Health inequality in the LGBTQ+ community

For decades, June has been a time to celebrate LGBTQ+ people and history, reflect on what needs to change and come together to make it happen. As Pride Month draws to a close, we’re taking a closer look at health inequality in the LGBTQ+ community and what’s being done to tackle it.

There has been undeniable progress over recent decades with improving representation and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in many parts of the world. However, despite this progress, the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for equality and freedom from discrimination, especially for trans and non-binary, disabled, Black and Asian LGBTQ+ people.

Discrimination in healthcare 

All of us have a right to healthcare, no matter who we are. Though not every LGBTQ+ person has experience of discrimination within healthcare, research shows that a significant portion of the population are unsatisfied with the healthcare they receive. Stonewall’s 2018 Health Report revealed that one in eight LGBTQ+ people had experienced discrimination from a healthcare professional. This ranged from assuming their identity, lacking understanding of LGBTQ+ specific health needs or refusing to acknowledge their partner, to outright refusal of treatment and pressure to access services to change or question their sexuality or gender identity.

Concerningly, one in seven LGBTQ+ people have avoided treatment due to fear of discrimination, including 37% of trans people and 33% of non-binary people. Avoiding treatment was also higher among LGBTQ+ people who were aged 18-24, disabled or from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.

Are LGBTQ+ health needs different?

These statistics are especially concerning because, as a community, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience poor health outcomes compared to people who are heterosexual and cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were given at birth). In the same Stonewall report, half of all LGBTQ+ people said they had experienced depression in the last year and a further ten percent said they thought they might have had depression. This increased to 67% of trans people and 70% of non-binary people. This is much higher than the general population where 25% report experiencing a mental health problem each year.

As well as depression, LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, eating disorders and addiction than the general population. One theory for this disparity is minority stress, caused by stigma, discrimination and social and economic inequality. Isolation, bullying and fear of rejection may also stop some LGBTQ+ people reaching out for help when they need it.

This health gap is also visible in physical health conditions, with LGBTQ+ people at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), heart disease, cancers and obesity. Experiences of domestic abuse are also more common among LGBTQ+ people than in the general population, especially among bisexual and trans or non-binary people.

Making progress in healthcare

So what’s being done to tackle this? One of the difficulties with ensuring LGBTQ+ people receive appropriate care is that many healthcare professionals do not understand the health disparities faced by those in the community. LGBTQ+ charities have called for improved training about LGBTQ+ issues and better monitoring of sexual orientation and trans status to find out where health inequalities lie and tackle them more effectively. Rather than labelling LGBTQ+ people as ‘hard to reach’, it’s important that services adapt to ensure that marginalised communities see services as inclusive.

There are several schemes which have been set up to improve care for LGBTQ+ patients. Most notably, the rainbow badge initiative, led by Evelina London Children’s Hospital, helps healthcare workers to visually identify themselves as a safe person for LGBTQ+ people to talk to. Some GP surgeries and hospitals have also taken action to use more inclusive language and create LGBTQ+ friendly displays to make patients more comfortable seeking treatment.

Pride at EMIS

Here at EMIS, we’ve celebrated Pride Month online with the recently formed LGBTQ+ network, OUTloud. We’ve decked out our logo and email signatures with rainbows and throughout June we’ve been sharing information about Pride Month and the LGBTQ+ community with employees to generate discussion and encourage people to ask questions. Making sure that colleagues feel able to bring their whole selves to work without hiding their identity makes for a happier and, ultimately, healthier community for all of us.

The work doesn’t stop here though. Over the coming months OUTloud are working on a campaign to encourage colleagues to share their pronouns in their email signature and improve the visibility of LGBTQ+ issues throughout the business. Hopefully our Pride Month celebrations will continue to grow as we develop our LGBTQ+ network and return to in-person Pride events over the coming year!

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