Illness, Injury, Inclusion: A Second Dive Into LGBTQIA+ Health
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
February 25, 2020 ⋅ 3:30 P.M ⋅ Cate Schroeder ⋅ Editor: Guadalupe Sandoval ⋅
Obstacles to Quality Health Care
This is the inescapable truth of today: sexual orientation and society’s responses to it have a powerful impact on individuals' health, happiness, and survival. Now, what about the healthcare system itself? What about the places we’re supposed to go to be healed, helped, supported--places that are supposed to “undo” the harm? How do hospitals, doctors offices, and clinics factor into LGBTQ+ people’s lives and feelings of safety?
While, of course, many caring physicians work to create positive, inclusive environments for their patients (LGBTQ+ or not), there are still numerous cracks in the system and toxic attitudes that stand in the way of equal, effective health care for all individuals, regardless of race, citizenship, gender, and sexual orientation or gender identity. According to a poll referenced by a Harvard article, nearly ⅙ of LGBTQ+ adults have faced discrimination within healthcare environments. Even more individuals (20%) admitted that such discrimination and poor treatment cause them not to pursue medical treatment, even if they seriously need it (the percentage climbs to 23% among transgender patients!). The chart pictured in this article details further perceived barriers to effective, empowering health care, from the perspectives of the LGBTQ+ community.
"The discrimination... includes nurses deliberately calling a transgender girl by the wrong name, hospital employees withholding an LGBT man's HIV medication, staff recklessly releasing a suicidal transgender teenager early..."
The discrimination they report is far from petty or unimportant. It includes nurses deliberately calling a transgender girl by the wrong name, hospital employees withholding an LGBT man’s HIV medication, staff recklessly releasing a suicidal transgender teenager early ... and a Michigan pediatrician’s office refusing to see the infant child of a gay couple. And the reality is that this is just a miniscule sample of widespread prejudice and disrespect shown toward LGBTQ+ individuals within a system intended to heal. Recently, the Trump administration has even attempted to facilitate such discrimination, by creating the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division of the Office for Civil Rights, which will accept and attend to the complaints of healthcare workers who claim certain medical procedures or treatment plans go against their religious values. What could this mean for LGBTQ+ patients (especially transgender and nonbinary people) seeking vital treatment? The potential harm is immense.
Even among the many healthcare professionals who want to provide equal care to all, it isn’t so simple. Young LGBTQ+ people are often wary or hesitant to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity in healthcare settings, fearing mistreatment, judgement, or discrimination--all achingly real possibilities. Combine this with the limited or flawed education many healthcare professionals receive on LGBTQ+ topics, and effective communication between doctor and patient suffers greatly, impacting the success of treatment and prevention programs down the line. In my opinion, so much rests on the little things: on doctors and nurses knowing how to respectfully phrase questions, how to address all patients of all identities, what fears or hesitations to expect, and how to construct a safe space for anyone. That won’t solve everything, but it can help close the gap between well-intentioned, dedicated physicians and their patients.
So what to do? It’s certainly not simple. Educational systems, healthcare systems, societal prejudices, state laws, federal laws, religious ideals, and basic ignorances all intersect in complicated tangles difficult to unwind and eliminate. Change won’t be immediate or easy, and that’s another inescapable truth. But there are so many ways we can begin to make things a little better--and eventually those add up. We modify and expand our sex ed classes. We train doctors with an eye toward the vast, beautiful spectrum of identities in this world. We work to erase prejudicial laws and create inclusive ones. We push, we advocate, we wait.
We keep trying.
About the Author
Cate Schroeder is an undergraduate student at University of California - Los Angeles.