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Navigating the Health Care System

LBTI Health Care Concerns

Sometimes coming out is directly intertwined with our visit because the care we seek relates specifically to our gender identity or sexual orientation, as an African-American female-to-male transgender person explains:

I am out to my provider because I need to have hormones in order to complete the medical transition.

For many of us, fear of disclosing our sexual orientation or gender identity may prevent us from going to the doctor altogether. When fear of coming out to our providers stops us from getting our annual Pap tests, dental cleaning, breast exam, annual physical, or other care, we suffer. When we are unable to establish trust and the ability to communicate with our provider, we are less likely to get the health care we are entitled to. Studies have documented that the stress of being closeted can lead to health problems and lower immunity.

When we come out to a provider, it is best to do so before we are being examined, so we can more easily leave if we are no longer comfortable. We must trust our intuitive knowledge of a situation. If we feel unsafe, we should leave and continue looking for a provider who is a good fit.

Finding a doctor we can trust can take time, but it can pay off, as one woman explains.

I bounced around from one provider to another, looking for someone I could feel comfortable disclosing to about being sexually active with women and men, as well as being a sex worker. The reactions I encountered were very negative and judgmental. Eventually I stopped disclosing. I am happy to say that I finally found a good place to go here in New York. It is a health clinic especially for LGBTQ people. The doctors there are nonjudgmental. I have a provider now who knows all about me, and I always feel comfortable talking to her. (For more information, see www.callen-lorde.org)

How do we each find a queer-friendly health care provider? Check out the following links on coming out to our providers, then read "Finding the Right Health Care Provider."

For more information on coming out to our providers and getting the care we need:


Finding an LGBTI-Friendly Health Care Provider

The first step in getting the care we need is finding a health care provider who is sensitive to our needs and educated about LGBTI health concerns. This can be an overwhelming task, whether we want to find a provider for the first time, locate one after moving to a new city, or leave a provider who is not a good fit. Fortunately, there are some resources for us to begin the search. Here are some suggestions:

  • Our queer friends, colleagues, and acquaintances are a good place to start. We can ask them if they have a provider whom they like and to whom they can talk easily.

  • If we live in a city, there may be an LGBTI community health center near us. New York City has Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, Chicago has Howard Brown Memorial Clinic, and Boston has Fenway Community Health. For a list of health centers specifically for us, visit the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association's website.

  • Some organizations have databases to search for LGBTI-friendly providers. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association has a Health Care Referral database that contains the names of all of its members, so we can search for general practitioners, midwives, OB/GYNS, dentists, and more.

  • Our local LGBTI community center may be able to provide referrals and information on low-income services. To find an LGBTI center near you, see the website for the National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Centers.

  • Look in the phone book for a women's health clinic, which may have providers who are sensitive to LGBTI needs.

  • Join a regional LGBTI list serv and ask other participants how they found their provider and if they would recommend this person to others.

  • Pick up newspapers serving LGBTI folks, and contact the providers who advertise there.

Many clinics offer sliding-scale fees and assistance in finding free or affordable care for those of us who do not have health insurance. Some facilities are especially committed to providing affordable health care, including Planned Parenthood.

How Other Women Found Queer-Friendly Health Care Providers:

I find queer-savvy health care providers by asking my friends and acquaintances, something that has gotten much easier with the advent of the Internet and regionally-specific lesbian list servs.

I recently found a gay-friendly gynecologist through a referral from my general practitioner (who is amazing) and there is also a publication called "The Queen City Listings" put out for folks in or near Cincinnati, OH, who are looking for all types of queer-friendly services.

I'm considering switching to a gay, male, leatherman gynecologist, who I met socially through the leather/kink/SM scene.

If I was starting from scratch in a new city without any trustworthy recommendations, I think that I would find the local progressive community and start looking around. Advertisements in local holistic, organic, progressive publications may give some direction. Asking people we trust is how we did it this time, and I've referred several of my friends (anybody who asks or appears to have need) to my doctor.




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