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Why LGBTQ Healthcare Matters: Facing Inequality in the Medical System

In order to fight back against inequalities, it’s important to understand their cause and their impact on individuals and society as a whole.

In the Philippines and in Asia, LGBTQ healthcare issues are rampant. Discrimination, social stigma, and medical negligence all play a role in denying LGBTQ people the access to healthcare they deserve and have earned through years of social progress. In order to fight back against these inequalities, it’s important to understand their cause and their impact on individuals and society as a whole.

Society contributes to elevated stress

Epidemiologist Ilan Meyer of UCLA talks about the concept of “minority stress” to describe LGBTQ health disparities. It is important to understand that minority stress doesn’t necessarily describe the healthcare system but focuses on the cumulative burden that the community faces in everyday interactions.

Minority stress finds its roots in discriminatory behaviours and violence — physical and verbal — that can target the LGBTQ community. This can affect their mental health and gradually weakens the immune system, leading to inflammation and immunologic disparities. In other words, being LGBTQ in a society that fails to create a supportive and safe environment can also drive additional healthcare issues.

There is a bias problem in the healthcare industry

The LGBTQ community experiences stress and anxiety when seeking medical assistance for many reasons, including discrimination and a lack of a safe environment. This is especially true for transgender individuals frequently facing bias from medical providers who are ill-equipped to provide them with competent care. Any mistreatment of LGBTQ individuals during healthcare treatment will have lasting effects on their mental health, causing stress that they may carry long after they leave their doctor’s office. Additionally, it could also prevent LGBTQ individuals from seeking medical care altogether.

Discrimination has consequences in healthcare

A pervasive problem for members of Asia’s LGBTQ community, and particularly those undergoing transgender treatment and/or surgery, is discrimination from healthcare providers. Discrimination often stems from personal biases that are strongly influenced by cultural norms and outdated gender paradigms. Discrimination in healthcare can have dramatic consequences, such as denying a patient medical care, as it has been the case for Robert Eads, an American trans man who was denied medical treatment by dozens of doctors when diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1996. Unfortunately, by the time Eads received treatment, the cancer had already metastasized, and he died in 1999. Discrimination led to medical negligence and potentially wrongful death, which is something a personal injury lawyer in a forward-thinking society can help you with.

Nowadays, values have been challenged—and to some extent, changed—in society. However, even in more progressive countries, including the USA and Singapore (where gay marriage has been legalized), acceptance of LGBTQ people is still an uphill battle.

Is there hope for LGBTQ-safe healthcare?

Doctors and nurses are not received enough training to address LGBTQ problems effectively. In a forward-thinking country such as the US, medical programs only include 5 hours of training on LGBTQ health issues, contributing to a shortage of LGBTQ-knowledgeable healthcare services. LGBTQ-friendly practices do exist, but they can lack first-hand experience. The future of LGBTQ healthcare lies in the hands of LGBTQ-affirming staff, who can change the system from within.

Inequalities in the medical system are often the result of inexperience, lack of education, and social bias. Experience and education can be targeted effectively with the creation of additional training and safe LGBTQ environments. Unfortunately, social bias needs time and effort. Norms can change and grow, but we need doctors to stand firmly with the LGBTQ community for it to happen.

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