LGBT HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK
This week is LGBT Health Awareness Week. Access to healthcare is severely impacted by discrimination against LGBTI people by healthcare professionals and laws dictating healthcare, and the gaps in healthcare for LGBTI people fundamentally impact their ability to live in and cope with a cisheteronormative society. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that because of this discrimination, many LGBTI people avoid or delay seeking healthcare, and when they do, they often receive inferior care.
Cisheterosexism as a barrier to competent healthcare for LGBTI people: With cisgender and heterosexual medical conceptions of the body, cisheterosexism determines the funding of research, demographic results of surveys (for e.g., questions about sexual orientation and gender identity are not asked, and when asked to fill in titles, gender-diverse options are not available, which excludes transgender and intersex persons). In comparison to gay men, lesbians are doubly disadvantaged due to their status as women and homosexual. This limitation in medical research negatively impacts the health care of LGBTI people as doctors generally have little to no knowledge about treating this community.
Transgender people face added barriers to healthcare due to a lack of knowledge and medical attitudes that pathologise transgender people. According the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V (DSM-V), which categorises mental health disorders, transgender is included as a disorder. Trans people are often denied trans-specific healthcare (hormones and surgery) on the basis of this diagnosis.
Intersex people are especially subject to ignorant healthcare practices, often undergoing non-consensual, barbaric surgeries shortly after birth, and treated with hormones without being aware of their impact and without consultation about their gender identity.
Impact on mental health: The disparity between general healthcare and health care for LGBTI persons, the societal and medical discrimination they face, and the lack of health care that is LGBTI competent results in this population being more affected by mental health issues. Depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation are 2-3 times higher than the general population. Eating disorders, self-harm, substance abuse and obesity are also more prevalent.
Impact on physical health: While the general healthcare concerns of the LGBTI population in comparison to the general population are the same, LGBTI people experience poorer health. Lesbian, trans and intersex women face higher rates of breast cancer, obesity, and gay men are more susceptible to HIV, Hepatitis and the Human Papilloma Virus, which causes anal and genital warts which increase the risk of anal cancer.
LGBTI health is thus a central concern for the community and human rights activists in the LGBTI sector, not only because of the associated health risks, but due to the impact this has on the community’s quality of life and ability to deal with the discrimination and human rights abuses they face. Pan Africa ILGA will continue to fight for the right to health and the health needs of LGBTI people in Africa