Justice and Public Health

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King, Junioreverywhere.” As we head into a day commemorating Dr. King, this past week gives us much to reflect upon as individuals, community members, and public health researchers and practitioners.The tragic suicide of trans* teen Leelah Alcorn has raised awareness about the discrimination and ensuing challenges trans* youth face. Fenway Health released a published a new study finding that trans* youth are at increased risk of health problems, including depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, suicide attempt, and self-harm. And, while research out of Northwestern University suggests that the psychological distress that bullied LGBTQ youth experience generally decreases over time, vulnerable groups— including trans* youth and youth of color­— may experience negative impacts for longer periods. Further, despite the Department of Justice’s assertion that  Title VII prohibits transgender discrimination, LGBT folks are still at risk while companies such as Saks 5th Avenue can openly discriminate against trans employees and state governments  (see Texas and North Carolina) attempt to roll back LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination laws. And so we ask ourselves, is it getting better?

In the continuing wake of Ferguson, Black Democrats plan to gather this weekend to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr and rally voters to become more involved in social justice issues. As protestors shut down highways and hold die-ins to raise awareness, in Washington and across the country calls have been made to reform policy with the intent to end racial profiling, tighten gun laws, and scale back the excess military equipment given to local police. Those of us in public health wrestle to understand the complicated relationship between racism, policing and public health as we shift through research suggesting there are differences in black vs. white mortality rates due to legal interventions, examine health disparities in Ferguson, and consider that racism must be a priority focus for public health research.

So what do we with all of this? This weekend, I urge you all to take a moment at reflect. Consider your commitment to public health and to social justice. Then, start the conversation. Share an opinion piece. Join in celebration and service with BU. Plan to attend the town hall meeting on community and policing in Boston at Roxbury Community College. Underscore that #BlackLivesMatter and #TransLivesMatter. 


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