That’s One Step Towards Equality… By Us!

Nov 1, 2016

By Michael Dimengo, CEO of The Center

It’s amazing the significant progress that LGBTQ people have made in winning and securing equal rights. The historic Supreme Court decision last June now gives same-sex couples at least some of the rights afforded to married heterosexual couples. And even though here in 2016 we have experienced a political backlash in some areas, even more states today offer nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Polling data show that the general public has increasingly positive views of LGBTQ people and are becoming more supportive of their civil and political rights. I have seen countless allies come forward in support of The Center and the well-being of our community. In short, heterosexual Americans are finally recognizing LGBTQ people as a legitimate social minority that should have equal access to our society’s basic rights, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Despite this progress, however, members of the LGBTQ population continue to experience worse health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. Due to factors like low rates of health insurance coverage, high rates of stress due to systematic harassment and discrimination, and a lack of cultural competency in the healthcare system, LGBTQ people are at a higher risk for cancer, mental illness, and other diseases, and are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage in other risky behaviors. People who are both LGBTQ and people of color, will often face an even higher level of health disparities.

We can only estimate the full extent of LGBTQ disparities due to a consistent lack of data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity. The data experts refer to it as SOGI. Health surveys often do not include a question on sexual orientation or gender identity. This severely limits researchers’ abilities to fully understand the LGBTQ population, their needs, and it hinders the development of public policies and programs that seek to improve the LGBTQ population’s health and well-being.

I discussed this issue when I was privileged to present on a panel last month at the Nevada Public Health Association’s Annual Conference. The panel was all about health equity and the public’s health. Our LGBTQ community was featured along with the rural community, adolescents, and the food insecure. It was a fascinating panel discussion.

What surprised me was that in the course of the dialogue, many audience members who were healthcare professionals confessed that it was hard for them to ask SOGI questions while doing an intake and completing an intake form before the delivery of a healthcare service. While they confessed discomfort, they also identified discomfort in the patients that they were serving. It was this “dance of insecurity” that was identified between the healthcare practitioner and the LGBTQ patient. They simply were trying to be sensitive. They didn’t want to offend.

I believe that we in the LGBTQ community have to take some steps forward in this vacuum. Yes, there are some in our community who are closeted and who deserve the right to privacy as they work out their own identity issues. But the many of us who are out-and-proud have next steps to take. We need to identify that whenever we are presented with the SOGI questions. We need to disclose on those intake forms what the SOGI questions ask. It’s such a small step but can lead to comprehensive research that can support the health and well-being of our community.

The Center in its strategic plan is compelled to move more in the direction of healthcare delivery as one of our next steps in service to our LGBTQ community. We are very much aware of the healthcare disparities that have been identified so far by limited research, and all-the-more aware of more study being needed.

Be proud of who you are. And, when your doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional asks you the SOGI questions, please readily identify that you are a member of our LGBTQ community. It’s a small step toward equality but a vital one if we are to improve the health and well-being of one another.

Michael Dimengo
Chief Executive Officer