by Jordan Perry, Elon staff

March 26th-March 30th is the 10th Annual LBGT* Health Awareness Week! Let’s celebrate! How?

The National Coalition for LGBT Health says that this year’s campaign has four goals:

  1. Consumer empowerment (to provide resources about LGBT health)
  2. Culturally competent services (to educate healthcare providers)
  3. Engaged communities (to reach out to others)
  4. Inclusive policy (to get out and vote, ya’ll!)

I’d also like to celebrate by reflecting on a relatively recent win for LGBT health.

For the past 30 years, the US Department of Health and Human Services has released 10 year national objectives for improving the health of Americans. In December 2010, Healthy People 2020 Topics and Objectives were released and, for the first time since the inception of Healthy People, LGBT health was recognized as a topic in need of attention (in 2010 there was a “LGBT companion document” produced by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association). While this may not seem like a big deal, this is actually a really big deal. Why? Because with the official recognition (by the US government, ya’ll!) that LGBT health disparities exist and that LGBT populations have unique health care needs comes funding. And funding is sorely needed.

Until very recently, most money dedicated to LGBT health went to study HIV/AIDS. While HIV/AIDS is a vitally important topic in need of attention and research dollars, guess what? LGBT folks experience other health disparities. In previous blogs I wrote about disproportionate rates of smoking and disordered eating among LGBT populations. Healthy People 2020 lists other disparities:

  • LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless.
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer.
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STIs, especially among communities of color.
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STIs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.
  • Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health because of isolation and a lack of social services and culturally competent providers.
  • LGBT populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

Huge bummer. But having these disparities officially recognized and addressed will ultimately lead to fewer disparities. This also means that the US DHHS recognizes that LGBT health doesn’t just matter for “those people”; LGBT (and QIA!) health matters for everyone, regardless of orientation.

According to the US DHHS, addressing LGBT health means that we’ll see:

  • Reductions in disease transmission and progression
  • Increased mental and physical well-being
  • Reduced health care costs
  • Increased longevity

Sounds pretty good, eh? Let the celebration commence!

*Note: No word on health care for Qs, As, and Is. Maybe next year?