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5 Minutes With Matthew Garza on Stigma and Pride

4 Minute Read
Matthew Garza

Want to get to know some of the leaders who are shaping the future of diabetes care? In our “5 Minutes With” series, experts share what drew them to this work, what innovations most excite them, and the greatest challenges and opportunities in diabetes care. 

This week we interviewed Matthew Garza, manager of diaTribe’s Stigma Program. Garza was instrumental in launching dStigmatize.org, a comprehensive resource for understanding and reducing diabetes stigma.

Since Garza started at diaTribe in 2020, he’s written countless articles on diabetes advocacy, education, treatments, stigma, and more. In 2023, Garza was instrumental in getting an international consensus paper published that voices the growing need for collective action to eliminate diabetes stigma and discrimination.

Garza has deep a passion for understanding how stigma impacts health outcomes for marginalized groups, including the LGBTQ+ population and those living with chronic conditions like diabetes.

Anna Brooks: What type of challenges do people with diabetes who are part of the LGBTQ+ community face, especially when it comes to healthcare, stigma, and body image issues? How do we overcome these challenges?

Matthew Garza: Well, I think people often don’t recognize that intersectionality plays a role in diabetes care and management. What I mean by that is each of our experiences is unique because of the different identities we have and the different communities we are a part of. 

This is especially true for those individuals who exist at the intersection of multiple stigmatized or marginalized identities. So even though we may not realize it, being queer or belonging to the LGBTQ+ community does change the way a person with diabetes navigates the world. 

One great example is to look at the additional hurdles faced by people who are both transgender and have diabetes. Many people who are transitioning take medications that reduce or increase certain hormones in their body (like testosterone and estrogen) depending on their transition journey. However, these hormones can affect a person’s diabetes management – some preliminary studies, for example, show that estrogen can reduce a person’s insulin sensitivity. That means a person with diabetes might have to drastically change their insulin dosing pre- and post-transition. 

When you add in the fact that many people in the LGBTQ+ community, especially people who are transgender, face reduced access to healthcare and healthcare discrimination that prevents them from always having access to medication guidance and consistent prescriptions, you can see how this becomes a complicated problem.

Another example is to look at the increased rates of body dysmorphia and body image issues in LGBTQ+ individuals, especially gay men. When you also have a condition like diabetes that may cause fluctuations in weight or require the use of very visible pieces of medical technology, it can add to those issues.

We can overcome these challenges by continuing to advocate for an intersectional approach to healthcare that values all of the different identities a person with diabetes has. In addition, it’s such an important reminder during Pride Month that all over the U.S., LGBTQ+ rights are being taken away and stripped back by legislators. We must advocate for and vote to protect LGBTQ+ individuals’ rights – especially to comprehensive, compassionate healthcare.

Brooks: Can you tell us about some of your most memorable experiences working with people in the diabetes and LGBTQ+ community? 

Garza: While I don’t personally have diabetes myself, I am a queer man and many of my family members live with type 2 diabetes. This topic always hits very close to home, and the people in the diabetes community that I get to work with make my job so easy and so enjoyable.

I had the pleasure a few years back to interview a young transgender woman with diabetes, Juli Royal, for one of our diaTribe articles. Writing this article taught me so much about the challenges people who are transgender and who have diabetes face, but what really stuck with me was how resilient Royal was being a young transgender woman living in the South. Even when the odds were stacked against her, she found a way to build confidence and advocate for herself in healthcare settings and I found her story to be so inspiring.

And on a personal note, I am a huge fan of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” So when I had the opportunity to interview one of the show’s season 14 contestants, Daya Betty, and learn about how a performer at her level manages her condition, it was a real “pinch me I must be dreaming” moment!

Brooks: Why is language around diabetes so important, especially for marginalized communities?

Garza: At diaTribe, I run our dStigmatize program, which is focused on bringing an end to diabetes stigma. A huge part of this is shifting the language we use to talk about diabetes to be more person-centered, accurate, respectful, and inclusive. 

This work is so important because when we use stigmatizing language, it reinforces harmful narratives and stereotypes, especially for people in marginalized communities. When we say someone is a “non-controlled diabetic” we aren’t painting a complete picture of their diabetes management, the challenges they face, and the systemic barriers they are up against – we’re already setting them up for failure. 

But you can’t “fail” at diabetes and you can’t “control” it. All you can do is try your best to manage this complex condition each day and hopefully build a support network of family, friends, and healthcare professionals who can help when needed. Our language should reflect that.

Brooks: Can you tell us about the movement to put an end to diabetes stigma, what impact it's already having, and how to join?

Garza: As I mentioned, our dStigmatize program is focused on bringing an end to diabetes stigma. We are part of a movement that is creating a culture of compassion that allows people with diabetes to live well with a serious, but manageable condition. 

Specifically, I want to highlight our dStigmatize Stories and our dStigmatize Resource Library, which include community voices and helpful guidance for people looking to help us reduce diabetes stigma. In addition, I want to encourage everyone to sign the Pledge to End Diabetes Stigma, which was the result of an international effort of researchers, healthcare professionals, and most importantly, people with diabetes. 

Brooks: Can you share anything new and exciting happening with the dStigmatize program and what projects you're most excited about?

Garza: The project I am most excited about is a campaign we will be launching later this year called Spoonful of Laughter. This video campaign uses comedy to educate people about diabetes, correct stereotypes, and encourage curiosity about diabetes instead of judgment. 

We created this campaign with comedians, advocates, and artists because we realized that just lecturing people doesn’t always work when it comes to addressing stigmatizing behavior. Instead, we want to lead them, giggling, into a kinder and more respectful future. And the cherry on top is that we get to highlight several queer people with diabetes in these videos, including one of my favorite comedians, Sam Morrison. So stay tuned and get ready to laugh!

Learn more about reducing diabetes stigma here: