Today, the Health Initiative called for the Georgia Department of Public Health to rescind the job offer extended to Dr. Eric Walsh. As the Pasadena public health director, Dr. Walsh was placed on administrative leave and later resigned after online videos of his sermons attacking LGBT people surfaced. These sermons also spoke ill of Muslims and Catholics.
The following letter was sent to the Department:
May 15, 2014
Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D.
Georgia Department of Public Health
2 Peachtree Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30303-3186
We are writing you today to urge you to rescind the job offer extended to Dr. Eric Walsh by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The Health Initiative works throughout the state to connect LGBT Georgians to health services and resources. We value the work of the Department and have partnered on outreach campaigns, such as efforts to promote smoke-free spaces.
Dr. Walsh’s public displays of anti-gay propaganda and religious rhetoric will become symbols of the department and will further isolate an already vulnerable population. We believe this hire is detrimental to the wellbeing of our community, as well as to the effectiveness of the Department to conduct meaningful outreach to LGBT Georgians.
As spelled out by the federal Healthy People 2020 report and the Institute of Medicine’s 2011 findings, LGBT individuals are more likely to avoid accessing preventative health screenings due to a lack of culturally competent providers and an overall fear of discrimination. When adding an additional factor, such as living in a rural community, this disparity is further heightened. This avoidance of care results in LGBT populations exhibiting higher rates of a variety of health conditions, such as heart disease, and higher mortality rates for treatable conditions, such as cervical cancer. In short, homophobia is a health risk.
Placing Dr. Walsh in a leadership position will validate our community’s fears in engaging health systems and will hurt the credibility of any future campaign launched by the Georgia Department of Public Health that may seek to address LGBT health disparities.
We believe the work that the Department has done to reach the community is tremendously important, including having a presence at the annual Atlanta Pride Festival. We do not wish to see those efforts diminished by bringing onboard an individual that speaks out so vehemently against the LGBT population.
Our organizations share common goals of educating Georgians about their health, encouraging them to access screenings, and to take actions that will increase their longevity and wellbeing. Today, we are asking the Department to continue to act in the best interests of the state and rescind the offer that was made to Dr. Walsh.
Thank you for your consideration,
Linda Ellis, MEd, MDiv, LPC
The Health Initiative, Inc.