As We Celebrate National Minority Health Month, Let's Challenge Stigma and Shame

April is dedicated to focusing on health care needs and disparities within communities of color in the United States. This month, the Office of Minority Health, a part of the Department of Health and Human Services joins with its partners in raising public awareness about health and health care disparities that continue to affect racial and ethnic minorities and efforts to advance health equity. Latinos in the U.S. have important health care needs that we must make visible, and in April we have the perfect opportunity. One of the issues that rarely gets the attention it deserves is our community's access to reproductive health care. This month, let's look together at the advancements as well as the ongoing reproductive health care needs of Latinos in the U.S.

Latinos have consistently been one of the most rapidly growing communities in the United States, with a population that has increased six times since 1970. In that time, we have made massive gains: we have become lawmakers and influenced elections as voters in our local, state and federal government; added to the economic growth of the nation with our businesses and commerce; and had even more of an impact in our local communities. Our political power has grown dramatically in the last decade, with the first Latina cabinet member in Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and the first Latina Supreme Court Justice in Sonia Sotomayor. While we still represent only a small fraction of elected officials the number is steadily increasing, and the groundbreaking work of organizers like Dolores Huerta and Linda Chavez-Thompson will only continue to inspire more young Latinas to engage with our government in some form. The strides we have made have benefited our community and the country. But, many both inside and outside the Latino community assume we are monolithic in attitudes, and in particular, in our attitudes and beliefs about sexual and reproductive health.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Acknowledging the differences and, most especially, taking cues from young Latinos, will build the power of Latinas to take ownership of our health and reproductive decision-making and to speak out and take action. This will benefit our community and the country even more in the future.

Because of the religious faith of some members of our community and our commitment to family, many assume that when it comes to sexuality, we are all conservative in our attitude. In actuality, the Latino community is far from monolithic in our beliefs. We are independent thinkers who value the health of our families and our need to make our own decisions when it comes to intimacy, sex, pregnancy, and parenting.

Over the last few years, polls have consistently shown that when it to comes to accessing reproductive health, Latinos are supportive of ensuring access to sex education, contraception, and abortion.

In 2011, 74 percent of Latino registered voters supported the idea that "a woman has a right to make her own personal, private decisions about abortion without politicians interfering." A more recent poll of Latinos in Texas provided similar results.

And, among Millennial Latinos, three-quarters (77 percent) believe birth control is part of basic health care and should be covered by insurance, no matter where they work. Likewise, 73 percent of Latino young people favor comprehensive sex education.

In our community ensuring access to health care, especially the full range of health care for young Latinos, is a must. We must be able to obtain affordable contraception to plan our pregnancies so we can thrive emotionally, as well as economically. We need accessible, available prenatal care so we can protect the health of our children and their mothers. Our young people deserve and want accurate and complete sex education so that they can learn about preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, as well as having healthy relationships. And when they become pregnant and choose to have the baby, we should make sure young parents have the support, respect, and access to services they need to raise healthy families.

It is for those reasons that we launched Yo Soy, an exciting campaign to reduce shame and stigma and raise awareness in the Latino community about sexual and reproductive health. Advocates for Youth is proud to join together with Voto Latino, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, and the Hispanic Federation to challenge the myths around sex and sexual health that have for too long caused our community to be silent when it comes to sex education, birth control, abortion, and young parenting. The name Yo Soy embodies a courageous statement of stepping up, taking your place in the world, standing tall, and standing proud. Yo Soy builds the power of Latinos to take ownership of our health and reproductive decision-making, to speak out and to take action.

Yo Soy believes that we are all stronger when we support and respect that personal health decisions are ours to make -- and our sexuality, our health and our families are worth talking about. We are committed to breaking down the barriers that separate us. Instead, we seek to bring us all together to advocate for those health issues that affect us all -- a healthy sexuality with access to contraception, abortion, prenatal and postnatal care, parenting support, disease prevention and treatment, all without shame or stigma.

A healthy community is a strong community, and we are all stronger when we break through shame and stigma. Let's start talking, both during National Minority Health Month and beyond.