Apart from the disparities representatives of the LGBT community face in everyday life, they also deal with some major challenges as to their access to appropriate health care services. Consequently, they are experiencing worse health outcomes, as stated by Kates, Ranji, Beamesderfer, Salganicoff, and Dawson (2016). Some of the most prominent challenges contributing to such disparities include inequalities in the health insurance sector, physical violence, discrimination, or even complete denial of healthcare.
Challenges faced by the LGBT community are connected to the fact that some of its members do not have the same health status as other people, so their access to necessary medical services is greatly limited. According to Healthy People (2010) report that examined data acquired from the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance System, studies based on convenience samples, as well as anecdotal experiences, the LGBT population deals with a range of healthcare disparities associated with gender identity and sexual orientation (p. 1).
One of the most prominent problems that contribute to the development of healthcare disparities in the LGBT community is the lack of experienced and educated medical staff that possesses knowledge about issues gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people face daily. Furthermore, healthcare professionals require training on “culturally appropriate and linguistically accessible services” (Healthy People, 2010, p. 6) related to the sexual orientation and gender identity of different individuals. Health is influenced by a range of different factors associated with a person’s life. Such factors include sexual behavior, self-identification, and gender identity. Habits, lifestyle choices, ability to resist stressful situations, and abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs can also be influential regarding one’s health.
When discussing the health status of the LGBT community, it is important to mention that sexual orientation does not necessarily coincide with sexual activity. On the other hand, homophobia is rooted in the misconception that sexual activity is directly correlated with sexual orientation. As mentioned by Healthy People (2010), approximately forty percent of the American population thinks that homosexuality is a choice of a lifestyle (p. 7). Therefore, this portion of the U.S. population has a negative attitude towards gays and lesbians.
The LGBT community is a diverse and multi-dimensional group that transcends race, culture, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. Despite many common misconceptions, each person covered by the LGBT ‘umbrella’ has his or her individual needs as to appropriate health care services. Current research regarding LGBT health is constantly growing because the community has become much more open about challenging the healthcare system and trying to overcome the issues it faces regularly. Overcoming the health disparities in the LGBT community is necessary because they violate the most important healthcare principle – giving the appropriate level of care to those people that need it. The community is negatively affected by the health disparities because many medical professionals do not possess the necessary knowledge for appropriately assessing the health of the LGBT population. Furthermore, individuals in same-sex relationships are much less likely to have health insurance and, therefore, are more likely to ignore their health needs such as regular tests or consultations (Ard & Makadon, 2012, p. 3).
Although there are no diseases specific to the representatives of the LGBT community, sexually transmitted infections can pose a significant threat to some individuals (particularly male-to-female transgender individuals, and men that have sexual relationships with other men) (Ard & Makadon, 2012, p. 3).
According to the research conducted by Ward, Dahlhamer, Galinsky, and Joesti (2014), 1.6% of the American population identified as gay or lesbian, 0.7% identified as bisexual while 1.1% of people identified as “something else” (p. 3). Furthermore, the researchers reported a higher percentage of women who identified as bisexual compared to men. When the age of LGBT representatives was examined, it was found that the percentage of adults aged 18-44 (1.9%) was similar to the percentage of adults aged 45-65 (1,5%) (Ward et al., 2014, p. 3). These statistics suggest that the LGBT community is multi-dimensional and requires appropriate levels of healthcare regardless of age and gender.
As to the health status indicators, the research conducted by Ward et al. (2014) showed that 54% of women identifying as homosexual had been in very good health (p. 4). 11% of adults (aged 18-64) who identified as bisexual experienced serious psychological distress, which is a higher rate compared to individuals of the same age that identified as straight (3.9%) (Ward et al., 2014, p. 4). Lastly, there were no significant differences found in obesity rates of the LGBT representatives and their straight counterparts.
As to the healthcare services utilization, it was found that a larger percentage (42.9%) of LGBT representatives aged 18-64 received influenza vaccination, compared to the percentage of the vaccinated straight individuals (35%) (Ward et al., 2014, p. 4). Furthermore, individuals identifying as gay, lesbian (68.7%), and bisexual (53.5%) are much more likely to be tested for HIV compared to the representatives of the straight population (41.7%) (Ward et al., 2014, p. 4). These statistics show that the representatives of the LGBT community are much more likely to get tested for HIV and get vaccinated for influenza; although, compared to their straight counterparts, tend to suffer more from psychological distress. Because there is a similar percentage of individuals aged 18-44 and 45-65 identifying as gay or bisexual, it is important to remember that the members of the LGBT community are of different ages and should have access to high-quality healthcare services appropriate for their age.
When it comes to healthcare access, a larger percentage (81%) of straight individuals visit the same healthcare facility to receive necessary services compared to the percentage of the LGBT population (72.5%). A higher percentage of bisexual individuals aged 16-64 (16.5%) failed to access healthcare because of the high costs compared to their straight counterparts (8.8%). 15.2% of lesbians failed to access healthcare because of the high costs compared to their straight counterparts (9.6%) (Ward et al., 2014, p. 4). Although there was no significant difference for men in such categories, a larger percentage of straight men were uninsured (21.9%) compared to men identifying as gay (15.7%). Lastly, a larger percentage (68.9%) of gay and lesbian individuals has private health insurance coverage compared to 57.1% of people identifying as bisexual (Ward et al., 2014, p. 4).
With the recent move towards equal treatment for all genders and the legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States, the American Nurses Association supports the provision of adequate healthcare to all members of the LGBT community and is working towards facilitating their professional practice in the sphere of healthcare. The ANA cooperates with the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, a non-profit organization to end homophobia in healthcare (ANA, 2016, para. 3). The Association represents the entire LGBT community that seeks equal treatment in access to healthcare services.
The answer to the question about why it is important to advocate for delivering appropriate health care services to all members of the LGBT community will not come as a surprise to an educated person. In my opinion, the purpose of healthcare is to provide care to all people regardless of their background, culture, race, beliefs, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The conducted research on the issue has shown that the LGBT community cares about health and is aware of the diseases that can occur result from lifestyle and personal preferences, so the main problem is in other peoples’ attitudes and perceptions that prevent gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from accessing high-quality healthcare services.
Disparities occur because the medical professionals lack education about the healthcare needs of the LGBT community and are often unable to provide an adequate assessment of their health. In my opinion, advocating for the appropriate provision of health care services for the LGBT community is the same as advocating for the provision of healthcare to all people. There is no point in differentiating LGBT people from the rest of the population, especially in the context of healthcare. It is crucial to collaborate with key stakeholders to promote equal treatment in healthcare for all, educate doctors on specific issues within the community, and elevate the barriers that limit the LGBT representatives from accessing high-quality health care services.
ANA. (2016). LGBT individuals & communities. Web.