Kate Harveston is a political writer from Pennsylvania. Her favorite topics are feminist-focused, but she writes on a wide variety of social and cultural issues. If you enjoy her work, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
Every population faces health challenges unique to minuscule differences in genetic code. Members of the LGBTQ community, however, face greater challenges than being born this way. Due to societal bias, even finding a doctor who treats LGBTQ individuals with the care and respect they deserve poses difficulty.
Individuals identifying with non-conforming gender or sexual identities suffer from anxiety and depression at far greater rates than do those who conform to cisgender, heterosexual norms. In addition, LGBTQ individuals experience harassment and violence at far higher rates than their peers. To consider our nation a truly inclusive place that celebrates equal rights for all, we must address the problem of making health care accessible to everyone regardless of gender or sexual identity.
1. The Prevalence of Sexual Assault
More than half of all women identifying as bisexual have endured sexual assault and rape. The rates of sexual assault prove higher across the line for members of the LGBTQ community. Rape not only traumatizes a person mentally but also exposes them to sexually transmitted diseases. Worse, the attitude of "she was asking for it" crosses gender lines, as even emergency responders judge those who exhibit any degree of flamboyancy with the same critical eye they generally reserve for women clad in miniskirts, crop tops and heels.
Trying to seek justice against their attackers often re-traumatizes LGBTQ individuals, and continuing bias among those who make up juries makes it difficult to obtain recompense. Women may find themselves pregnant with a child they never intended to have and possibly lack the means to raise. Almost all victims go on to struggle with psychological issues, while at the same time, far too many lack the means to visit a therapist or afford psychiatric medication.
2. The Impact of Bullying
Students identifying as LGBTQ often experience bullying far more frequently than other children. Sadly, the harassment doesn't end when they reach high school graduation. LGBTQ community members in college continue to experience higher levels of bullying and even assault.
A 2017 research report indicated that LGBTQ children experience bullying at twice the rate of their peers. Bullying leads many of these children to develop anxiety and depression. Some sadly die by suicide as a result.
Students of all ages who experience bullying often find that reporting what happens leads to further isolation from others. Just as women who report assaults face questions about their attire and behavior, members of the LGBTQ community endure such scrutiny simply for being themselves.
3. Using Opioids for More Than Pain Relief
Depression often leads to substance abuse disorders, as many LGBTQ individuals turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to escape from the reality of living in a biased society. Between 20 and 30 percent of LGBTQ community members struggle with addiction.
The nation's current opioid crisis has disproportionately impacted members of the LGBTQ community. While many businesses now provide employee assistance plans, those identifying as LGBTQ often hesitate to utilize these services out of fear of professional repercussions. Others simply lack health insurance or financial resources, rendering inpatient and outpatient substance recovery programs out of reach.
4. Varying Levels of Care
When the time comes for their annual checkup, many members of the LGBTQ community shy away from calling the doctor due to experiencing past discrimination from health care providers. While many physicians do display empathy toward LGBTQ individuals, others openly criticize them for what they interpret as a lifestyle choice, not a biological reality. Most medical school programs spend only a few short hours training new doctors on how to treat those with different sexual or gender identities.
Transgender individuals wishing to transition face long waits before being approved for surgery and sometimes encounter medical professionals who harshly criticize their choice. Before being cleared for surgery, transgender community members must wait two years from the date of their initial mental evaluation and at least one year after commencing hormonal therapy.
Better Health for All
Meeting the unique health needs of members of the LGBTQ community will take time, but no alternative to moving forward exists if we are to continue calling ourselves an equal society. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." By addressing the health care needs of those identifying as LGBTQ, we demonstrate our commitment to embracing equal rights for all.