TransTalk: Health Equity for LGBTQ People

SFGN File Photo

This week I was asked to give a small speech at the 2nd annual LGBT Health Equity Fair in the East Wing Rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol. They asked me to speak about health disparities facing the LGBT community and the importance of safe, affirming, and welcoming spaces. Here’s an excerpt of that speech:

As a transgender person myself, I am acutely aware of the health disparities the LGBT community faces as I’ve faced many of them myself. 

According to the 2018 PA LGBT Health Needs Assessment, 23 percent of transgender people did not see a doctor when they needed to because of fear of being mistreated as a transgender person.  

I avoided going to my local emergency room when I should have after a complication following a gender affirmation surgery for fear that they would mistreat me and because I felt it was too sensitive of an issue to discuss with a doctor I didn’t know.

17 percent of LGBT Pennsylvanians do not or are unsure if they think of any healthcare provider as their personal doctor. For 4 years after I started hormone replacement therapy, I didn’t have a primary health care provider because I didn’t know any trans-competent family doctors where I lived. 

36.9 percent of transgender Pennsylvanians smoke cigarettes compared to 18 percent of the general PA population. I was one of those 36.9 percent. I’ve been cigarette-free since 2014. 

58.7 percent of transgender Pennsylvanians have never been tested for HIV. During one of my HIV tests, I had to advocate that the tester mark me as a trans male on the form so that the CDC realizes that trans men are being tested for HIV despite the fact that the CDC does not count trans people in their HIV testing data. 

33.8 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming Pennsylvanians self-described as eligible to receive a cervical pap test have never been screened for cervical cancer. One of the reasons I chose to undergo a hysterectomy was so that I never had to tolerate the incredibly uncomfortable cervical cancer pap test as a male again. 

According to the 2015 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 8 percent of survey respondents reported currently using drugs or alcohol to cope with the mistreatment that they have received as a result of being transgender. I was one of those 8 percent. I’ve been sober for almost 5 years. 

It is incredibly important for LGBT people to have safe, affirming, welcoming, competent care. However, it’s not enough to say, “We welcome LGBT people,” but then not have gender identity and sexual orientation data on the intake forms. It’s not enough to say, “We accept LGBT people here” and then make the patient explain to the provider what HRT stands for. It’s not enough to display a rainbow flag in your office and then have the receptionist misgender you or use your deadname. 

Being competent and affirming matters. 57 percent of trans youth attempt suicide. However, that number drops to only 4 percent when they are supported by their parents. A study of at-risk trans people shows a rate of self-reported suicide attempts dropped by more than 80 percent when they were given access to transition-related treatment. After being allowed to emerge as their rightful gender, 95 percent of trans and gender nonconforming people report their quality of life and sense of well-being improved.  

Don’t be an ally in name only. Do your homework. Have the staff trained in LGBT care by an LGBT person. Update your intake forms. Use the right name and pronouns. You could literally save a life.