Pride Month and Understanding Health Care Barriers
Every year, June marks an important opportunity to honor the resilience of the many intersections of our Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Two-Spirit/Plus (LGBTQ2S+) population. Since the early 1970s, people of the LGBTQ2S+ community have celebrated themselves with parades and various activities across the world during June, designated as Pride Month, because it commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots, also called the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among bar patrons and neighborhood residents as police roughly hauled employees and patrons out of the bar, leading to six days of protests and clashes with law enforcement. The Stonewall Riots served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Although there has been more visibility and progress towards achieving equity for the LGBTQ2S+ community, discrimination continues. One example of discrimination occurs when someone is denied health care services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many LGBTQ2S+ people have difficulty finding health care providers who are knowledgeable about their needs and will delay or forego care because of concerns about how they will be treated.
In this blog, I am going to share a first-person account of my experience and observations about health care equity for those who identify as LGBTQ2S+. It is my hope that this blog raises awareness and understanding to the challenges LGBTQ2S+ people face when seeking health care.
A part of my heritage is storytelling; stories have played an undeniably important role in my upbringing within American Indian culture. An integral tradition, storytelling is used as a way for American Indians to communicate and connect with one another, encourage and give strength through tough times, and pass valuable knowledge down. In a particular sense, storytelling begins to link individuals to the rest of the community, creating a sense of belonging for others.
To understand the challenges of someone who grew up as a person of color and an openly gay man in North Dakota, I will share my perspective and experiences of someone who has been through it and is currently living it. Growing up as a child on an American Indian Reservation, I always knew I was different from my peers but didn’t know why. I navigated my adolescence by trying not to act “different” and learned it was best not to be seen, rather than to have the spotlight on me. I did this not because I was scared, but for survival, as being “gay” was not acceptable in my hometown. I would later “come out” once I left for college because I saw others like me for the first time. From then on, things would change once I had navigated the inner workings of whom I was and finally admitted to myself that, “I was not different,” I just happened to be gay. Not only did it feel infinitely better to live openly as a gay man, but it also lifted the heavy and dusty veil draped over me for most of my young life. The self-addressed liberation made me feel on top of the world, with little to no care what others would think of who I was, whether they chose to understand it or not. I began to live my life the way I wanted to as a man who only wants to love whom he wants to, unapologetically, unequivocally and unabashedly. A man who intends to make a difference in the world, but most importantly, a free man!
This self-acceptance was not only a pivotal moment in the continuing journey of understanding but was the beginning of me finding my lifelong friends and my chosen family. Forget fleeting acquaintances; I slowly, carefully and naturally gravitated to a core that would not only prove to be a circle of like-mindedness but one that would hold me up when I wasn’t strong enough. I continue my journey in advocating for underserved populations, which includes the LGBTQ2S+. I believe that we, as the LGBTQ2S+ community, will continue to forge ahead to assure our fundamental human rights, including health care, are met and the LGBTQ2S+ community’s safety is protected against health care discrimination. Through education, outreach, and storytelling, we can help assure a future for others where health care is accessible and equitable.
The Importance of Health Care Access for All
Health equity is when every person has the opportunity to attain his or her full health potential, but to achieve this, individuals need to be treated with respect and be provided with quality care. While more states every year work to pass laws to protect LGBTQ2S+people, others continue to limit protections or remain silent on the matter. In North Dakota, there are currently no explicit statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ2S+ community. North Dakota also does not have private health insurance nondiscrimination laws protecting the LGBTQ2S+ community. In my personal experience, I have seen and been told many times about LGBTQ2S+ individuals being denied services. These LGBTQ2S+ individuals and families express they have experienced a lack of understanding, unwelcoming attitudes or even hostility from health care providers and staff.
Enhancing efforts to improve LGBTQ2S+ health care is necessary to ensure that LGBTQ2S+ individuals can lead long, healthy lives and have many benefits, including:
- Reductions in disease transmission and progression
- Increased mental and physical well-being
- Reduced health care costs
- Increased longevity
Here are some simple steps that can be taken to create an environment that promotes inclusivity and wellness:
- Organizations can display their nondiscrimination policies
- Images used in brochures and flyers can be inclusive of LGBTQ2S+ persons
- Forms can be updated using neutral words such as “person” or “individual”
- Cultural competence training can be provided to team members and providers