Inequality On Health Awareness Week

On National LGBT Health Awareness Week, Cindy Leiffer, author of the blog ‘The Glass is Half Empty and I’m Drinking the Rest: Adventures of an Urban Jewish Lesbian Nurse Practitioner In Rural Maine,’ says that LGBT patients, particularly trans patients, are still treated poorly.

CindyLeiffer-1It’s hard to believe that not that long ago, treating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) patients was seldom discussed among healthcare providers. Twenty years ago, when I was studying to become a nurse practitioner, I remember doing both online and library journal searches about lesbian and gay healthcare: I was disappointed to find only a handful of articles and research studies out there that addressed our health issues.

Of the few articles that were around, most focused on homophobia among healthcare professionals, lesbian and gay patients’ negative experiences, and high rates of youth suicidality. There was virtually nothing about transgender health.

At the time, I thought back to the early 1980s, when, as a young lesbian patient, I went to a new doctor for a physical. She asked the usual question “Are you sexually active?” When I answered “Yes,” she followed automatically with “What are you using for birth control?”

“Nothing,” I said. “I don’t need birth control. I’m a lesbian.”

Her response made me very uncomfortable. She literally sucked in her breath in a gasp and abruptly said, “Well, I don’t see why that’s any of my business.”

I wasn’t a healthcare provider at that time, and a medical career wasn’t even on my radar screen. Thirty years later, after 18 years of providing primary care, I can’t imagine making a patient feel uncomfortable or embarrassed for revealing anything personal about his or her life — and yes, your sexuality is my business if you choose to share it with me.

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