The last Sunday in June used to be designated as Gay Pride Day, but major cities across the United States celebrated the day at different times throughout the month, so now all of June is dedicated to LGBT Pride Month. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations are, for the most part, in a much better position than in the past, but there are still specific health issues and disparities faced by LGBT populations. LGBT Pride Month is a good time to start a conversation about the issues surrounding LGBT people.

Some health issues are more prevalent within the LGBT community simply because of a lack of screening and health care.

Instances of medical professionals refusing to provide care for LGBT people are declining, although these instances still occur. However, discriminatory behavior still happens. Many LGBT individuals seeking health care will experience harsh language, be blamed for their health statuses, or have a medical professional refuse to touch them or use extreme precautions. While technically none of these actions will bar an LGBT person from getting medical attention, it will make him or her very hesitant to go back for any reason or to tell his or her physician about all health concerns. It’s also a gross misuse of power in an industry that should be focused on patient care and compassion.

LGBT populations are also less likely to have health insurance, which makes them even less likely to see a physician. This is largely because of the inequality in spousal benefits when it comes to healthcare. Additionally, even when an LGBT person is insured, there may still be issues with coverage that prevent medical care, as explained by the National LGBT Cancer Network:

“For instance, a transgender individual will not be covered for any procedure or cancer screenings that are inconsistent with the gender marked on the insurance card, such as a pap smear for a transgender man with an intact cervix.”

The LGBT community, particularly gay men, have a much higher prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than the heterosexual community. Some sources also suggest a higher prevalence of certain cancers among LGBT individuals. However, these particular issues are possibly so prevalent because of a lack of cancer screening or of STI treatments among LGBT communities.

LGBT individuals are also at a higher risk for mental health disorders.

The risk for mental health disorders is as much as two and a half times higher for LGBT people. Among gay and bisexual men, major depression and panic disorder may be more prevalent. Lesbian and bisexual women might be more prone to generalized anxiety disorder. These disorders can begin at a very young age, which is why LGBT teens have two to three times the suicide rate of heterosexual teens.

However, being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender does not constitute a mental health disorder, nor does it make anyone more predisposed to a mental health disorder. Rather, the discrimination, stigma, and prejudice that LGBT people experience is to blame for the increased prevalence of mental health disorders.

Internalized homophobia, which is homophobia turned inward on oneself, can also contribute to serious mental health disorders. Also, the stigma that exists in our society toward mental health disorders can be stacked on top of the stigma toward being LGBT, which makes these individuals the target of twice as much stigma and mental anguish.

Additional health issues may be secondary to the mental and emotional disorders prevalent among LGBT people.

LGBT individuals have one of the highest rates of tobacco use of any sub-population in the United States. Abuse of alcohol and illegal drugs may also be more prevalent among the LGBT communities. It’s theorized that this is the result of stress that comes from being part of a minority exposed to stress and discrimination.

Also, lesbian and bisexual women are much more likely to be overweight or obese. Gay and bisexual men may be more prone to eating disorders and body image disorders. Unhealthy eating behaviors are more common in high school students who have same-sex partners. This, too, can likely be contributed to the emotional and mental stress associated with being LGBT.

The medical community is often given very little training about the unique health care challenges facing LGBT people.

Doctors are often given a very small amount of training concerning LGBT health issues – often as little as five hours. In fact, approximately 30% of LGBT medical students choose to keep their sexual orientation a secret while at medical school.

Without some sort of training, physicians may not know how to make LGBT patients feel welcome or safe, or they may not be familiar with hormonal challenges of being transgender or the mental health challenges of being LGBT.

A lot of progress has been made toward LGBT equality, including equal healthcare.

The Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) is a way of measuring progress for LGBT patients. The HEI scores medical facilities on how well LGBT patients are treated. Criteria that must be met to obtain a perfect HEI score include:

  • Patient and visitation non-discrimination policies that use the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”
  • Visitation policies that allow same-sex couples and parents equal access
  • Training for key staff members in LGBT patient care

From 2011 to 2012, the number of facilities with a perfect HEI score increased by 162%. An article by the Human Rights Campaign also noted:

“For the first time, the HEI additionally required participating facilities to document that high-level managers in key work areas had received expert training in LGBT health needs. As a result, more than 1,000 healthcare administrators across the country participated in training provided through the HEI.”

Additionally, the Association of American Medical Colleges published a 306 page manifesto in 2014, detailing suggested changes to current medical school curricula so that “future doctors are competent in helping patients who are LGBT, gender nonconforming or born with sex differences in development.”

These changes to medical school curricula wouldn’t necessarily add content, like lectures on LGBT people. Rather, information about the LGBT community would be incorporated into pre-existing courses.

The simplest way to be an ally to the LGBT community during LGBT Pride Month is to treat LGBT people just like everyone else – with kindness.

There are lots of ways to actively support LGBT equality. To make a difference in your community, be aware of what’s going on, lend your support when you can, and speak up if someone isn’t being treated right. Make connections with other LGBT people and allies. Of course, the easiest way to do this is to attend Denver’s Pride Fest, independently rated as the most family-friendly Pride event in the nation.

What will you do to promote equality during LGBT Pride Month?

Image by Guillaume Paumier via Flickr

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