The following piece was written by Wood River Health's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Gates and published in the Westerly Sun in October 2023.
Many who identify as LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, +) have faced discrimination and bullying since childhood. They regularly experience social stigma and are at greater risk of being harassed. Many are impacted by behavioral health issues including anxiety, depression and substance misuse. As a result, 83% of LGBTQ+ people feel they need to hide their sexual orientation.
Many members of the LGBTQ+ population don’t seek the health care services they require to maintain or improve their health, especially when they have previously experienced discrimination from a health care provider. The same risks of cancer that haunt the majority are present among the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, estrogen, which serves as a lifeline for biological males who identify as females, when taken for more than five years heightens their risk of breast cancer, necessitating mammography for early detection. Family physicians report screening rates to be woefully deficient, with tests for cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer being conducted at rates up to three times lower.
Health care access is stark throughout much of our nation, but the access rate is even bleaker among the LGBTQ+ population. Please encourage your friends and family members who are LGBTQ+ to safeguard their health at a health care facility where they can feel safe and accepted. Refer them to a Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI Safe Zone provider such as Wood River Health. This credential ensures that they provide safe, affirming, and inclusive care to the LGBTQ+ community. To earn that logo, providers must have staff training specific to providing care to LGBTQ+; protection for patients and staff from discrimination based on gender identity or expression; gender neutral bathrooms; inclusive forms and procedures; and a public commitment to connecting with and serving the LGBTQ+ community.