Like most others, I did not have a great 2020. The only accomplishments I remember from last year were migrating from WordPress to Bashblog and attending an online Veterans Affairs (VA) program for LGBT members:
"TelePRIDE, a virtual health education group for LGBT Veterans."
The VA TelePRIDE program gave me something to look forward to at a time where everything felt toggled between gloom and meh.
VA TelePRIDE Program Sessions
Once a week for an hour, for ten weeks, I met with other gay veterans and LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinators (VCCs) from local VA facilities in a video conference. We spent the first session introducing ourselves:
- Name or alias
- Preferred pronouns
- What you hope to learn from the program
- Showing your truth through frustration while trying to get the webcam and audio to work correctly
Every session afterwards, we'd start the hour with the VCCs explaining a specific topic supported by stats and valuable resources. Then, we'd discuss the topic as a group. The most interesting topics to me:
- LGBT history including the Stonewall riots in 1969
- Gender versus sex
- VA resources for LGBT members (particularly trans people)
- Sexual health and HIV prevention with Prep-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP)
- Navigating life as a gay black man
- Struggles with relationships and other support systems
- Simply being part of the gay community
Talking Openly About "Gayness"
It was the first time in years since I'd talked candidly with other gay people about this stuff. Not sure I'd ever talkd with a group of gay veterans about it. LGBT anything in general is a tough conversation to have genuinely with others, similar to religion, "politricks," and finances. Another topic I like to add on that list but I won't get in-depth here is toxic women.
Yes, I made a song about toxic females.
It was also the most comfortable I'd felt in a long while. Veterans who were gay. That checks two boxes for what makes me an outcast. And the VCCs were great at keeping the conversation going.
Getting in a TelePRIDE Program
I recommend every non-heterosexual veteran check with your nearest VA facility for LGBTQ+ veteran care coordinators. If there isn't one at your nearest VA, contact the VCC nearest your location. If for some odd reason they refuse to at least talk with you about local LGBT resources, contact another one. Tell the representative that helps you about the one who didn't. If you get frustrated, you can always send your primary care provider a secure message in MyHealtheVet.
For more info, there's a VA blog discussing the PRIDE in All Who Served (PRIDE) program, created by doctors Tiffany Lange-Altman and Michelle M. Hilgeman.
Check out more resources listed on the VA's VHA LGBTQ+ Health Program page.
Again, I recommend every LGBT veteran and supporter to reach out to their local VA LGBT department. I met amazing people from different walks of life and finished the program with a lot more knowledge than anticipated.