Why Health Care Disparities Matter for LGBTQ Youth

A terrific piece by Alex Blaze at The Bilerico Project about health issues amongst LGBTQ people.  He addresses the startling fact that LGBTQ folks tend to be less healthy than the general population.

Sometimes folks don’t get why being LGBTQ could have an impact on your health beyond what they already assume about HIV/AIDS.  In this culture, we suffer under the delusion that our health and well-being is utterly and completely a result of our own actions and behaviors.

Alex Blaze said it perfectly:

Health care access is fundamentally a question of poverty and how wealth is distributed.

The fact is that minority groups that experience oppression have less access to health care, can often not afford health care and experience discrimination when accessing health care.  Further, the stress associated with living in a culture that is oppressive toward you adds additional mental and physical stressors that detract from good health.

For example, Somjen Frazer, a senior policy analyst at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, and Ross Levi, Director of Public Policy & Education for the Empire State Pride Agenda wrote in “New Study Finds Gap in LGBT Health Services” (which addresses New York State LGBTQ health issues):

40% of LGBT people say there are not enough health professionals who are adequately trained and competent to deliver health care to LGBT people. 27% fear that if medical personnel found out that they are LGBT that they would be treated differently. This can result in people not giving their doctor the information he or she needs to provide effective case, or in LGBT people avoiding medical care at all.

This absolutely extends to mental health and is only compounded for LGBTQ youth.  With even less control over their lives — in terms of where they live, who they live with, or the sense that they have the right to demand equality — LGBTQ youth are hit even harder by homelessness, mental health concerns and physical health concerns. It is very important, especially to youth who are in early stages of forming their identity (which includes gender and sexual orientation identities), to have health care and mental health care from providers that truly understand the issues they face.  The confused look on the doctor’s face after hearing “Yes, I’m sexually active and no, I don’t use birth control and no, I don’t want to get pregnant” says to a young person that the doctor won’t understand much about the rest of her patient’s life.  More young people than I can count have told me stories of painful misunderstandings with previous therapists who confused gender with sexuality, who don’t understand the impact of oppression, or who hint that if you don’t want to get beat up at school you should “think about dressing a little differently.”

Those experiences harm and we all deserve doctors, nurses, therapists, and other providers to not only be “accepting” of us, but to really educate themselves on the issues we face — no matter who we are or who we love. Health care is not a special right.

For more information on the impact of LGBTQ identity on health and wellness, read Empire State Pride’s full report.

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