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Breaking Barriers: Prioritizing Health Amid LGBTQIA+ Health Awareness Week

March 20th, 2024


The medical and mental health world is constantly evolving and striving towards inclusivity and acceptance in patient care. It is crucial to highlight and create a deeper understanding of the needs and challenges faced by all patients. In March, we highlight LGBTQIA+ Health Awareness Week. During LGBTQIA+ Health Awareness Week, we want to emphasize the awareness, education, and advocacy for those in the LGBTQIA+ community and their specific challenges and disparities within the healthcare field. 

LGBTQIA+ awareness extends far beyond recognizing different sexual orientations and gender identities; it also encompasses understanding the unique health disparities, discrimination within healthcare systems, and the journey towards achieving equitable and affirming care for all individuals.

Understanding LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities

The LGBTQIA+ community faces unique health disparities that stem from a variety of factors, including societal stigma, discrimination, and lack of access to competent and inclusive healthcare. Individuals in this community are often at higher risk for certain health issues, mental health disorders, and substance abuse. 

“In 2020, 61.6% LGB [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual] adults had a mental illness and/or substance use disorder” (SAMHSA, 2022).

These disparities are further exacerbated for individuals who belong to multiple marginalized groups, such asLGBTQIA+ members that are also BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color).

Overcoming Discrimination in Healthcare

One of the most significant barriers to LGBTQIA+ individuals seeking healthcare is discrimination within the healthcare system itself. Many have experienced judgmental attitudes, refusal of care, or inadequate treatment from healthcare providers who are not adequately trained to address their specific needs. LGBTQIA+ Awareness Week aims to raise awareness about these issues and promote the importance of providing non-discriminatory, affirming care to all patients regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“In mental health care, stigma, lack of cultural sensitivity, and unconscious and conscious reluctance to address sexuality may hamper effectiveness of care” (Sabin, J.A., Riskind, R.G., & Nosek, B.A., 2015).

A beginning step to affirmative care is to start with the person coming in for care. A provider asking the patient their pronouns and preferred name can be a step in the right direction. Healthcare providers should also follow up with the patients in confirming their information on their charts and continuing to educate policies and procedures for the healthcare process.

Promoting Mental Health and Well-Being

Mental health is a critical aspect of overall well-being, LGBTQIA+ folks often face specific challenges that can impact their mental health. Rejection from family or peers, bullying, and internalized stigma can contribute to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality within the LGBTQIA+ community. There are mental health resources and support networks that focus on these unique challenges.

  • The Trevor Project: A foundation with the mission to help folks in the LGBTQIA+ community through crisis support, advocacy, research, and education.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): A national alliance that offers support, education, advocacy, and crisis support both online and on the phone. NAMI makes it easy to search within your area or surrounding areas for mental health support and services.
  • Trans Lifeline: A foundation that offers safe hotlines, resources, supports and connection for Trans people in their community.

Accessing healthcare services can be an overwhelming task for many individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community. The fear of discrimination, lack of understanding from healthcare providers, and concerns about confidentiality often act as significant barriers to seeking care. Navigating access to LGBTQIA+ inclusive services begin with understanding what constitutes inclusive care. It goes beyond simply providing medical treatment; it encompasses creating an environment where individuals can openly express their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of judgment or discrimination. Inclusive services recognize the specific health needs of the individuals, and tailor care accordingly.

“Forty-eight percent of transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the last year, compared to 4 percent of the overall US population” (U.S. Transgender Survey, 2015).

This could be done through various ways, such as through routine screenings, hormone therapy, psychoeducation, or mental health support. For those seeking LGBTQIA+ inclusive healthcare, one essential step is to research and identify healthcare providers and facilities that have a reputation for affirming care. This may involve seeking recommendations from local LGBTQIA+ community organizations or directly contacting healthcare facilities to inquire about their approach to LGBTQIA+ care.

“Approximately 8 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals and nearly 27 percent of transgender individuals report being denied needed health care outright.”(National Women’s Law Center, 2014).

Additionally, it is essential to advocate for oneself when interacting with healthcare providers. LGBTQIA+ individuals have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and they should feel empowered to discuss their identities, concerns, and health care needs openly with their providers. There are a few ways of assessing a provider’s ability and competency with working with the LGBTQIA+ community and specific challenges/issues associated with the community. A patient can ask questions about a provider’s experience with LGBTQIA+ patients, their approach to therapeutic sessions, and their willingness to use inclusive language can help gauge their level of competency and sensitivity.

Accessing Affirmative Care Through Education 

Education is also a powerful tool in navigating access to LGBTQIA+ inclusive services. Healthcare providers should be continually searching for new training opportunities and resources that can better help them understand and guide their work with the members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Navigating access to competent inclusive healthcare is a journey that requires perseverance, advocacy, and collaboration.

“Twenty-two percent of transgender individuals say they have avoided doctors or health care out of concern they would be discriminated against.” (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017).

By seeking out affirming healthcare providers, advocating for oneself, and staying informed about available resources, individuals within the LGBTQIA+ community can overcome barriers to care and access the support they need to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. As awareness and understanding of LGBTQIA+ health continues to grow and expand, so too will the availability of inclusive healthcare services, ensuring that all individuals receive the respect, dignity, and quality care they deserve regardless of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Celebrating Diversity and Inclusivity

During LGBTQIA+ Health Awareness Week and beyond, we want to take time to celebrate the resilience, strength, and diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s important to uplift the LGBTQIA+ voices, share stories of triumph and perseverance.By celebrating diversity and inclusivity, we can foster a greater acceptance and understanding within society and healthcare.It is also important to hear the stories and needs of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to make affirmative changes in policies, procedures, accessibility, and education to the healthcare system. 

Affirmative Care and Advocacy 

Despite strides towards inclusivity, discrimination and barriers to equitable healthcare persist for the LGBTQIA+ community. Acknowledging these disparities is just a first step in creating a more accessible and welcome space. Affirmative care and advocacy are needed to create a long-lasting supportive environment. 

People advocating for LGBTQIA+ healthcare rights play a crucial role in raising awareness about the unique healthcare challenges faced by the community. This may include promoting inclusive policies, training healthcare professionals on LGBTQIA+ affirming practices, and lobbying for comprehensive healthcare systematically, including but not limited to; hormone therapy, gender-affirming surgeries, mental health support, and sexual health prevention and treatment.


  • National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, & The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2017, November). Discrimination in America: Experiences and views of LGBTQ Americans. Retrieved March 2024 from source.
  • National Center for Transgender Equality. (2016). The report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.
  • National Women’s Law Center. (2014). Health care refusals harm patients: The threat to LGBT people and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Retrieved from source.
  • Sabin, J. A., Riskind, R. G., & Nosek, B. A. (2015). Health care providers’ implicit and explicit attitudes toward lesbian women and gay men. American Journal of Public Health 105(9), 1831-1841. doi 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302631
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminstration (2022, July 1). 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Lesbian, Gay, or Bisexual (LGB) Adults. SAMSHA. Retrieved March 17, 2024, from source.

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