Nearly a sixth of LGBTQ adults have experienced discrimination at the doctor’s office or in another health care setting, while a fifth say they have avoided seeking medical care out of fear of discrimination, according to a recent poll.
That combination, in a population that commonly experiences discrimination and even violence in their day-to-day lives, can lead to a cascade of health ills, experts say. People who experience discrimination, for example, have been shown to have an increased risk of heart disease, and that risk can be raised further by skirting routine medical care.
The solution, according to panelists at a session sponsored by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, involves gathering more data to help identify specific health needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) population, along with educating health professionals so they better understand that there are differences in care needs, and that ignoring them can do damage.
“There’s a ton of research, including by my colleagues here at Harvard — David Williams in particular — showing that experiencing discrimination is associated with a whole range of negative health outcomes,” said Logan Casey, research associate at the Harvard Opinion Research Program. “So if you’re experiencing this discrimination on such a widespread scale and it’s having all these negative health impacts and then on top of that you’re not going to a doctor … that is going to compound the effects of discrimination.”
The forum, “Health in the LGBTQ Community: Improving Care and Confronting Discrimination,” featured Casey; Kenneth Mayer, co-chair and medical research director of the Fenway Institute; and Sari Reisner, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard Chan School. Wednesday’s panel was moderated by Joe Neel, science correspondent and deputy senior supervising science editor at NPR. It was co-sponsored by the Harvard Chan School and NPR.
The poll by the Harvard Chan School, NPR, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examined the experience of discrimination in several populations, including LGBTQ adults. It found that discrimination is a common feature in their lives, with 57 percent saying they’ve been subject to anti-LGBTQ slurs and 53 percent to offensive comments about their identity.