Seize the Opportunity


As with the 2017 event, the 2018 Opportunity Conference will feature a number of sessions and keynote addresses. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Health Initiative.

As a leader in LGBTQ health in the Twin Cities, Rainbow Health Initiative is giving the Twin Cities a platform to learn more about LGBTQ health disparities, policy, system, and environmental proposals to improve climate for LGBTQ patients and employees, and review current health and human service system changes at federal, state, and local levels. At the second annual Opportunity Conference, attendees can expect to see themes similar to last year’s as well as new events and speakers.

Rainbow Health Initiative started Opportunity Conference in 2017 after collecting data that reported a significant number of LGBTQ folks are regularly experiencing discrimination in accessing healthcare, as well as poor quality care. Rainbow Health Initiative promptly created Standards of Inclusion in response to this, and with a growing network of providers and healthcare systems, they decided that they had their capacity to address healthcare issues for LGBTQ folks in a larger setting. And then, the Opportunity Conference was born.

This year’s Opportunity Conference will feature a number of keynote speakers including Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, Dr. Stephen Forssell, and Jonathan Mathias Lassiter.

“Our keynoters this year reflect some of the latest research and resources in healthcare curriculum, LGBTQ public policy and the intersections of health based on race/ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation. We wanted to ensure that our keynoters not only represent diverse topics and fields of work, but also reflect the diversity and intersections of our communities,” says Rainbow Health Initiative Executive Director Joann Usher.

The Opportunity Conference will also feature over 40 workshops and a healthcare-focused performance by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities.

“This production will include an educational component offered by Dr. Deb Thorp, that will help our attendees understand how the offered stories and experiences could have been handled differently in order to improve the experience and the quality of care,” Usher says.

Last year, attendees ranged from social workers, therapists, healthcare providers and administrators, insurance personnel, public health staff, governmental agencies, and public policy advocates.

Attendees at the 2017 Opportunity Conference engage in a table group discussion. Photo courtesy of Rainbow Health Initiative.

“We would encourage even those who attended last year to return as the topics covered will be different and to reach out to more providers, and academics who are interested in LGBTQ health and including LGBTQ experiences in their teaching,” she says.

It is projected that there will be around 400 attendees this year, which will bring together a variety of professions like medicine, nursing, social work, psychology, counseling, case management, addiction support, spiritual care, advocacy, education, and rehabilitative services. Attendees will learn about ways in which their career can play a role in policy change at various political levels.

Rainbow Health Initiative is merging with Minnesota AIDS Project to continue its work for LGBTQ health and support, so the Opportunity Conference also provides an opportunity for the organization itself.

“This will be a great opportunity to announce the merger and the new name of our new organization. It will allow us to share the new areas of work, the opening of a new LGBTQ mental health clinic, and to lift up the continuing health and social services needs of folk who are HIV+ and those who are at risk,” says Usher.

The merging of Rainbow Health Initiative and Minnesota AIDS Project will strengthen the outcome of this year’s Opportunity Conference as different LGBTQ organizations are working together.

“We have strong support from a variety of organizations in Minnesota in the planning process,” said Usher. “We are the only organization that has consistently collected LGBTQ health data in Minnesota, and we use that data as the foundation of our work in policy, advocacy, and education. As a result of the awareness reinforced by this conference, RHI has been approached by almost every health care system in Minnesota to provide them with some education and cultural assessments. We expect this second conference to help us continue to build this program and deepen the level of engagement with these systems and others.”

Opportunity Conference 
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