LGBT individuals encompass all races and ethnicities, religions, and social classes. Sexual orientation and gender identity questions are not asked on most national or State surveys, making it difficult to estimate the number of LGBT individuals and their health needs.
Research suggests that LGBT individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. Experiences of violence and victimization are frequent for LGBT individuals, and have long-lasting effects on the individual and the community. Personal, family, and social acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identity affects the mental health and personal safety of LGBT individuals.
Why Is LGBT Health Important?
Eliminating LGBT health disparities and enhancing efforts to improve LGBT health are necessary to ensure that LGBT individuals can lead long, healthy lives. The many benefits of addressing health concerns and reducing disparities include:
- Reductions in disease transmission and progression
- Increased mental and physical well-being
- Reduced health care costs
- Increased longevity
Efforts to improve LGBT health include:
- Curbing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) with interventions that work.
- Implementing antibullying policies in schools.
- Providing supportive social services to reduce suicide and homelessness risk among youth.
- Appropriately inquiring about and being supportive of a patient’s sexual orientation to enhance the patient-provider interaction and regular use of care.
- Providing medical students with access to LGBT patients to increase provision of culturally competent care.
Understanding LGBT Health
Understanding LGBT health starts with understanding the history of oppression and discrimination that these communities have faced. For example, in part because bars and clubs were often the only safe places where LGBT individuals could gather, alcohol abuse has been an ongoing problem.
Social determinants affecting the health of LGBT individuals largely relate to oppression and discrimination. Examples include:
- Legal discrimination in access to health insurance, employment, housing, marriage, adoption, and retirement benefits
- Lack of laws protecting against bullying in schools
- Lack of social programs targeted to and/or appropriate for LGBT youth, adults, and elders
- Shortage of health care providers who are knowledgeable and culturally competent in LGBT health
The physical environment that contributes to healthy LGBT individuals includes:
- Safe schools, neighborhoods, and housing
- Access to recreational facilities and activities
- Availability of safe meeting places
- Access to health services
Continuing Issues in LGBT Health
A number of issues will need to continue to be evaluated and addressed over the coming decade, including:
- Prevention of violence and homicide toward the LGB community, and especially the transgender population
- Nationally representative data on LGBT Americans
- Resiliency in LGBT communities
- LGBT parenting issues throughout the life course
- Elder health and well-being
- Exploration of sexual/gender identity among youth
- Recognition of transgender health needs as medically necessary
Plymouth State SAGE Center
Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies (IGLSS)
National Coalition for LGBT Health
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Human Rights Campaign
National Youth Advocacy Coalition
National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC)