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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Gender and sexual minorities have different healthcare needs that must be addressed

Gender and sexual minorities are an important part of the population, yet their health disparities are still not discussed at the level they should be. Social acceptance has changed in recent years with the strike down of the gay marriage ban and 19 states employing anti-discrimination laws on public accommodation for both sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, DoSomething.org writes that, “In 2013, 92 percent of adults who are LGBT said they believe society had become more accepting of them than in the past 10 years.”

More social acceptability has, therefore, led to many more people in younger generations questioning their sexuality and gender identity. Since younger generations are more likely to take more of a critical look at these issues, the LGBTQIA+ community is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, public understanding and accommodations from professionals are not keeping up with this growth.

A realm in which this seems glaringly evident is healthcare. Not only are healthcare providers often not knowledgeable about the many different identities, but, more importantly, there is a lack of focus on the LGBTQIA+ community in public health. This general lack of data and understanding continues to make it difficult to identify risk factors related to the community and, in turn, serve it effectively.

Students who helped plan the Master’s of Public Health Spring Internship Conference at the UA’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health identified LGBTQIA+ understanding as an important issue in public health that doesn’t often garner as much discussion as other minority groups.

Elizabeth Amoa-Awuah, an first-year public health graduate student who was part of the planning committee, explained that the MPH conference was a good time to bring these issues to the forefront and attempt to help make them part of regular conversation.

“It’s important for faculty, staff and students to be more exposed to these conversations,” Amoa-Awuah said, “and to understand that the person next to you may be different than you with different experiences even if you can’t see that.”

In identifying this issue the planning committee chose to bring Dr. Chad Mosher from Living Out Loud Health & Wellness Center to be the keynote speaker.

“We hope Dr. Mosher’s talk will start a conversation and help put into practice more inclusive behaviors,” Amoa-Awuah said.

When looking at the LGBTIA+ community, it is clear that there are health disparities. As Mosher pointed out, “some epidemiological data show lesbians are more at risk for cancer than their heterosexual counterparts and that bisexual women are more at risk for cervical and ovarian cancers.” These are just some of the many troubling statistics.

If these statistics were being displayed for an isolated cultural group, those in healthcare would be looking for explanations and putting enormous effort into treating these patients differently. However, “in a national survey in 2002, 6 percent of United States physicians still reported discomfort caring for LGBT patients.”

Mosher also highlighted a clear lack of data on LGBTQIA+ peoples and, therefore, issues in identifying effective ways to treat LGBTQIA+ people. He explained how it’s often difficult to pinpoint possible health risks if you don’t know how the person identifies or their behavior. He said you cannot know that, however, without being aware of the many identities and without making an environment in which these patients can be open and honest by being inclusive yourself.

“LGBTQIA+ health is as unique as any one person that steps into our office, but we need to be perceptive enough to ask the out of the box questions,” Mosher said. “We need to start with openness to current state of being and then know how or if they want to change.”

Taking steps to provide more inclusive and informed healthcare is as easy as having a conversation. By starting and being a part of these conversations, you are helping improve the system. One does not need to be an advocate to help; inclusivity, curiosity and care can make all the difference — but we need to start with open-mindedness.

It’s so incredibly important for those in public health and those studying to be healthcare providers to understand and ask about these health disparities. The only way there will be a movement to treat the LGBTQIA+ community most effectively is if they know the questions to ask and how to create inclusive environments. In simply employing more inclusive practices, there could be a change in the treatment of a patient that might be the difference between life and death.


Follow Sabrina Etcheverry on Twitter.


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