LGBTQ+ youth need inclusive healthcare

When I was first outed at age 14, I realized I had to learn to navigate a world that wasn’t fully accepting of me. Part of that was figuring out how to access health care as a gay boy and a minor at odds with his parents. Even though my family knew about my sexuality, they didn’t accept it.

LGBTQ+ teens find it particularly difficult to obtain adequate information about health care when their parents are often unable or unwilling to provide them with the support they need. One study found that a third of the teens they interviewed came out to their parents and were accepted, a third were rejected, and the final third didn’t come out until their late teens and early 20s. Many teenagers are reluctant to come out because they fear their families will not accept them.

In order for healthcare providers to provide the best possible care, patients need to be open to them. This often includes being honest when talking about partners, what type of sex is engaged in, and what type of protection was used. To do this, however, patients must also feel safe and comfortable in the presence of their doctor.

As a young gay man, I understood the importance of regular STI checks. In my search for a vendor, I found myself in an office in rural South Carolina waiting for hours to be seen. Before the doctor came into my room, I heard her praying with the patient next door. It took about 15 minutes. And when she finally made it to me, she seemed uncomfortable with my honesty and confirmed my fears that I didn’t belong there.

Many LGBTQ+ youth continue to struggle to find safe and accepted healthcare providers while also overcoming other barriers such as lack of insurance and transportation. The work of finding safe spaces is placed entirely on the patient, with little responsibility for providers untrained or unwilling to work with them.

The stakes in getting this wrong are high. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.6 million gay and bisexual college students face significant differences that put them at risk for negative health outcomes. LGTBQ+ youth have been shown to face greater sexual health, physical safety and mental health risks compared to their straight and cissexual counterparts.

Healthcare providers need to get better. At the moment, the healthcare industry is fundamentally unprepared to provide equitable healthcare to the LGBTQ+ community; This reality will only change if providers invest in the necessary resources.

At a minimum, potential patients should be able to easily identify on a provider’s website, social media, and office space that LGBTQ+ patients are welcome. It only takes five letters to make healthcare a little more accessible. Providers must also work to ensure they have appropriate training. US Department of Health and Human Services resources are available to educate providers about the needs of LGBTQ+ patients.

When other LGBTQ+ people find themselves in the same boat I used to be in, it’s important to be honest, ask questions, and recognize that access to proper health care is a fundamental right. We all deserve to be treated fairly. If a healthcare provider does not accept our identity for any reason, then they are not the provider to us.

Andrew Baldino is a freelance content writer and SEO specialist. He lives on the South Carolina coast. This column was produced by Progressive Perspectives, operated by The Progressive magazine and distributed by the Tribune News Service.

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