March 25-29 will be the 11th annual National LGBT Health Awareness Week
(lgbthealth.webolutionary.com/content/national-lgbt-health-awareness-week). The event promotes the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals and other sexual and gender minorities.
The Institute of Medicine released a report in 2011 (www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/The-Health-of-Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-and-Transgender-People.aspx) noting that sexual and gender minorities have increased health risks. In January 2013, the National Institutes of Health sent out a call for further research exploring challenges faced by sexual and gender minorities, such as increased tobacco use or disparities in vocational development (www.nih.gov/about/director/01032013_lgbt_plan.htm).
Recent research has found that LGBT people are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, harassment, assault, and suicide, largely due to social stigma and prejudice. It has also been found that sexual and gender minorities are dealing with elevated levels of alcohol, tobacco, and substance use, which puts them at increased risk for secondary health problems such as lung cancer or liver disease.
There are also increased risks within the subpopulations of sexual and gender minorities. For example, lesbian and bisexual women may be at higher risk for obesity, breast cancer, or heart disease. Transgender people have an increased risk of stroke, ovarian disease, or diabetes. HIV/AIDS is a significant risk for gay and bisexual men (and youth), as well as transgender (male to female) women. These risks are compounded by the fact that several sexual and gender minorities have diminished access to health care, which results in missed screening and late intervention.
The National Coalition for LGBT Health and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (glma.org) are both national resources for sexual and gender minority health care. Locally, the LGBT-Affirmative Therapists Guild of Greater Kansas City also has a large amount of information for both medical and mental health care that is LGBT-affirming. Visit the Guild’s website at: lgbtguild.com.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections and can be especially risky for those with compromised immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HPV causes more than 26,000 cancers in the United States. The good news is that there is now an HPV vaccine on the market that prevents infection. The vaccine is effective for those who have not been exposed to the HPV virus, so it is recommended for pre-sexually active girls and needs to be recommended for pre-sexually active boys who may also be at risk (primarily sexual and gender minorities). More information about these vaccines is at: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/who/teens/vaccines/hpv.html
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) releases a Healthcare Equality Index report every year that measures four broad categories: whether sexual or gender minorities can have equal visitation, can be discriminated against as patients, can be discriminated against as hospital employees, and whether cultural competency training is provided. The 2012 report still does not feature any hospitals from Kansas and only features one Missouri hospital, and it’s in St. Louis. Participating in the index is free to health-care facilities, and the 2013 survey is being compiled now, with a deadline of March 1 Health-care institutions that want to be part of the index and consumers wanting to read the 2012 report can find a link at: www.hrc.org/hei.