LGBTQ+ Healthcare: Building a Better FutureJune 16, 2021
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, and other identities (LGBTQ+) Pride Month-commonly known simply as Pride Month-in the United States. It is a time to reflect on and honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, a watershed moment in gay rights history. It also offers LGBTQ+ people a chance to celebrate who they are and how they love.
During Pride Month, we reflect on the challenges LGBTQ+ people have faced and continue to face. Discrimination, a lack of legal rights to marry or raise families, and violence are just some of the issues that have plagued the community. In addition, some of those challenges historically are related to healthcare and medical concerns.
One notable example is HIV/AIDS, which has disproportionally affected the community. Besides the rate of actual infection, the epidemic also contributed to further discrimination against LGBTQ+ populations, especially gay and bisexual men.
While the epidemic was—and continues to be—a difficult part of LGBTQ+ history, it is important to also note how the community came together to advocate for themselves and their medical rights.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged this in a press conference in April 2020. Fauci drew a connection between HIV and the COVID-19 pandemic. “…It was only when the world realized how the gay community responded to [the HIV/AIDS] outbreak with incredible courage and dignity and strength and activism … that really changed some of the stigma against the gay community. Very much so.”
But HIV/AIDS has not been the only medical crisis for this community. LGBTQ+ people experience higher percentages of stress, depression, mental illness, and suicide attempts. Those who face discrimination or violence are at the highest risk.
In addition, food insecurity is a risk for the LGBTQ+ population. Reports show that 27% of LGBTQ+ adults experienced food insecurity in the prior year compared to 17% of non-LGBTQ+ adults during that same timeframe. LGBTQ+ youth also experience higher levels of homelessness. Homeless shelters and organizations like Feeding America provide vital aid to youth and adults alike.
Inclusive and Effective Healthcare
Doctors, healthcare workers, and all medical professionals should understand how to best care for the LGBTQ+ population and its unique health needs. This extends to hospital administration as well when it comes to policies, such as visitation rights.
Some of the best practices all healthcare professionals should learn and adopt include:
- Working to overcome any implicit bias and/or assumptions.
- Understanding and using the proper pronouns for their patients.
- Using correct and accepting terminology.
- Connecting transitioning individuals with specialists that know their unique needs.
The Joint Commission has produced a field guide about care for the LGBTQ+ community with much more detailed information on best practices.
Resources for the LGBTQ+ Community
The LGBTQ+ community is vast and diverse. Organizations that serve them must be equally diverse. Some focus on specific subgroups. For example, The Trevor Project advocates for and helps LGBTQ+ youth. And The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) focuses on transgender rights. GLAAD has a database of additional resources grouped by population.
Mental health resources are also extremely important for this population. Many LGBTQ+ organizations include a focus on mental health. In addition:
- Shine a Light on Depression includes a free online toolkit for middle and high school communities with effective, turnkey depression awareness and suicide prevention programs.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline organization has LGBTQ+-specific resources and aid.
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness also offers specific information and support.
Finally, several organizations focus on LGBTQ+ health, including:
- The Fenway Institute optimizes health and well-being for sexual and gender minorities and those affected by HIV.
- GLMA is committed to ensuring health equity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and sexual or gender minority individuals.
- LGBT HealthLink works to improve the public health system for LGBTQ+ people.
- The National LGBT Cancer Network focuses on cancer survivors and those at risk.
This Pride Month, celebrate the LGBTQ+ people in your life. Take time to learn about their history and advocate for their rights, particularly their healthcare rights.