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LGBTQ

Modern Healthcare for the LGBTQ Community

It’s been said that, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”… but that first step can be the hardest one. Typically, I report on fitness and promote the role it can play with regard to general health and wellbeing. This week, however, I want to focus on a different kind of marathon: taking care of your overall health can be a tough road to walk down. Whether it’s a routine check up, “coming out” to your doctor, or receiving testing for STDs after discovering infidelity in your relationship; knowing the right avenues and options for healthcare can be daunting. As a lesbian, facing the many medical options and questions can be incredibly difficult, but you needn’t do it alone.

Rest assured that there are health care providers out there that are working to make your ability to find quality healthcare easier and more comfortable. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies issued a report brief in March 2011 regarding their hope to better advise the nation regarding the improvement of healthcare for the LGBTQ community. To date, little research has been done regarding the LGBT subculture. You might currently feel overlooked when at the doctor’s office; from omissions of “partner” on medical forms, to only being able to choose “male” or “female” gender, to the dreaded, “which birth control are you taking?” question.

The Mission of IOM is to conduct research on LGBT populations to discover the challenges in understanding the health needs of LGBT individuals. Currently, there is a lack of data. To achieve this, the committee recommends “collecting data on sexual orientation and gender identity in health surveys administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Data on sexual and gender minorities should be included in the battery of demographic information that is collected in federally funded surveys, in the same way that race and ethnicity data are collected” (Report Brief, IOM, March 2011). IOM is progressively moving towards advising a government initiative to collect data that has never before been collected, a groundbreaking, yet simple, approach to solving a growing issue.

The committee’s research work was guided by four conceptual perspectives, as reported in their March 2011 Report Brief;

Ÿ“the minority stress model calls attention to the chronic stress that sexual and gender minorities may experience as a result of their stigmatization;

Ÿthe life course perspective looks at how events at each stage of life influence subsequent stages;

Ÿthe intersectionality perspective examines an individual’s multiple identities and the ways in which they interact; and

Ÿthe social ecology perspective emphasizes that individuals are surrounded by spheres of influence, including families, communities, and society.”

If you’d like to read more about the IOM report and the findings of their research online, there is a free pdf of the report available here: IOM – The Health of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender People. To help with projects like this, receiving regular care and being truthful about your sexuality and concerns with your medical and dental practitioners is the only way to help create visibility and to make providers aware of our needs as patients in this subgroup.

When it comes to protecting your health, finding a doctor is the first step. Why not try going to www.LesbianHealthInfo.org and selecting “Find a Provider”? They’ll give you some information regarding the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA). The GLMA was founded in 1981 with the “mission of ensuring equality in health care for LGBT individuals and health care professionals”. They assert, “Today, there is still considerable ignorance about LGBT health issues, with many assuming that LGBT health involves only HIV/AIDS. In fact, the full scope of the LGBT health agenda includes breast and cervical cancer, hepatitis, mental health, substance abuse, tobacco use, depression, access to care for transgender persons, and other concerns” (GLMA.org).

You certainly have physicians and advocates fighting for you and your right to effective, personalized, excellent medical care. But you might be wondering why specialized care is important? Why do health care providers need to offer LGBT focused or inclusive care? I’ve touched on it before, but lesbians truly do have unique and specific health concerns that are most appropriately and efficiently resolved when caught early. According to GLMA.org, here are some questions that lesbians should be asking their physicians and the reasons why.

Following are the health issues GLMA’s healthcare providers have identified as most commonly of concern for lesbians. While not all of these items apply to everyone, it’s wise to be aware of these issues.

1. Breast Cancer

Lesbians have the richest concentration of risk factors for breast cancer than any subset of women in the world. Combine this with the fact that many lesbians over 40 do not get routine mammograms, do breast self-exams, or have a clinical breast exam, and this cancer may elude early diagnosis, when it is most curable.

2. Depression/Anxiety

Lesbians have been shown to experience chronic stress from homophobic discrimination. This stress is compounded by the need that some still have to hide their orientation from family and colleagues at work, and by the fact that many lesbians have lost the important emotional support most others get from their families due to alienation stemming from their sexual orientation.

3. Heart Health

Smoking and obesity are the most prevalent risk factors for heart disease among lesbians; but all lesbians need to also get an annual clinical exam because this is when blood pressure is checked, cholesterol is measured, diabetes is diagnosed, and exercise is discussed. Preventing heart disease, which kills 45 percent of women, should be paramount to every clinical visit.

4. Gynecological Cancer

Lesbians have higher risks for many of the gynecologic cancers. What they may not know is that having a yearly exam by a gynecologist can significantly facilitate early diagnosis and a better chance of cure.

5. Fitness

Research confirms that lesbians have higher body mass than heterosexual women. Obesity is associated with higher rates of heart disease, cancers, and premature death. What lesbians need is competent and supportive advice about healthy living and healthy eating, as well as healthy exercise.

I care about you and our community. I’ve worked in healthcare for a number of years and I count myself among the many lesbians who have these health issues and had to try to navigate the heterosexually-biased healthcare system. I wholeheartedly pledge that I feel the system is improving and as a community, we can help to improve the system as it views the LGBT community. Taking your health into your own hands is empowering and gives you an opportunity to make positive changes in your life.

If you suffer from depression, obesity, gynecological issues, addiction, or heart disease; you are not alone. There are physicians who can help and I urge you to take the step to a better life and better health. You are worth it.

Here is some information to get you started:

Need answers right away? Visit these online sites.

Breast Cancer Network of Strength

Designed to assist you in utilizing the web to find useful, up-to-date information, and answers to your questions about breast cancer.

The Clearity Foundation
Seeks to help women diagnosed with ovarian cancer find the right clinical trial or other treatment by providing molecular profiling tests, often at no cost to the patient.

lesbianstd.com
Provides information and resources regarding sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases in women who have sex with women and seeks to further collective knowledge about lesbian STDs through research.

Womenshealth.gov
Frequently asked questions about lesbian health.

WebMD
Search “Lesbian” and you’ll find a variety of information on lesbian health issues, plus online community resources, message boards, etc.

Article originally appeared on The Seattle Lesbian (http://www.theseattlelesbian.com/).

See website for complete article licensing information. Stacey S in Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, HHS, Health & Fitness, Health and Wellness, Healthcare, LGBT Health, LGBT Health and Wellness, Lesbian Health, Lesbianstd.com, Modern Health, The Institute of Medicine LGBT, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services