Experts: Little known about LGBT health
March 31st, 2011
03:43 PM ET

Experts: Little known about LGBT health

Little is known about health issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the United States according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine .  The non-profit organization says if federally funded surveys collect sexual orientation and gender identity data routinely,  much as race and ethnicity data is collected, it will help identify and further the understanding of health problems affecting LGBT people.

The report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health, who asked the IOM to assess what is known about LGBT health and determine where the gaps are in research, so that the NIH can begin to focus research on these populations.

"It's easy to assume that because we are all humans, gender, race or other characteristics of study participant shouldn't matter in health research, but they certainly do," said committee chair Robert Graham, professor of family medicine and public health sciences at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.  "It was only when researchers made deliberate efforts to engage women and racial and ethnic minorities in studies, that we discovered differences in how some diseases occur in and affect specific populations.

Judith Bradford, Ph.D., a member of the committee who wrote the report, says the study is extremely important because it provides a picture of how little information is out there and shines a light on how stigma and discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity can impact health in these communities.

"Based on the limited data we do have, we find that LGBT people have health disparities in several areas and these are access to health care, and lack of access to heath care. Many health care providers do not understand who LGBT people are and may not be aware of our specific differences and our specific needs. This is particularly the case with transgender people and bisexual populations. Most of the research we have is about gay men and lesbians."

Bradford, co-chair of the Fenway Institute–an organization that provides health care services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community–and director of the institute's Center for Population Research in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health says the report is a road map for NIH and other government agencies for conducting the research necessary to provide LGBT people with culturally competent health care. The report recommends that NIH encourage researchers to include sexual and gender minorities in their studies.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic has provided health care for the Washington, D.C, area since 1978 and has long been committed to meeting the health needs of the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.

“One of the biggest obstacles we run into in caring for the LGBT community is a lack of data. Without a full understanding of what unique health care needs LGBT people have, the medical community has a harder time determining a course of care for them," said Whitman-Walker Chief Medical Officer Ray Martins. "Good data will also help better train health care professionals to provide quality care to LGBT populations."  He added that the lack of data hinders training at every level in the health care profession.

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Rethink

    You know, L's and G's are substantially different from B's and T's. If I were a T, I might harrumph about always being lumped in with everyone else. Same goes if I were a B. Just sayin', if they're going to be so sensitive as to reverse the order of the GL / LG part, then why not be more sensitive and omit B's and T's?

    March 31, 2011 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Andrea

      Because a lot of us are both T and L or G?

      March 31, 2011 at 21:02 | Report abuse |
    • M

      What about the T & A's ?

      March 31, 2011 at 21:36 | Report abuse |
    • T3chsupport

      I think you might be on some F'd up S, but I'm down.

      March 31, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse |
  2. Gizmo

    No need to wait for the results - health problems will be laid at the feet of the SWM, as required.

    March 31, 2011 at 20:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • M

      Isn't the SWM a myth, like Sasquatch?

      March 31, 2011 at 21:32 | Report abuse |
    • Hanie

      boo hoo. have a hanky.

      April 3, 2011 at 14:33 | Report abuse |
  3. Harvey Milk's Ticked Off Offspring

    As a gay person, I have a hard time understanding why or how the federal government should spend money we need to save just to understand "my health". We tend to be upper income therefore we tend to be more health conscious. We tend to exsit in gender specifci communities therefore gender specific health issues are very much omnipresent in our gay culture. There. Period. The end. There's your study federal government. You're welcome, I just saved you 10 million dollars. Can I have my equal rights now please?

    March 31, 2011 at 20:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Maya

      If you want to understand why, it is very simple: these people have made careers off this kind of stuff. They talk about the problems of one minority or another, and guilty white people throw money at them to appease their own consciences. I'm not saying that minorities don't have specific problems, or that none of these problems are caused at least partially by unequal treatment, but I do believe that some people out there are just fanning the flames to keep their jobs. Learn to create fear and insecurity in others, play into it, and you'll never be short on cash.

      March 31, 2011 at 21:20 | Report abuse |
    • Hawk

      That's rather biased. I don't think that LGBT is any more tied to income than it is to race, height, eye color or shoe size. Plenty of them are poor, just as plenty of straight people are poor.

