Considering the successes we’ve achieved over the years, it is difficult to imagine that in our lifetime women felt a shame and stigma around breast cancer — one that a small group of women and I vowed to end when I founded Susan G. Komen in 1982. We wanted women to know it was OK to talk about breast cancer and to identify as a woman who had been diagnosed with the disease.
Fast-forward 33 years, and Susan G. Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast-cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find cures. Not only has our reach gone global through events such as our popular Race for the Cure, but also we have put significant resources into identifying and understanding under-served populations and how best to break down disparities and advocate for them.
One population we have found to be at greater risk for breast cancer than the general population is women in same-sex relationships. Since 2007, Susan G. Komen has invested more than $1.2 million into research to help understand why lesbians have a higher risk of breast cancer.
In our research, we have learned that sexual orientation does not increase risk, but rather there are risk factors that tend to be more common among women in same-sex relationships, such as never having children or giving birth for the first time at age 36 or older. Reasons for this are not clear, but lack of insurance, a perceived low risk of breast cancer, and not seeing a healthcare provider regularly may play roles.
While my work focuses on women’s breast cancer, personal and professional experiences have inspired me to get involved with changing legislation to remove stigma and discrimination for others, especially when it can affect one’s ability to gain access to healthcare. That is why I am publicly voicing my personal support for passage of the Florida Competitive Workforce Act.
In my home state of Florida, it is legal to discriminate against people in employment, housing and public accommodations simply because they are gay or transgender. Just as it seems difficult to imagine a time when the phrase “breast cancer” was taboo, it is hard to believe that such discrimination exists today and remains permissible by the state.
HB 33 by Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, and SB 156 by Democratic Sen. Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington propose simply adding “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” to the state’s existing anti-discrimination law that already protects Floridians from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital or disability status.
While Rep. Raschein and Sen. Abruzzo are doing the heavy lift in Tallahassee to pass the Competitive Workforce Act, more than 200 Florida businesses, large and small, are supporting the proposed legislation. Florida Businesses for a Competitive Workforce is a coalition of 24 major Florida employers that believe this proposal will make our state more competitive in the national and global marketplace in much the same way companies have benefited from adopting anti-discrimination policies.
Eight of these companies are listed on the Fortune 500 List, including Wells Fargo, Disney, Tech Data, NextEra Energy, Marriott, CSX, Office Depot and Darden Restaurants.
If you think LGBT people should be treated fairly, I encourage you to follow Florida’s actions during the 2015 Legislative Session and let legislators know that discrimination on any level must not be tolerated.
Nancy G. Brinker, founder and chair of Global Strategy for Susan G. Komen, is an advocate for gender equality.