UIndy Student Giselle Avila Advocates for LGBTQ+ Health Education

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Through opportunities available at UIndy and help from faculty members, University of Indianapolis senior and public health major Giselle Avila discovered a passion for health education advocacy and has made plans to continue in the field post-graduation. Avila said that in the spring of 2023, she took Director of Public Health Program Heidi Hancher-Rauch’s class on healthcare policy law and advocacy, where she found her passion for health education advocacy.

“Going into health I’ve already always had this passion for advocacy work,” Avila said. “Doctor [Hancher-] Rauch also shares that passion, so it was great being able to work with her and develop those skills with someone who’s more seasoned and experienced.”

Giselle Avila

Hancher-Rauch said she had not taught Avila before the spring of 2023, but saw something in Avila that told her she was going to be involved in advocacy in some way. Hancher-Rauch said certain students are inspired when introduced to advocacy.

“A lot of students are scared to death of health policy and health advocacy and they think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is not anything that I want to do.’ … [Giselle] would just bring in these examples of things that she was doing in the community and how she was involved. With her, she really just latched on to the advocacy area,” Hancher-Rauch said.

For an assignment, Avila said she was tasked with analyzing legislation relating to public health that was proposed. After reading about Senate Bill 480, which prevents physicians in Indiana from providing gender-affirming healthcare to transgender minors by blocking doctors from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and other medication, she felt a call to action.

According to Avila, other classmates were not focusing on advocacy-centered work, so that is what drew her to this issue. Originally she wanted to focus on reproductive rights, but then chose to focus on LGBTQ+ healthcare, she said.

“Being a part of the community … I felt like this was a very important thing to talk about,” Avila said. “We’re not talking about like the health care of youth. And yeah, so I picked it and ran with it, and it’s great.”

With Hancher-Rauch’s mentoring, Avila decided to run for the role of Advocacy Director for the Indiana chapter of the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) for 2023-2024. According to the SOPHE website, the purpose of the chapter is to “promote, encourage, and contribute to the advancement of the health of all people and to advance the health education profession.” 

Avila said she plans to work with SOPHE post-graduation, and her work now as advocacy director focuses on educating the public on how to find their legislator and representative. Her position as Advocacy Director has been ongoing for a year, according to Avila.

Avila said. “Educating people on how to find your legislator here, your representatives, and how to get involved with them and furthering that education,” Avila said.

According to Hancher-Rauch, every October there is a national advocacy summit for the SOPHE in Washington D.C. Last October, Avila traveled with Hancher-Rauch to the conference and presented some of her work relating to her advocacy on Indiana Senate Bill 480.

Avila said there were insightful speakers at the event and that, one speaker, a young woman, lectured about the great work she was doing specifically regarding increasing the number of youth voters. Avila said it was great to see other young people engaged and interested in health advocacy.

According to Avila, one important thing that is overlooked in public health is the idea that everything in society’s day-to-day lives is related to public health. Avila said those in office are not properly educated on these issues.

“Absolutely anything, from the sidewalks to where you live and the access you have to grocery stores, every little thing is tied back to public health,” Avila said. “What we don’t realize is that the impact that has on marginalized communities and when we have people who are in office who don’t have the public’s best interest at heart, then nothing good is gonna come out of that.”

If students are interested in getting involved in healthcare advocacy work, there are a lot of opportunities available on campus, according to Hancher-Rauch. The registered student organization  Eta Sigma Gamma is involved in research, advocacy and training to promote the ideals of health education. 

“I think there’s always the space for students to get involved … We’re all doing advocacy work, because all policy is health policy, everything impacts health,” Hancher-Rauch said. “Students can always reach out if they’re interested in that kind of thing.”

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