Members of the LGBTQ+ community are at higher risk of STDs and HIV infection.
This statement is true, however, it is also stigmatizing.
Sometimes, statements about Queer or minority health, especially in the absence of context, can make it sound like queerness or one’s status as a minority are the cause of negative health outcomes. Moreover, they ignore the larger system that produces factors such as implicit and explicit provider bias, rates of attempted and completed teen suicide, and outright discrimination at the hands of a doctor.
Although being Queer might mean that someone is at higher risk of an STD, they are not at higher risk because they are Queer. And in fact, basic access to healthcare as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can be a challenge, to put it mildly.
Let’s examine some of the numbers.
28% of the LGBTQ+ community have experienced outright discrimination within the healthcare system.
50% have encountered a dangerous lack of knowledge on a provider’s part, at times requiring the patient to teach their providers about their specific healthcare needs.
Almost 30% of trans or gender non-conforming (GNC) people report delaying a visit to a healthcare provider due to anticipated discrimination and disrespect. This number is doubled for LGBTQ people of color.
Nearly 20% of trans or GNC people have been refused care because of their sexual identity.
A 2015 survey showed that 80% of medical students expressed implicit bias towards their queer patients. 50% express explicit bias.
41% of queer people reported attempting suicide. The rate for the general population is 1.6%.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) in 2016 showed that 34% of LGBT teens were bullied in school, 18% stated having forced sex, 23% were the victim of sexual violence, and 18% struggled with physical violence.
When we talk about LGBTQ+ health, we often ignore the systematic issues that produce implicit and explicit provider bias, rates of teen suicide attempts, and discrimination at the hands of a doctor. So while it is true that members of the queer community are at higher risk of STDs and HIV, they are also at high risk of sexual assault, depression and anxiety, homelessness, and discrimination. Family rejection, youth homelessness, lack of comprehensive sexual health education, historic and current laws that oppress queer people, and of course, systemic racism all contribute to negative health outcomes for members of the queer community.
The focus on how to improve healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community must extend beyond Pride month. It’s true, as a country, we’ve made great strides and we have much to celebrate. But prior to the 1969 Stonewall Riots, in every state except one, it was illegal to be gay. Laws targeting transgender people claimed that they must be wearing “gender-appropriate” clothing. Until 1973, being gay was considered a mental disorder. Police even kept records of LGBTQ people -- the U.S. Postal Service kept track of their addresses.
To this day, gay and trans members of our community can be fired from their jobs for being who they are. There is still no Federal law protecting members of the queer community from employment discrimination. From so-called “religious freedom” acts, which make it easier for businesses to refuse service to members of the queer community, to healthcare exceptions, which would allow healthcare professionals to refuse care, the queer community is still facing an uphill battle.
At Planned Parenthood South Atlantic we believe in something called “radical compassion.” The affiliate was an early adopter of gender-affirming hormone therapy for the trans members of our community and importantly, we offered those services without requiring a note from a psychologist. Radical compassion means trusting our patients, just as they trust in us every day.
What we “celebrate” as Pride today was once a fight to be recognized as valid, provided the same rights and privileges, and treated with dignity and respect. Patients should never have to question whether their identity, sexuality, or autonomy will be questioned when going to see their doctor.