National LGBT Health Awareness Week

March 25-29, 2019 is the 17th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week!

The National Coalition for LGBT Health created this event in 2003 to bring awareness to timely LGBT health issues. This year’s theme is “Reject Rhetoric. Reflect Reality. Our Health Won’t Be Denied!” The goal of this year’s theme is to acknowledge ongoing rhetoric surrounding LGBT health issues, including health insurance, data collection, health inequities, and access to culturally competent care.

Despite existing protections, many in the LGBT community still face disturbing rates of health care discrimination. These can range from harassment and humiliation by providers to being turned away by hospitals and doctors. A 2017 survey from the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that 29% of transgender people who had visited a doctor in the past year were refused health care because of the actual or perceived gender identity. This same study also showed that members of the LGBT community avoid or postpone needed medical care because of disrespect or discrimination from healthcare staff[1]. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey found similar data: nearly 1 in 4 transgender people (23%) avoided seeking needed health care due to fear of discrimination or mistreatment[2].

For many LGBT people, finding a new doctor or health center is not always easy either. In the 2017 CAP study, 18% of LGBT people said it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” to find the same type of service at a different hospital. This percentage rises to 41% for people who live outside of a metropolitan area[3]. In rural areas, services are further away and transportation is less accessible.

The LGBT community’s access to safe and reliable healthcare is also tied to HIV rates and stigmas. In 2015, the CDC found that new HIV diagnoses in the transgender community was more than 3 times the national average. Further, nearly two thirds of transgender men and women report never getting tested for HIV[4].

HIV status may also affect the level of care a patient receives. From an anonymous responder to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey: “I have consulted with surgeons [for gender transition] only to be told they would charge me 50–100% more for the surgery because I am HIV positive. Every day is a double coming out process as transgender and being undetectably HIV positive.”

Another responder highlights just how much of a difference a supportive and reliable health care team can be: “I am a trans man who has been living with HIV for 25 years. I have good health insurance and get excellent trans-related and HIV-related health care. I have access to a great therapist who is an expert in gender issues and transitioning. All these factors contribute to my survival and my success.”

It is incredibly important for organizations, especially in the health care field, to learn about, understand, and reach out to the LGBT community.

Caring Communities constantly works to better our own agency by staying in conversation with the communities we serve. By learning from the community, we can work together better it.

Caring Communities offers free and confidential HIV and STD testing. We also offer free case management services for those living with HIV. If you or someone you know is living with HIV and needs assistance, please feel free to reach out to us to find out how we can help.