      March 31, 2011 at 21:26 | Report abuse |
    • M

      You are positing that all LGBT folks be treated as the stereotypical gay man. Most LGBT folks are not upper middle class, only you urban gay types. I'm transgendered. I went to the hospital, and instead of treating my broken foot, I got an hour of questioning about my hormone treatments and whether or not 'my pimp' had broken my foot. It's your privilege to be white and gay, and mine not be lumped in with you and your arrogance.

      March 31, 2011 at 21:29 | Report abuse |
    • mark in nyc

      I'm a gay man and I find this study to be completely asinine. How much of a difference is there between the health issues found in the gay vs non-gay communities? What will you find....that twinks are more prone to abusing drugs, therefore, exhibiting higher risk behavior? What's next.....studies of health conditions in the Jewish community? The Arab community? Blondes? People named Ann?

      April 1, 2011 at 11:29 | Report abuse |
    • None of the above

      Equal rights? what right do you not have?

      April 20, 2011 at 16:07 | Report abuse |
  4. wendy Bassett


    March 31, 2011 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Josephine Shaffer

    This study will help me because I am Transgender Female i'm glad they are starting this study.

    March 31, 2011 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. AGuest9

    Maybe all they need to do is ask some of their own employees. They have a fairly active LGBT community.

    March 31, 2011 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. brian

    What about the health of left-handed balding men??

    March 31, 2011 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Not Phil

    I'm not sure I understand why LGBT needs a specific health study.
    Most STDs don't care if you are LGBT or straight.
    If LGBT/straightness is a choice, then there should be no genetic basis for a health issue.
    If LGBT/straightness is not a choice, and becomes connected to a genetic disorder in some way, there will be such political discourse that the LBGT community will simply deny it exists.

    Someone please explain to me how male gay health is any different than male health?

    April 1, 2011 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      Umm, I don't know. Maybe rates of disease are different between straight and gay men? Just like rates of disease are different between whites and blacks?

      April 1, 2011 at 01:19 | Report abuse |
  9. Gretchen

    fr not phil:

    >...If LGBT/straightness is not a choice, and becomes connected to a genetic disorder in some way, there will be such political discourse that the LBGT community will simply deny it exists. <

    Being LGBT or straight is NOT a choice. One is either BORN gay or straight.

    April 1, 2011 at 00:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dan

      Gretchen: it may not be a choice for everyone but I guarantee you it's a choice for some people.

      April 1, 2011 at 01:20 | Report abuse |
    • Roman

      It could be neither inborn nor a choice, but a result of intra-family psychology (parenting, role models, etc.) from very early childhood.

      April 1, 2011 at 11:14 | Report abuse |
    • Zebula

      Dan, how can you make such a stupid guarantee? Have you thought about becoming gay? It's not a choice, and it's not a disorder either.

      April 1, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse |
    • Rber

      Rea, I appreciate the sipirt in which you wrote this. It is a time for National Organizations to support LGBT grass roots efforts in a manner that seems relevant to the students and youths who propel it. If only you and The Task Force had put actions behind these words and wholeheartedly supported and publicized the march you endorsed 8 weeks ago, we might have seen twice the amount of people in DC last weekend.

      December 19, 2012 at 05:29 | Report abuse |
  10. LeeCMH

    It is a shame that if statistics are gathered specific to LGBTs, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and others will twist the numbers into their hate campaigns.

    April 1, 2011 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jon

    On the other hand, if there is an actual research done then there will be actual data to fight against the bogus health claims of the Family Research Council. According to them, no gays live into their golden years because of an unhealthy life style .

    April 1, 2011 at 08:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • LeeCMH

      I hope you are right and real science will strengthen health care but also detract from Tony Perkins Family Research Council faux studies. Family Research Council says gays are living a death-style. This was one of the items that got them on the hate group list.

      April 1, 2011 at 08:56 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Don't elevate that "hate" group list to the level of an official designation, or Holy Writ.

      That list is a product of a group with its own agenda.

      April 1, 2011 at 11:18 | Report abuse |
  12. Really?

