SV Herald – Understanding LGBTQ Health
Minority medicine in a ‘cis-centric world’
Local physician discusses LGBTQ+ health disparities, solutions
By: Lauren Renteria firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in the Sierra Vista Herald
September 13, 2017
SIERRA VISTA — For some members of Sierra Vista’s PFLAG chapter, talking to their physician about health and how it relates to their sexual orientation and gender identity is like any other conversation. For many others, though, it’s no easy task — and feeling that way isn’t unusual.
“We live in a very cis-centric world,” said Dr. Amy Clark, a family physician with Chiricahua Community Health Centers. Cis or cisgendered refers to a person whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
PFLAG Sierra Vista is a local chapter that’s part of a national organization dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community. The club’s Sept. 6 meeting focused on health issues within the community and gave members an opportunity to ask Clark any questions they had relating to LGBTQ+ health.
Clark, who identifies herself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, said it’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ patients to feel uncomfortable talking to their doctors about their sexual orientation, gender identity and health.
“We don’t have as many interventions as far as cholesterol testing and cancer screenings — those things are part of the health disparities,” she said. “It’s not because LGBTQ+ patients are more prone to them (certain diseases), it’s because we don’t have the intervention.”
Though research has been available for decades, Clark said there are still some problems within the health community that cause some major health disparities for the LGBTQ+ population. And she’s not the only one who thinks that.
Last December, Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, the director of the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities, classified sexual and gender minorities — many of whom are members of the LGBTQ+ community — as a health-disparaged group. In the U.S., members of this group experience higher rates of cancer, depression, and have a lower life expectancy depending on where they live, Pérez-Stable wrote.
A 2013 study published in Social Science and Medicine found LGBTQ+ individuals who reside in areas of high levels of intolerance toward the community live, on average, 12 years less than those who reside in more “accepting” areas.
Individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ makeup less than 5 percent of the population in the U.S. at 4.1 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll. Despite the group’s small size, individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ experience disease and use drugs — like tobacco and alcohol — at higher rates than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.
The Centers for Disease Control published a National Health Statistics Report in 2014 outlining multiple health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community. Researchers found that 27.2 percent of lesbian and gay individuals and 29.5 percent of bisexual individuals smoke cigarettes, compared to 19.6 percent of straight individuals.
The same is true when it comes to access to adequate healthcare. The 2014 report found that 81 percent of straight people had a usual place to go for medical needs compared to those who identify as gay or lesbian at 75.6 percent and those who identify as bisexual at 71.6 percent.
The LGBTQ+ community isn’t intrinsically more susceptible to disease and mental health disorders, Clark said. Rather, individuals are less likely to get tested and receive the intervention they need.
“The most important thing to understand is that the health disparity comes from the inability for the medical community to provide nonjudgemental care,” she said. “That’s gradually changing, but that’s still a problem. It’s not that gay and lesbian and transgender patients necessarily intrinsically have these problems it’s that they don’t seek care from judgemental providers.”
There has been more of a push, however, toward understanding health disparities in the LGBTQ+ population in recent years. Organizations like the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), a national nonprofit, encourage awareness about LGBTQ+ health issues in medical training.
For Clark, the push toward an all-inclusive medical field couldn’t come faster. She said the health community needs to build trust within the LGBTQ+ population, which could have a positive effect on health disparities.
“I think we need to actively recruit people who are LGBT,” she said. “We have to try to incorporate LGBTQ training into medical school curricula and make sure that there’s a better awareness of health disparities.”