates help their clients navigate the healthcare system and get the care they deserve. Andersen-Reed notes “we have been offering this service for years, the difference now is that we are actively recruiting volunteers and advertising it.” She continues, “medical advocacy is important; feeling safe in the medical setting is important for all, especially for those from marginalized identities.”

O’Brink explains, “This is a community-based response to violence that happens. Because of the violence that the LGBTQ community experiences, we tend not to go in to the doctor. Our program is special in that it’s not embedded in the hospital system, it’s really important that it stays that way, so that the system cannot take control and create a conflict of interest within the system. We answer to the clients, not the system.” People who use the service simply call the center and let workers there know when they have an appointment, and a queer advocate can be available to accompany them.

In general, LGBTQ+ people have worse health outcomes and are less likely to seek medical attention, and this largely relates to years of oppression and discrimination these communities have faced and the shortage of healthcare providers who are knowledgeable and culturally competent in LGBTQ+ health.1

Andersen-Reed continues “[Going to the doctor] can be especially hard for people who have invisible marginalized identities. Oftentimes, people with marginalized identities will be coded as difficult patients, and this is oftentimes a barrier to getting the help they require.” Queer health advocates accompany people to the doctor in any capacity requested and are there to ensure care is administered in a safe and effective manner; that all questions are answered and that a patient feels confident that they are being heard and that they are safe if they choose to disclose any parts of their identity to a care provider.”

“Sexual violence is about control and power” says O’Brink, “The people who are most missing a voice in society are targeted [for sexual violence] perhaps largely due to a lack of power to make a perpetrator responsible for an act of violence…for this reason, as a program, we see more members of marginalized communities than majority communities.” Many victims of sexual violence keep quiet for reasons ranging from shame to fear of retribution.1 RVAP and the Queer Health Advocacy Program combats sexual violence and fights against a cultural climate where violence is perpetuated by the systemic oppression of marginalized identities. Andersen-Reed notes: “All oppressions are interconnected, which is why we work toward ending sexual violence. We’re not perfect, but we make an effort every day to try.”

If you are interested in becoming a queer health advocate, please go to:
rvap.uiowa.edu/volunteer/queer-health-advocates

If you would like to have a queer health advocate accompany you to an appointment, please go to:
rvap.uiowa.edu/help/queer-health-advocacy

If you feel you have been the victim of sexual violence, in any setting, reach out to RVAP’s confidential resources:
RVAP Crisis Line: 319-335-6000 or
800-228-1625,
Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline:
800-284-7821

Learn More: rvap.uiowa.edu