IN Magazine: January/February 2021

Page 46


How The Healthcare System Is Still Failing LGBTQ PEOPLE Some professionals don’t understand us well enough to do a good job taking care of us By Paul Gallant


I’ll start with a confession: I got a sexual transmitted infection. The reason for my symptoms was mysterious, both to me and, frustratingly, to the healthcare practitioners I called upon. So I went undiagnosed for months despite several doctors’ appointments, including with one specialist who told me: “Not every problem has a specific cause. Sometimes these things just go away.” Which might be true, I suppose. Unless it’s a specific well-known infection that will never go away, and which will eventually cause a body serious lasting damage, unless it’s treated with a shot and pills. This frustrating and painful runaround happened in the downtown of a city full of supposedly well-trained doctors and technicians (I even had an ultrasound), operating within spitting distance of the gay Village. It wasn’t like none of them had ever had a sexually active gay patient before. It’s scary to imagine what an LGBTQ person in a smaller, more judgmental, less gay-friendly place might experience with a doctor who is not familiar with gay health issues. “The nuance of the impact of sexuality and gender on one’s health is often lost. It means that decisions are not made in the best interest of our community; they’re made in the interest of the majority,” says Jody Jollimore, executive director of the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC). Founded in 1999, the Vancouver notfor-profit promotes the health of gay, bi, trans, two-spirit and queer men through research and intervention development. The problem starts with a dearth of data – studies and statistics – about the health and lives of LGBTQ people. Just as traditional 46


medical research has overlooked how women and people of colour might face different health issues, and require different medical approaches, than the “standard” white male patient, health researchers have only recently started acknowledging the different experiences of LGBTQ people. Devan Nambiar, program manager at Rainbow Health Ontario, offered by Toronto’s Sherbourne Health Clinic, told me that much of the good data looking specifically at LGBTQ health dates back a mere decade. One of the first serious triggers for investigating queer health as being different from straight health was a particularly devastating one: how HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men. The issue was ignored by established healthcare institutions when the AIDS crisis hit, so gay men took on much of this early work themselves. The San Francisco AIDS Foundation and New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis were founded in 1982, the AIDS Committee of Toronto and AIDS Vancouver in 1983. The American organizations, particularly, could be combative and accusatory in their approach, criticizing the government, health organizations and pharmaceutical companies for their role in an unparalleled public health crisis among a minority group that was generally misunderstood and sometimes despised. Over time, the demand for treatment and research into HIV/AIDS grew more formalized, more co-operative. And the focus of many queer health advocates expanded to sexual health more broadly. Not just because STIs and other sexual health issues can play a role in HIV transmission, but also because it’s clear that discomfort

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