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Health Disparities Among LGBTQ

by Madison Cavallaro

In the medical field, the judgment of health is based on vital signs and patient assessment. A lot of the time, further diagnosis or looking into your health will be based on averages built off sex. For example, there is a different iron level average for the male sex and female sex. Often, females are noted to have a high risk of iron deficiency because of menstruation. Although this categorization in the medical field has helped identify concerns and conditions of individuals, it has also led to gaps of knowledge and health disparities for the LGBTQ compared to their cisgender heterosexual peers.

Understanding LGBTQ starts with the awareness of the history of oppression and discrimination that has been faced. There is a consistent lack of laws to protect LGBTQ health, and the laws that exist are being challenged as I write. Discrimination occurs in many parts of society. It is present in health insurance, employment, housing, marriage, adoption, and retirement. There is a shortage of social programs to target youth, adults, and elders that are LGBTQ. There is a need for healthcare providers that are culturally competent in LGBTQ health in the health field.

This is not news; in the 1980s, in the mists of the AIDS epidemic, LGBTQ individuals were faced with stigma. They, therefore, struggled to receive medical care and treatment. In addition, the emergence of AIDS activism amongst this community helped bring attention to multiple systems of injustice. Still, today there is a lack of representative health-related clinical research with information based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The health of the LGBTQ community, just like any other marginalized group, requires specific attention.

  • LGBT youth are 2-3x more likely to attempt suicide
  • LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STDs, suicide, and mental health issues
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventative services for cancel 

The health needs and experiences of LGBTQ populations have been generally invisible in health care systems and policies. Even further, the foundation of health systems stems from heteronormative, cisgender, and heterosexual ideologies. The sex assigned at birth is the gender identity, erasing transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals from the health model.

Each June of every year, we celebrate the resilience and pride of the LGBTQ+ community, but we also need to call for change and a shift of focus of health research and holistic understanding of LGBTQ health. It goes without saying, health and well-being are associated with academic success and socioeconomic opportunity. In addition, studies done on LGBTQ communities in the midwest have found increased access to education and employment, improves food security, decreases homelessness, and aids the ability to afford health care costs.

It is more than just understanding the community and health providers becoming culturally competent. There are numerous barriers. In a specific study done at a large midwestern university, researchers noted transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals experiencing barriers to nutritious foods due to lack of financial support from family and underutilization of health resources due to fear of exclusivity. Body image was also a barrier found in the study; 42% of participants reported eating disorders. LGBTQ individuals are particularly vulnerable to these barriers daily, leading to social stress, reduced quality of life, psychological distress, and depression. Given the range of factors contributing to LGBTQ health disparities, it seems like we are in this for the long haul.

What researchers have found are ways to combat health equity through:

  • Nationally representative data on LGBTQ individuals
  • Exploration of sexual/gender identity across youth in America
  • An LGBTQ wellness model
  • Recognition of transgender health needs
  • Prevention of violence towards the LGBTQ community
  • Improved physical environment (safe schools, access to health services, safe meeting places, and facilities)

As we talk and create more awareness around these topics and health inequalities, we are actively helping progression in the systems where these discriminations exist. We need to be talking about this with friends, family, advocate programs, and political leaders to communicate the importance of this along with the abundance of other inequalities among other marginalized communities.

Sources: 1 SF Center / 2 Healthy People / 3 The Utility of Resilience as a Conceptual Framework for Understanding and Measuring LGBTQ Health/ 4 Understanding the Nutritional Needs of Transgender and Gender-nonconforming Students at a Large Public Midwestern University


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