5 min read

Healthcare Discrimination: The Elevated Risk of Being LGBTQ+

Healthcare Discrimination: The Elevated Risk of Being LGBTQ+
Photo by Online Marketing / Unsplash

Discrimination is a huge problem for the LGBTQ+ community. It is an obstacle that many people are forced to struggle with in far too many areas of their lives.

There is discrimination in employment, marriage rights, adoption, and housing- and this is just a short list of many possible difficulties that individual people can face.

One of the most devastating forms of discrimination that people encounter is in the form of healthcare access.

Everyone needs healthcare. We are human beings, not robots; we're flesh and blood, and our bodies regularly need care and attention to heal from illness and injury.

It is an evident and inarguable fact that people die from lack of medical care every single day, everywhere in the world. Sometimes, that's due to poverty, shortages, or because they are barred from reaching help by some kind of natural disaster.

At other times, it's simply because healthcare professionals dismiss them or refuse to help for reasons of personal belief.

Sometimes, people are rejected because of who they are, such as a pediatrician refusing to care for a child with two moms or dads.

Sometimes, it's a pharmacist refusing to provide birth control to a single woman because he disapproves of her having sex outside of marriage.

Sometimes, it's legal restrictions preventing abortion or refusing medicine or care to a transgender individual.

In all of these cases, the so-called morality of the medical professional is the issue. Because of that, LGBTQ+ individuals are at high risk of discrimination and losing their access to care.

person holding medicine pills
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko / Unsplash

Examples of this discrimination are showing up all around the world. A recent example is the ban on prescribing puberty blockers that is ongoing in the UK.

The ban is supposedly in effect to assess the safety of the drugs. Experts in the subject of gender-affirming care, however, are highly dubious of this claim.

Puberty blockers are occasionally prescribed as a treatment for gender dysphoria in children, but they've been used safely for decades to treat other forms of illness like precocious puberty.

Banning it specifically for use in treating gender dysphoria makes for a pretty clear case of discrimination.

The same kind of discrimination is evident in the United States, where a number of states have gone even further, denying gender-affirming care completely.

It's not just transgender people being targeted, however. All LGBTQ+ people are at risk of being discriminated against when seeking healthcare for various issues, whether related to gender or sexuality or not.

You wouldn't think that a parent being gay would have anything to do with the medical care that a 6-day-old infant might need, for example, but it can be enough to have the child rejected as a patient by some doctors.

If you think that's just one story and it can't possibly be common, think again. Even fertility treatments and surrogacy can be challenging to obtain for gay couples who want to have children. There are even fewer protections for non-biological parents in these situations.

LGBTQ+ families have it really rough. Individual LGBTQ+ people struggle just as much.

green and silver stethoscope on white envelope
Photo by Derek Finch / Unsplash

A lot of LGBTQ+ people choose not to come out to their doctor unless it's absolutely necessary. I've never told a medical professional about my asexuality, for sure.

It could go one of two ways: either the doctor is aware of asexuality as a sexual orientation and takes it in stride, or they decide that there's something medically wrong with me, and they'll start ordering unnecessary medical tests. Inappropriate questions are almost guaranteed.

I don't need a doctor trying to ask me invasive questions about my reproductive organs and sex life in the middle of an unrelated check-up. The medical community is still significantly behind on the issue; lack of sexual attraction is often still assumed to be an issue of dysfunction, mental illness or imbalanced hormones.

The last thing I need is somebody deciding that 'curing' my asexuality is their new pet project. Conversion therapy doesn't work.

And like I said, I'm not alone. Many people decide not to disclose their identities to their doctors for fear of how they might react.

Some people are rejected as patients. Some people face delays in necessary treatments or tests. Some people have difficulty making appointments or accessing prescriptions. Some people are lectured by their doctors about how their 'lifestyle' is 'too risky.'

I don't mean that they're partying or doing drugs. I mean the 'lifestyle' of being gay.

We don't get to choose our sexual orientations or our gender identity. All we get to choose is whether to share that information with those around us or not. The evidence consistently shows that doing so is very much an 'at your own risk' sort of deal.

So, what can we do? Unfortunately, we're kind of stuck. Especially in places like my home province, where doctor and nursing shortages mean we don't have a lot of choice about who we go to for help.

About the best we can do is take the time to assess our doctors for potential biases before we disclose, and hope to whichever gods we pray to (if any) that we won't be turned away.

Until there are more robust laws and repercussions for discrimination, we're on our own. If you encounter discrimination like this, you can report it and hope for the best. You can try to find explicitly LGBTQ+ medical professionals who might be willing to take you on as a patient.

But until equal rights and protections are secured and guaranteed, we just don't have many options.

Solidarity wins.

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