New Jersey Spotlight: Bianca Mayes

Recently, the Untold Story had the pleasure of interviewing Bianca Mayes. At the moment she is the health and wellness coordinator for Garden State Equality. Prior to such, she was involved in other aspects of the healthcare industry. From a young age, she knew that healthcare was a field she could not escape: “I always make a joke that in my family, I didn’t really get to choose to go into health and wellness. My family actually works in the health and wellness industry. I have several family members that have worked in the healthcare industry including my mother. She has been there for over 25 years. So, my sister and I were given options professionally. However, healthcare is something that really stuck to us because of how we were raised. You know, we were always surrounded by the healthcare environment and really drawn to trying to help patients or clients, communities achieve optimal health. I think that everyone should take steps to protect their health and wellness because that is your right as a human being on this earth.” From a young age, Mayes knew that healthcare was her calling. Although the health of human beings was amongst her top priorities, it soon became clear to Mayes that a more pressing issue was at stake: the lack of equity in our healthcare system. When commenting on the current state of our healthcare system and the way that it treats people of certain groups, Mayes said “ So, when it comes to the equity piece and people’s identities, historically, this country has never treated different groups of people equally in the healthcare space. That doesn’t exist, right? We break it down to people’s socioeconomic status, or people’s race, or people’s ability to understand, read, or write in english. Traditionally, those populations have been left out unfortunately, so they have more significant healthcare issues and barriers than someone who doesn’t have that. Someone who has all the access and almost no barriers right?” According to Mayes, healthcare is a basic human right. It should not depend on where you come from or what your resources may entail.

On top of speaking on general equity within the healthcare space, we questioned Mayes on how these healthcare disparities specifically affect the LGBTQ+ community, and how we could provide a safer environment. In response to our inquisition, Mayes brought a contradiction to light that perpetuates the problems in our healthcare system: “I love this question specifically because when I do my training in the healthcare space, so often providers say “this is a great presentation, thank you so much Bianca, but I treat all of my patients ‘equally’”, and the definition of equal is interesting because let’s say we have a person that has significantly worse health than someone else. Let’s say we have two patients coming into the emergency room, and one is in critical condition and one isn’t. If the healthcare system treated everyone equally, then that means they would spend equal amount of time in the emergency room, receive the same treatment, and get the same resources, and we know that is not what happens in the emergency room.” When elaborating on the analogy, she explained to us how to begin to level the playing field in our healthcare system, at least for LGBTQ+ people: “ One of the best ways that we can correct the healthcare disparities is to correct accurate data of all population groups. I say all population groups because I can’t help but think of SOGI data which is Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity data collection, how when you go to the doctor’s office, you fill out a form that asks you about your gender, it might ask you about your race, it might ask you about socioeconomic status, but in terms of the LGBTQ community, there is no question that asks you if you are trans or asks your sexual orientation, and one of the problems with that is anecdotally that we know that people that are LGBTQ are in greater need when comes to specific healthcare disparities, and this springs of local data.” In other words, in order to determine how to assist the LGBTQ+ community, it is necessary to first determine what resources actually are needed.

In addition to general comments on the lack of equity in the healthcare system, we were able to dive in on Mayes’ work with the LGBTQ+ community specifically. First, we questioned her on how we might best foster a healthy environment for young LGBTQ+ people, as that would describe my colleague and I, to which she responded in a similar, but more specific manner: “I think the best thing you can do to protect their health and wellness is to get young LGBTQ people involved. There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of people that are not in the target group create the content, create the outreach, create the intervention and then wonder why young queer people are not getting involved in their own healthcare right? I can create a presentation. I can create all the interventions in the world, but if it’s not something that they want to see and it’s not helpful then it’s not a good intervention. I think it’s also important to not only talk to them but give them a leadership space. Especially recently, I’ve seen a lot of young queer people being able to be out there and basically gather and get people together to ground themselves in fundamental healthcare issues and really take a stand and build it up as their own as young people and that is something that I think we should build up and not take away from them.” In other words, it is not enough to assist the LGBTQ+ youth of our communities. We must not only assist them but provide them with spaces to speak their truths. If a cis person were to assume how a trans person would feel, no matter how benevolent the intention, can often lead to an issue of intent versus impact. It is essential to provide the trans community with trans leaders to voice their concerns.

Ms. Mayes was beyond an eloquent speaker, and I suggest reading the transcription provided below. She gracefully highlighted and explained some of the most complex issues facing our healthcare services today. Below the transcript will be provided. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions!

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