Because LGBT individuals historically have been labeled deviant or pathological by many in the medical and psychiatric community, they have been marginalized by some segments of the health professions. As a result, many gays and lesbians do not disclose their sexual orientation to their health care providers (Cochran & Mays, 1988). Consequently, many LGBT individuals, particularly transgender individuals, are reluctant to use mainstream health care services and are medically underserved.
However, LGBT health advocates and professionals have lobbied for changes in mainstream professional organizations. This has resulted in policy statements addressing the needs of LGBT clients and the formation of official LGBT affiliates, such as the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Status of Lesbian and Gay Psychologists and the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues. Although these changes have been important steps in establishing ethical guidelines for appropriate care, many health and mental health treatment providers remain uncomfortable with sexual diversity and continue to discriminate against LGBT clients.
A survey of the membership of the American Association of Physicians for Human Rights (now called the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association) (1994) found that, of 711 members, 52 percent had observed the denial of care or the provision of suboptimal care to lesbian and gay clients. Eighty-eight percent heard colleagues make disparaging remarks about their lesbian and gay clients. At the same time, 64 percent of the members stated that it is important for clients to reveal their sexual orientation because of distinctive health concerns, but also noted they risk receiving substandard care when doing so. Transgender individuals are even more marginalized and are often denied care, and LGBT individuals of color may experience racial bias in addition to homophobia.
Thus, sensing these prejudices, many LGBT persons have not used the health care system adequately. Their hesitation to seek health care may result in later diagnoses of illnesses, which results in poorer treatment outcomes. Many physicians are ignorant of the special health concerns of LGBT individuals, such as the possibility of anal warts in gay men or the surgical and hormonal treatment options for transgender individuals.
LGBT people experience the same kinds of disparities as people of color. Both groups receive lower quality medical care than ‘straights’ and whites. The result is misdiagnosis, improper treatment, greater disease, and premature death. Among the many causes for this are a shortage of minority physicians, inadequate insurance coverage, and stereotyping and bias due to homophobia among nurses, doctors and medical students. (Some studies show that as many as 96% of lesbian women anticipate negative reactions from practitioners if they are open about their sexuality). And many insurance plans exclude illnesses and treatments specific to sexual orientation and gender identity. The shortcomings are many. Those in the health and human services field need to improve, but we needn’t sit back and wait for them to become better. Those of us in the LGBT community and allies can help them along.
As you may already know, the National Coalition for LGBT Health has named March 28th-April 3rd, 2010 the 8th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week.
Rainbow Access Initiative is a member of the Healthcare Committee of the NYS LGBT Health & Human Services Network (coordinated through the Empire State Pride Agenda), and we know that our community’s health is too fabulous (and important) to fit into just one week! So we’ve decided to declare March 2010 as the first annual New York LGBT Health Month.
Our theme this year is “31 Ways for 31 Days”…so throughout the month of March, leading up to National LGBT Health Awareness Week, we are encouraging LGBT New Yorkers and the organizations that serve them to educate, advocate and organize around LGBT health and wellness in all its various forms—physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and social. We’d love it if all LGBT people everywhere would join us in considering March to be LGBT Health Month by implementing good health practices into their daily routines.
We at CWAC believe it is very difficult to have healthy spiritual practices if we do not take care of our physical being as well as we can, and also that it is tough to be physically healthy if we are spiritually hurting. So, if you would like to follow along, at Jenna’s blog you will find a series of daily posts reminding us that good health care runs the gamut from taking some very simple steps to some exceedingly important, complex ones. I hope you read them all in good physical, spiritual and emotional health.
For more information on LGBTQ health issues visit Rainbow Access Initiative and choose from the menu options on the left side.
For more information on spititual health for LGBTQ visit CWAC’s website