January 25, 2012

State of the Union in LGBT Health

Last night, President Obama delivered his third State of the Union address, describing accomplishments and challenges facing his Presidency and the nation. Earlier this month, and garnering much less attention, the administration released an accounting of its efforts to reduce healthcare inequality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, and challenges still to be tackled.

Among the accomplishments, HHS Secretary Sebelius lists the development of an Institute of Medicine report on LGBT health, a rule requiring hospitals to accept patients’ wishes for who can visit them “regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other non-clinical factor,” inclusion for the first time of LGBT health concerns in the nation’s Healthy People goals, anti-bullying efforts, and policies and funds to encourage shelters for homeless young people to be properly equipped to provide services to LGBT youth.

Several items for future action were also listed, including promoting “cultural competence” training for healthcare providers to improve care to LGBT patients, guidance to state child welfare agencies on how to better support LGBT young people, and better data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity in health data collection processes in order to better understand and approach health disparities.

There’s a long way to go – a 2010 report indicated that nearly 1/3 of transgender men and women had avoided getting medical care because of discrimination, and about 1 in 5 had been refused care due to their transgender or gender non-conforming status. Lesbian and bisexual women are thought to be at higher risks of heart disease because of higher rates of obesity, smoking, and stress – which may in turn be related to discrimination faced in healthcare systems and society in general. The IOM report mentioned above reminds us that LGBT folks face “a profound and poorly understood set of additional health risks due largely to social stigma.”

Let us hope that in the coming year, as President Obama stated last night about the nation, the state of our LGBT health will be getting stronger.

For an overview of LGBT human rights and discrimination around the globe, see this United Nations report published last November.


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