Recognizing National LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week

March 26, 2021  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources

A message from the social workers in the HIV/AIDS Treatment Program

This week is National LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week!

This week is especially important in the HIV/AIDS Treatment Program (HATP) at Michigan Medicine.

While HIV/AIDS can affect any person, it disproportionately affects LGBTQ+ individuals in the U.S., especially gay/bisexual men and transgender women.

HATP is taking a moment this week to reflect on the opportunities for improvement that still exist in the U.S., not just in HIV/AIDS care, but LGBTQ+ health care in general. Despite the progress made nationally, LGBTQ+ health outcomes still lag behind those of cisgender and heterosexual-identifying (abbreviated: cis/het) individuals.

  • LGBTQ+ individuals rate their health as poor significantly more often and reported consistent mental distress more than twice as often average (2012a, 2013a).
  • LGBTQ+ patients are at significantly higher risk for HIV/AIDS, STIs, HPV and many types of cancer (2004, 2013b, 2018a).
  • LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely to have a mental health disorder with LGBTQ+ youth suicide rates 4x greater than that of cis/het youth (2017).
  • LGBTQ+ patients are less likely to have health insurance and prescription access & more likely to rely on ER/Urgent Care or delay getting care until it is critical (2012b).
    • LGBTQ+ patients are significantly more likely to be refused health care or harassed by medical staff (2012b, 2018b).

It is not lost on the HATP clinic that the current pandemic bears striking resemblance to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s–2000s, especially for people living with HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ+ individuals. LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to have sustained a job loss. Three-quarters report negative mental health impact (compared to less than half of cis/het individuals) (2021).

During a time of heightened health risk for LGBTQ+ patients in particular, it is that much more critical that our institution be committed to inclusive and affirming health care.

LGBTQ+ identities are sometimes referred to as “invisible identities,” as it is not always obvious from looking at someone that they are LGBTQ+. This phrasing is used to contrast physical or observable identities (e.g. you may be able to observe that someone has a physical disability if they use a mobility aid). Especially if a patient has previously faced discrimination from the medical system, they may choose not to share an identity if it is not pertinent to their health care.

It is important to create a welcoming an affirming space for every patient, whether or not it is known how they identify. This need to extend to the institution as well – while some openly share their LGBTQ+ identities at work, nearly half of all LGBTQ+ workers stay closeted at work (2018, 2021).

  • More than half of LGBTQ+ workers hear their colleagues make jokes about gay and lesbian people at least once in a while.
  • One in three felt unhappy or depressed at work.
  • The most mentioned reason for LGBTQ+ workers not reporting mistreatment at work to a supervisor or HR was that they didn’t think anything would be done about it (2018, 2021).

Whether or not we are privy to the “invisible” LGBTQ+ identities of our patients and colleagues, it is on all of us to stay educated and contribute to a safe, inclusive and affirming environment for everybody. Michigan Medicine has the opportunity to emerge from this pandemic a better institution. Let’s take it.

Happy National LGBTQ+ Health Awareness Week!

In Solidarity,

HATP Social Work (Amy, Angela, Charletta, Lisa, Maya, Pete, Rheanna, Samantha, & Toia)