Dr. Harvey Makadon, Director of the National LGBT Health Education Center at The Fenway Institute, visited the University of Alabama at Birmingham last week to give a presentation on LGBT health concerns. As a leading national authority on LGBT health care challenges, Dr. Makadon travels frequently to educate and inform providers on how to better care for their LGBT patients. During his UAB presentation, he shared some troubling statistics on LGBT health care disparities.
The highest number of HIV infections still occur among men who have sex with men (MSM), though that number has decreased significantly since the virus’ first appearance three decades ago, he noted. The LGBT community faces disproportionate rates of substance abuse, suicide, and violence, he added, and the numbers are even more stark when one looks at transgender and gender non-conforming individuals specifically.
Nearly a third of transgender women have HIV – a number that is 49 times higher than other adults of reproductive age, Dr. Makadon said. Transgender people, especially transgender women of color, are frequently the victims of hate-motivated attacks and murder.
“Most of the [LGBT health] disparities that we know about are really the result of stigma and discrimination,” Dr. Makadon explained. A critical step toward reducing these incidents of stigma and discrimination is education – and the health care industry has a long way to go toward becoming a safe space for the LGBT community.
“Until people get to know people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, they are going to feel uncomfortable,” said Dr. Makadon. “And how that manifests itself can affect someone’s comfort level in terms of coming for care. And so we need to work on those issues if we are going to really make a difference.”
All too often, a medical provider’s political or religious beliefs negatively affect the quality of care they provide for their LGBT patients, Dr. Makadon said. “People frequently raise the conflict that’s posed for them as healthcare providers between their commitment to caring for all patients and what they hear on church on Sunday,” he explained. “Most people who I’ve had this discussion with say that the duty to care for everybody has to outweigh personal values.”
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