By BRANDY MUZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – The state has allocated $10 million to improve health services for LGBTQ+ residents of Michigan.
MaryJo Schnell, the executive director of OutCenter in Benton Harbor, said the money will help pay for salaries, and education workshops that the organization hosts for health professionals.
“A lot of family practices don’t have the funds for professional development. We didn’t want that to be a barrier to their participation, especially if they’re coming in the door saying ‘we need it,’” she said.
In the past, OutCenter has received funds primarily from United Way and other sponsors.
Schnell said it has donors’ sponsorships from local foundations, but has other initiatives that also need funding.
Schnell said the new state assistance was a long time coming.
Due to COVID-19, multiple LGBTQ+ groups banded together to seek more funding from Lansing.
“As organizations began opening up and people started returning in person, we started to think about what else we can do as a group,” she said.
Sen. Jeremy Moss, D-Southfield, and Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, helped those groups push the budget proposal through in August.
Moss highlighted health disparities among LGBTQ+ individuals.
“Along with recent major equality-focused changes in our law, the creation of this new grant will help ensure fair access of health care, education and other support services for the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ+ people who call Michigan their home,” Moss said in a press release.
Rachel Crandall Crocker, the executive director of Transgender Michigan, said the number of LQBTQ+ people seeking health care has increased.
“When I came out in the ‘90s, it wasn’t safe,” but Michigan is now one of the safest states to come out in, she said.
Crandall Crocker said many LGBTQ+ individuals have a fear of seeking medical help because they feel doctors may not understand transgender issues, thus contributing to inequality in health services.
Schnell said OutCenter plans to use the money when it arrives from the state for its LGBTQ+ Competent Healthcare and Patient Safety Project, which will also use United Way funding.
“One organization wouldn’t want all of the funding coming from one organization, just in case something happened,” she said.
The state grant isn’t going to be the end of the fight for more money, Schnell said.
“The 2024 elections are coming up – things could get more hostile,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can do to pull all the stops and really educate providers and create equitable health care.”