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CDC Health Study Shows Doctors Discriminate Against Gays

Monday Sep 8, 2014

A southern California gay man recently filed a lawsuit against his healthcare provider for ignoring his request for them to remove a discriminatory diagnosis they placed in his medical record. They listed Matthew Moore's "homosexual behavior" as a "chronic problem," a diagnosis which has not existed since 1973.

Moore's experience, sadly, is not unique. I'm a psychologist and many LGBT patients shared with me their hesitation about going for annual physicals or other health care needs due to discrimination they have faced in the past from medical providers.

A lesbian woman was told she was a virgin because she had not had sexual intercourse with a male.

A gay man was told by a male physician that he couldn't treat him because he did not have a "normal sex life."

A trans identified male was terrified of seeing a doctor for an annual "well woman" exam.

Medical providers need more training and education on how to work with the LGBT community.

There is significant and new documentation of varying health outcomes by race and ethnicity, sex, and social class. It is clear that there are differences for LGBT individuals seeking service, similar to that of racial, ethnic minorities and people with limited financial resources.

The 2013 National Health Interview Survey report, released July 15, 2014, marked the first time that the annual survey has looked at health disparities among lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations on a national level by adding an option for participants to indicate their sexual orientation.

The survey found that LGB individuals may be more likely to smoke, drink excessively, and experience serious psychological distress, compared with heterosexual people. But in some other health-related areas they fare better, including obtaining flu shots and exercising.

The impact of social stigma for LGBT people to come out to others, including their providers, can be a deterrent for health care. Some LGBT people feel so stigmatized that they are reluctant to visit a physician or health care provider who may have implicit bias toward their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Clearly, this leads to worse health, less advice received about how to care for oneself, and less routine physicals to detect problems.

It is common for people who are experiencing negativity, societal oppression, and family rejection to cope with unhealthy behaviors.

It is more common for LGBT individuals to not have support however. Additionally, LGBT people historically obtained initial community support from others in gay establishments, which were gay bars.

This is additional important context about why the data suggests LGBT people drink more since social events were hidden and there have not been socially sanctioned and safe meeting spaces besides bars.

The current report demonstrates much smaller numbers than those over the last 60 years. The survey included nearly 35,000 adults. Among the participants, 96 percent identified as straight, while 1.6 percent identified as gay or lesbian, and 0.7 percent identified as bisexual. The remaining 1 percent chose to not indicate their sexual orientation.

The well-known Kinsey studies report approximately 10 percent of males were non-heterosexual and 4 to 6 percent of females were non-heterosexual.

The Kinsey and other studies were anonymous. Perhaps the significant difference is due to an in-person interview for this survey and LGB individuals feeling ashamed to report their sexuality due to social stigma. The stigma of coming out is real and difficult for many.

Seeking to address disparities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 initiative includes the goal of improving the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

More needs to be done to provide adequate care for LGBT people in our world. Medical schools need to offer more diversity training to future providers.

Everyone deserves adequate care from a medical professional.

Dr. Carmen Cruz is a Licensed Psychologist, Diversity Training Consultant as well as Director of Training at Texas Woman's University Counseling Center. She is a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project at TWU and founder of Cruz Consulting (www.drcarmencruz.com). You can follow her on Twitter @drcruz32 or Facebook at CRUZ Consulting.

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