Social Work in the Public Eye (January 2013)

Liz MargoliesThe color pink as associated with breast cancer is seen as feminizing the disease and not completely inclusive of LGBT people who have breast cancer, according to commentary written by NASW member Liz Margolies and published on Advocate.

Margolies, who is the founder and executive director of the National LGBT Cancer Network, says in the piece that pink has been adopted by the entire U.S. as being representative of breast cancer treatment and awareness, with well-meaning health care workers decorating their scrubs and offices with pink ribbons. Margolies says the one-color-fits-all approach does not meet the needs of LGBT breast cancer survivors.

Margolies and Marilyn Smith-Stoner, a nursing professor at California State University in San Bernardino, investigated the findings of a recent national study called “The Experience of Being Diagnosed with Cancer by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender People.” The study claims that many LGBT breast cancer survivors react negatively to the feminization of breast cancer care, and Margolies explored the comments made in the study, which include:

“Reproductive cancers are loaded with gender issues. For example, not all women (or men) with breast cancer want to wear pink. I think over-feminizing BC is problematic.”

“There’s a hell of a lot of emphasis in breast cancer awareness about helping women look stereotypically feminine. I personally have no interest in breast reconstruction, and it irked me that I was automatically referred to a plastic surgeon at the time of my mastectomy.”

Margolies also noted that not all health care workers have dropped the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with their LGBT breast cancer patients. She said patients are rarely asked their gender identity and sexual orientation and few clinicians are prepared to talk about the impact breast cancer has on LGBT relationships. Margolies noted in her research that it is imperative for health care workers to ask about a breast cancer patient’s gender identity and sexual orientation in order to tailor treatment, and she says LGBT cancer survivors are often more isolated and frightened than their heterosexual counterparts.

Margolies and Smith-Stoner urge all health care workers to ask their patients about sexual orientation, respect the unique needs of LGBT survivors and invite their support system into treatment.

Karen Oelschlaeger NASW member Karen Oelschlaeger — at 28 years old — is the youngest president the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, N.C., has had, according to an article on Asheville’s

Oelschlaeger, who is a graduate social work student, says she never saw herself as politically charged growing up. She became involved in social issues in college and later discovered a passion for politics at the community level.

“I spend all of my free time doing league stuff, but I love it. I love the fact that it’s a multi-issue organization with a well-respected history, and I love the nonpartisan element,” she says in the article. “I also think the league is a great place for folks who are frustrated with the two-party system to get involved. It’s a way to address important issues without having to buy in to hyperpartisan rhetoric or negative campaigning.”

The state league has more members over 80 years of age than under 50, Oelschlaeger says in the article, but she is steering the Asheville-Buncombe league into the social media realm. She was the league’s volunteer online communications director before becoming president, and her work in the position helped the league get nominated for a national Power of the Vote award for “high-impact online engagement,” the article says.

Through her previous role as business owner of a dog-walking service in Asheville, Oelschlaeger says she learned the value of communicating with clients via Twitter.

“A lot of people still know me as my handle, AvlPetsitter, so I guess that’s kind of what led me to get in on the social media scene,” she says in the article. “And that really changed everything.”

Unlike many of her peers, Oelschlaeger says she sees working within the system as an effective way to get things done, as opposed to protesting, and describes herself as a rule follower.

“Whenever I see Occupy protesters, I want to ask them, ‘What are your concrete demands? What specific policies would you like to be implemented?’” she says in the article. “‘And do you know which bodies have the power to implement those policies? Are you targeting the right people? What bill do you want to see passed and have you contacted your elected official to tell them to support it?’”

As the league’s president, Oelschlaeger is focusing on reaching younger voters and letting them know they can make a difference.

“We’re getting more and more young members now that folks see that we’ve got some young leaders at the helm, and we’re making a concerted effort to reach out to college students as well,” she says.

Oelschlaeger is enjoying her role as a nonpartisan league president, the article says, but could see getting into the political arena some day.

“I think it would be great to serve on the county commission or in the statehouse, but I have no desire to spend all of my time in Washington,” she said. “I have a lot of North Carolina pride — I’d really love to stick around and help make North Carolina be the best it can be.”

Larry BetcherWhen a disaster — such as an earthquake, fire or heart attack — strikes, a person’s mind sometimes cannot grasp the reality of the situation, according to a segment on

NASW Region XII Representative Larry Betcher says that disposition and genetics can determine whether a person will jump into action when a disaster occurs, or freeze. “It’s basically a combination of genetics and how we were raised growing up,” Betcher, LCSW, says in the segment. “Some of us are more likely to respond in an aggressive way if something confronts us and some are more likely to run or in some cases, go into shock.”

Betcher, along with Oregon Red Cross Preparedness Specialist Tyler Grant, state the necessity of preparing for the unexpected and practicing methods step by step to flee the scene or keep safe until the worst is over.

“Practicing these things in advance, in terms of disasters, is a good way to prepare for it,” Betcher says. “Disasters can happen at any time and anyone can be prepared.”

Rehearsing and practicing helps the methods sink in behaviorally and cognitively so one can know what to do in an emergency, he says. “You’re much more likely to act out those steps if you practice them beforehand.” However, denial is a main factor in why people don’t prepare, he says in the segment, as people are led into thinking that something like experiencing an earthquake will never happen to them.

The bottom line in getting prepared, he says, is to make a plan, build a kit with food, water, medicine and safe sources of light, and stay informed. Knowing the things that can affect you, and what your resources are going to be, can help immensely in navigating an unexpected emergency.

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