The 11th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week—a nationwide event that seeks to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health—runs from March 25–29, 2013.
LGBT people experience health disparities unique from the larger population, so one of the most important things providers can do is talk to their patients about sexual orientation and gender identity. It is just as important that patients talk openly with their medical provider about these things so that they can be screened for issues that may disproportionately affect LGBT people.
- According to the CDC, in 2009, gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 2% of the population but 64% of all new HIV infections.
- Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force show that 41% of transgender people have seriously contemplated suicide, versus 1.6% of the general population.
- Lesbians are less likely than heterosexual women to have health insurance, less likely to get preventive health care such as mammograms, and may be at greater risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. And while lesbians are as likely as straight women to get cervical cancer, they are up to 10 times less likely to be screened for it.
- A 2008 Massachusetts report found that bisexual women were more likely to report use of illegal drugs compared to heterosexual women.
These are just some of the health disparities that underscore the need to ask questions about sexual behavior as well as sexual and gender identity.
The Fenway Institute’s National LGBT Health Education Center has many resources that can help healthcare providers educate themselves about caring for LGBT patients, including a publication titled Improving the Health Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People: Understanding and Eliminating Health Disparities that provides a brief but comprehensive overview of the major issues relevant to the health and health care of LGBT people. They are also developing a consumer brochure to help LGBT patients approach their medical provider to talk about their sexual orientation and gender identity, titled Do Ask, Do Tell: Talking to Your Health Care Provider about Being LGBT. This brochure encourages LGBT people to open up to their providers about their identities and behaviors, with the goal of receiving optimal care. This brochure will be available on the National LGBT Health Education Center’s publications page in just a few weeks. Stay tuned.
LGBT Health Awareness Week 2013 presents advocates across the country with a unique opportunity to engage elected officials, policymakers, and communities about why LGBT health equity must be a top priority. Our federal government’s Office of Health Information Technology is considering right now whether to support the gathering of sexual orientation and gender identity data in clinical settings as a critical component of understanding and addressing LGBT health disparities. If we miss this opportunity to start systematically gathering such data, the opportunity may not come along again for decades. If we want to better understand LGBT health disparities and reduce them, we must know who LGBT patients are and how to best meet their health needs. You can read more in this recent Huffington Post op/ed on this topic co-authored by faculty from The Fenway Institute and learn why it is important to gather this information and how to gather it on the National LGBT Health Education Center’s web site.