The health of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and/or other variants of gender identity and sexual orientation (LGBTQIA+ for the purposes of this article) is a very important topic for those . There is growing awareness and recognition of LGBTQIA+ issues surrounding stigma, discrimination and the resulting matters of emotional, mental and physical health. With this awareness comes the need for a culturally competent healthcare workforce with LGBTQIA+ sensitivity.
Those in various roles within the public health field are uniquely suited to helping develop, practice and support LGBTQIA+ cultural competency across healthcare. Reflecting this intent, the online Bachelor of Science in Public Health (BSPH) degree program offered by The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) focuses coursework on the unique needs and issues of diverse and vulnerable populations, such as the LGBTQIA+ community. In-depth education and training on these issues is an important part of improving the health of vulnerable populations and the health of society overall.
Who Makes Up the LGBTQIA+ Community?
LGBTQIA+ is one of many constantly evolving acronyms used to describe the broad community referred to in this article (as seen in quotes below, LGBT is often used, as are others). An essential aspect of LGBTQIA+ issues in the field of public health is that people who are LGBTQIA+ are not limited to or defined solely by being part of this single community. As clearly stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are members of every community. They are diverse, come from all walks of life, and include people of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, and from all parts of the United States.”
“The perspectives and needs of LGBT people should be routinely considered in public health efforts to improve the overall health of every person and eliminate health disparities.”
What Makes the LGBTQIA+ Community Uniquely Vulnerable to Issues of Personal Health?
From youth to adulthood, LGBTQIA+ people deal with adversity of many kinds and, according to the , “experience many specific health-related challenges and disparities.” ODPHP notes that LGBTQIA+ adolescents “are especially at risk for being bullied, thinking about and dying from suicide, and using illegal drugs.” Beyond the pressures of discrimination and a lack of acceptance, LGBTQIA+ people experience mistreatment and violence at alarmingly high rates, which has a devastating impact on their lives and wellbeing.
Evidencing this, a 2022 from the White House noted that 45% of LGBTQIA+ youth have “seriously considered attempting suicide in the last year.” President Biden calls this “a devastating reality that our Nation must work urgently to address.”
Many other factors such as recent psychological distress, harassment, physical attacks, economic hardship and other kinds of abuse and discrimination negatively impact the health and well-being of the LGBTQIA+ population. A conducted by the Center for American Progress found that many LGBTQIA+ individuals have faced obstacles to accessing healthcare and postponed or avoided getting medical treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic due to continued discrimination and/or healthcare providers’ lack of understanding.
What Is Being Done in the Field of Public Health to Address This Health Disparity?
The visibility of and support for the LGBTQIA+ community within the general public has increased substantially in recent years. This has led to marriage equality, further civil rights protections and other laws protecting LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination. But societal stigma and discrimination still exist, as do health disparities.
Governmental public health entities such as the CDC and the ODPHP have included improving the health of the LGBTQIA+ community within wide-reaching national health objectives and initiatives. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the American Public Health Association’s LGBTQ Health Caucus and the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI) are also focusing on LGBTQIA+ health and issues, improving awareness, support systems and education.
Confronting stigma faced during an individual’s youth is also essential to addressing this health disparity. Anti-bullying laws, culturally competent healthcare, counseling in schools, family outreach, sexual health education and groups like the Genders and Sexualities Alliance Network can all provide needed support. Designing school curricula to be inclusive and representative of LGBTQIA+ people can also help reduce the stigma that leads to harmful treatment and violence, while improving self-efficacy and emotional resilience in today’s youth.
Public health workers have the responsibility of working toward , including those of all sexual orientations and gender identities. And, of course, many people in the public health field are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Through education, advocacy and support within communities, families, schools and various public health organizations and healthcare providers, public health workers can be instrumental in reversing the alarming healthcare disparities faced by the LGBTQIA+ community.
Learn more about UTA’s online Bachelor of Science in Public Health program.