    I can understand the need for studies around transgender health. Trans people do things to their bodies with drugs and surgery and who knows what else. For example, I wonder if the women who tape their breasts down every day have higher rates of breast cancer.
    But what's the difference between gay men's health and straight men's health? AIDS? Rectal trauma? Ouch.
    But lesbian health? Really?

    April 1, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Betsy

      Lesbians have much higher rates of ovarian cancer. And are at higher risk of breast cancer. And smoke more than twice as much as the straight population. So, yes, there are issues with lesbian health.

      April 1, 2011 at 12:04 | Report abuse |
    • Chrissy

      GLBT folks come in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and yes, even religious origins. (though they may hide in fear/misunderstanding of their natural attractions because of those and conservative cultural teachings.)
      I think this could be a good thing to at least gather that datapoint, as long as it is fully decriminalized everywhere to be able to admit to being GLBT, and privacy maintained for those concerned. Too bad the most recent census didn't include that question. It would be interesting to see the numbers in the US, to get a better understanding of the population and distribution across the country. There are many diseases and conditions that could be studied within the community, and provide benefit if a greater understanding is found about them. There are good studies and bad studies all the time, and I'm sure we would quickly hear of both and their "findings" from all sides of the social arguments regarding the GLBT lifestyle.
      i.e. Early studies have shown a higher prevalence of PCOS is the lesbian community as well. Nearly 10% of female population has it already. Some have it all along, while others develop it only after large weight gain. It is tied to irregular hormonal and insulin production. It has a lot of related medical issues, especially when left untreated, including an avg life expectancy of just 56yrs. So this sort of larger study on the gay community could actually provide interesting data. Maybe the hormonal differences with this disease also increase likelihood of lesbianism in women born with it? Maybe some studies can help explain "why is someone gay?"...which is what a lot of straight and gay folks may actually wish to know. Any studies can only grow the knowledge and understanding of our community and that is never a bad thing, even if sometimes it may reveal bad statistics. We can't improve things if we don't identify issues tha tneed improving.

      April 1, 2011 at 12:49 | Report abuse |
    • Jacey

      JonI was diagnosed with PC on December 23rd 2011. I’m 53 and in good heatlh…well, was…Now I am being told that, based on my Gleason score of 6 and the minimal extent of it all, that I should have a nerve-sparing robotic prostectomy…man! I was not prepared for that news! Nor was I prepared for all the potential risks involved. I’m trying not to be consumed by all this but dont have a good feeling as to where my mental state (and physical state) is heading. I want to make a good decision but am really scared.. I am fortunate to have a partner who loves me but i don’t think he realizes what’s coming either…. Going to another urologist today to see what he thinks are my best options and will try to make that seemingly impossible choice.

      December 21, 2012 at 06:18 | Report abuse |
  13. Andy

    Desperately needed study so that programs and information (and the need for them) are based on facts and statistics gathered from the experiences of real people, rather than continually perpetualting myths and stereotypes about the LGBT communities. We truly know so little that has been validated, that anyone who claims that they already know the answer or that this isn't necessary, honestly doesn't know what they are taking about is probably pushing their own agenda.

    April 1, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Sy2502

    I will acknowledge that the health issues of a transgender individual are probably pretty unique, but please don't try to convince me that a gay man has any different health issues than a straight man. That's ridiculous.
    I love how "minorities" try to get treated the same by trying to make themselves look different. Don't they see the contradiction?

    April 1, 2011 at 13:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Want preventive medicine in health reform? Most often the things we never see are in front of us all the time. We all have a part of ourselves that is always there within us and always escaping our attention. This part of who we are, always hidden in plain sight, is the ability to foresee future changes in our mind-bodies as unintended consequences of our behaviors. Therefore, once you read “Health Secrets from the Seventh Heaven” you will realize that the solutions to your existing or potential health problems are so close to you that all you need to do is to become aware of them. More at http://moshesharon.wordpress.com

    April 3, 2011 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. kim

    Being a lesbian or gay has NO bearing on the types of illnesses there are. If cancer runs in the family pool then most of the time the chance of a son daughter and so on will most likly get it. Disease and everyday illnesses have no discrimination on straight or lgbt. Human is human .

    April 3, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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    April 6, 2011 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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