It’s common to think that in regards to physical health, the LGBT community is no different than any other. At most, doctors only need to know the usual in regards to patients’ sexual activity. Unfortunately, even the few studies done on the topic show that this is not the case.
The idea of a “gay lifestyle” may be nonsensical to many, but some of the more unique health issues in the LGBT community can be attributed to different activities and risks.
Lesbians, for example, are not as likely as other women to use birth control pills, and tend to have fewer pregnancies, which can increase the risk of some cancers compared to their straight counterparts.
Substance use and abuse is also more common among LGBT people compared to the general population; in many areas, the main or only place to go to for socialization with other LGBT people is the bar, increasing not only the risk of alcohol and/or drug use and dependency, but unsafe sex practices and even physical injury.
Transgender people face a unique challenge in getting healthcare; if they don’t disclose their full history, they can’t get optimal care. For those on hormone therapy, neither estrogen nor testosterone regimens are without risk, and can affect how certain medical conditions should be managed.
In addition, while anyone can get breast cancer, although the rates are higher in breast tissue that has developed, biological men cannot get cancer of the cervix, but FTM persons can. While estrogen therapy usually reduces the chance of prostate issues, there is a small chance of causing prostate enlargement, which may require treatment.
If a transgender person’s doctor isn’t aware of their status, these and other vital test screens could be skipped, running the risk of an issue being caught too late.
For these and other reasons, it is vital that LGBT people disclose to their medical providers, but therein lies a problem; while one would hope that a doctor would act professionally and withhold judgment, that isn’t always the case. Even when healthcare providers are courteous and respectful, if they’re unfamiliar with LGBT-specific issues, patients may find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to educate their doctor on certain points.
“For example, the term AIDS/HIV comes up numerous times when gay patients are in hospitals,” Jonny Puglia, president of the Rainbow Access Initiative, Inc., told 429Magazine. “These stigmas hurt the community and drive these people away from the very place that can help them.”
While the threat of AIDS is still a large concern, it is far from the truth to assume that every gay man is HIV-positive, and in fact lesbians are at a lower risk than the general population.
Another problem is that while some patients may be reluctant to disclose, others just don’t know when they should be volunteering information about things like their sexual activities, and simply being asked about orientation and relationship status isn’t enough.
Puglia couldn’t speak for all US hospitals, but said that two of the most noted medical schools in Albany, New York, “are just starting to implement discussions, training and workshops focused on LGBT Healthcare… [Rainbow Access Initiative] hopes to have them improve on that topic.”
For the LGBT healthcare seeker who doesn’t already have a doctor or would like to switch, what resources are there? One option is to look at any LGBT-oriented publication for ads from local hospitals or clinics. Another is to simply Google phrases such as “LGBT friendly doctor near [city name]”; or, search using Yelp or one of the many “rate my doctor” sites for recommendations.
There are also websites dedicated to helping people in the LGBT community find care, such as Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality’s Find a Provider page. Lastly, you can always call or e-mail a doctor directly, before you pay to see them.