LGBTQ patients are faced with a variety of health obstacles.
Within the community are high rates of substance abuse and suicide. Men who have sex with men (MSM) make up the majority of new cases of HIV. In order to narrow and eventually close the health gaps between LGBTQ patients and those who are straight, doctors need to talk about sexual orientation and gender identity with their patients.
Dr. Harvey Makadon, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center at the Fenway Institute in Boston said that few physicians talk to patients about sexual behavior, desires and issues of identity.
It’s important for doctors to speak up about sexual orientation and gender identity with patients. It’s a huge part of one’s life and certain issues need to be addressed that affect both mental and physical health. Doctors are potentially missing some of the big issues. Those in the transgender community are of particular concern. Statistics in the community are unsettling. Transgender individuals suffer high rates of poverty, crime and STDs. Almost one-third of transgender women have HIV. According to Makadon, that’s a rate 49 percent higher than other adults of reproductive age.
Physicians who are not afraid to treat transgender patients hold the key to preventing significant medical issues. It’s tricky because not all MSM identify as gay and some transgender people may have trouble defining gender clearly, particularly those who are younger and. It’s important for people to become comfortable and get to know LGBTQ people. It will allow individuals to feel at ease in seeking care.
Health issues may start early; children and teens struggle with sexuality. LGBTQ teens have a higher suicide rate than straight teens—two to three times higher, in fact. There are also issues with regard to lack of support systems, as many of them have faced parental rejection. This often leads to homelessness, which leads to risky behaviors that include drug and alcohol abuse and sex work. Transgender and gay minorities face rates of HIV infection that are even higher.
Makadon says, “Most people who I’ve had this discussion with say that the duty to care for everybody has to outweigh personal values. For people who continue to feel too conflicted, they probably shouldn’t continue to be in a caring profession. That may sound harsh, but I do think it’s a reality that if we do provide healthcare that we have to provide healthcare for everybody.