Fenway Health statement on CDC policy around use of words and phrases including “transgender,” “vulnerable,” and “evidence-based”

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Instructing public health officials on the language they can use is Orwellian

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Since 1971, Fenway Health has been working to make life healthier for the people in our neighborhood, the LGBT community, people living with HIV/AIDS and the broader population

These reports of restrictions on the use of language by public health officials at the CDC are deeply troubling.

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) could not use the words and phrases “transgender,” “diversity,” “entitlement,” “vulnerable,” “fetus,” “science-based,” and “evidence-based” in official documents related to the federal 2019 budget. On Sunday, in a series of tweets, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald asserted that “there are no banned words at CDC.” Fenway Health Interim CEO Jane Powers offered the following statement in response:

“These reports of restrictions on the use of language by public health officials at the CDC are deeply troubling. It does not matter whether there is an outright ban based on ideology, or whether the list originated as a strategy to gain support for the CDC budget among Republican conservatives. Telling public health officials working to prevent Zika, HIV and other diseases what words they can use is Orwellian. It is not what we expect to see in a democracy, and such policies—whether they are formal or informal—harm public health.

“Disease treatment and prevention must be driven by science and evidence. That includes the proper use of terminology, such as ‘transgender,’ which describes a population that bears a disproportionate burden of STIs, including HIV, and which also experiences barriers to accessing competent and affirming health care. Accommodating intolerance of people who are transgender by discouraging the use of accurate language is extremely dangerous.”

Since 1971, Fenway Health has been working to make life healthier for the people in our neighborhood, the LGBT community, people living with HIV/AIDS and the broader population. The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health is an interdisciplinary center for research, training, education and policy development focusing on national and international health issues. Fenway’s Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center cares for youth and young adults ages 12 to 29 who may not feel comfortable going anywhere else, including those who are LGBT or just figuring things out; homeless; struggling with substance use; or living with HIV/AIDS. In 2013, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts joined the Fenway Health family, allowing both organizations to improve delivery of care and services across the state and beyond.

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Christopher A. Viveiros
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