More Than Just Condoms: Towards a Better Understanding of LGBT Health
This week is National LGBT Health Awareness Week, which is a wonderful program by the National Coalition for LGBT Health. The smart people over at the Institute of Medicine also released a research brief on LGBT Health, commissioned by the National Institutes of Health. And what did they find? That federal funding of the issues facing our health is woefully low, and that the government must step up funding if it wants to meet the needs of this increasingly visible population.
The LGBT community has been radically underserved and misinformed when it comes to our health issues. For those gays living outside of the gay meccas, it can be next to impossible to get true and accurate information from healthcare providers. Certainly there are gay doctors that many of us visit, which often makes us more comfortable and well-informed. But as LGBT people move into the mainstream, it is vital that doctors, nurses and support staff are more widely educated regarding the issues we face.
ABC News spoke with several doctors and patients that reported a prevailing ignorance of LGBT health issues. Elle Groves, a lesbian from Denver, spoke to them about how she was misinformed that lesbians had no risk of STDs from unprotected sex. “The doctor was pushing that idea on me — that I’m not at risk because of [my sexual orientation], which is a blatant lie and very dangerous for women who would have trusted her.”
The research doesn’t reveal anything new to those of us who are on the receiving end of this medical treatment, but it is a welcome sign that the national health apparatus is starting to realize their shortcomings when it comes to our community. The IOM found, in their research brief, that there is a lack of research into bisexual and transgender medical needs. They also note the tendency to lump all us gays into one category, which affects the knowledge base for medical treatment.
The experiences of LGBT individuals are not uniform and are shaped by factors of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and age, any of which can have an effect on health-related concerns and needs.
Well, duh! There is a diversity of experience among any population subgroup, each with their own specific needs and requirements. There are also plenty of things that stand in our way when it comes to maintaining good health: prejudiced physicians who ignore general care in favor of only discussing HIV risk with gay men, providers ignorantly telling lesbians they can’t contract STDs, and wider problems of discrimination against same-sex couples in employer-provided health plans.
Overall, the committee finds that research has not been conducted evenly across sexual and gender minority populations, with more research focusing on gay men and lesbians than on bisexual and transgender people. Research has not adequately examined subpopulations, particularly racial and ethnic groups. And most research has been conducted among adults, with a modest number of studies on adolescents and less attention on LGBT elders.
To advance understanding of the health needs of all LGBT individuals, researchers need more data about the demographics of these populations, improved methods for collecting and analyzing data, and an increased participation of sexual and gender minorities in research.
With more research, increased awareness and more extensive training, LGBT health should become a area of understanding for all health care providers.