Advocating for yourself in a medical situation can be nerve-wracking. For young patients in the LGBTQ+ community, the situation can be even more difficult due to the decades of discriminatory practices that have unfortunately plagued the field.
LGBTQ+ youth face many barriers to healthcare access, barriers that require advocacy to overcome. Too often, that burden falls on the shoulders of LGBTQ+ youth themselves as they struggle to navigate a healthcare system with a history of discrimination and ignorance of problems faced by a significant portion of the population.
If you find yourself in such a position as a young LGBTQ+ individual, you’ll want to come prepared to be your own advocate. Here’s what you should know.
Why LGBTQ+ Healthcare Needs Advocates
Time and time again, the healthcare system in the United States has proven to be problematic when it comes to equal access. For women — 50.8% of the population, mind you — healthcare outcomes continue to fail to match what they are for men, demonstrating an environment that is discriminatory in its outcomes if not its intentions. For LGBTQ+ folks, the same unfortunate reality is often true.
The systemic failings of healthcare when it comes to these folks play out primarily in one of two ways. First, there is the lack of clinical research into health issues that correlate with an LGBTQA+ identity. For instance, there is an increased rate of risk factors for breast cancer among lesbians. And yet, only one-tenth of 1% of decades of research into LGBTQ+ health examined anything other than sexual health.
Clinical research is the process of testing new treatments and therapies on people, and conducting this research ethically demands an environment free from prejudice. However, bias in the research that gets done puts minority individuals at greater risk than their majority peers.
Sometimes, the failure to research is driven by the other major failure of the system: that is the presence of stigma. LGBTQ+ youth still face discrimination in many facets of their lives. As much as 40% of the homeless youth population is made up of LGBTQ+ individuals, for example, because these children are more likely to be rejected by their families.
Meanwhile, that stigma is present even in care facilities, where LGBTQ+ youth report finding it difficult to disclose their orientations with their care providers. In turn, medical staff fails to provide the proper screening and preventative treatments that might offer better outcomes.
Facing these barriers to care, it’s no wonder LGBTQ+ youth have a hard time sharing aspects of their identity with their providers. You want the best care, just like everybody else. Fortunately, more comfortable, accessible care is available to you with just a bit of DIY advocacy work.
How You Can Be Your Own Advocate as an LGBTQ+ Youth
In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to fight so hard for yourself when it came to securing adequate healthcare. But young LGBTQ+ individuals understand already that this is not a perfect world and that quality care can be a battle to obtain.
The good news is that you’re not alone. There are protections and resources out there to help you advocate for your wellness. From legal rights to mental health services that sprang up in the wake of COVID-19, you can apply tools and strategies to secure the healthcare you deserve.
Here are some tips for being a healthcare advocate for yourself:
Understand Your Legal Protections
First, it helps to know exactly where you stand legally as an LGBTQ+ youth. For instance, regulations vary by state as to the types of routine care you can consent to receive as a minor and under what circumstances. Research your local ordinances to find out where you might need a legal guardian’s help in obtaining care, as well as what you have access to on your own.
Next, it’s time to build a toolkit of resources that can help you find the help you need at a moment’s notice. This could be a physical booklet you keep of names, addresses, and phone numbers, or it might be a note saved to your phone with a list of links. Regardless, nonprofit and public organizations are out there to help you in your fight for fair care. Here are a few to get you started:
Explore Your Care Options
One of the many great things about modern technology is that it can offer young people the means to access healthcare. From telehealth counseling services to specialist virtual consultations, the virtual shift has brought care options to mobile phones. Use your smart device to explore care options through a service that best fits your needs.
Find a Comfortable Fit
In the search for quality healthcare, however, it can be highly discouraging if you don’t click with your care providers. Whether it’s a behavioral therapy counselor or a general practitioner, it’s important that you feel comfortable with the people providing your care. It is always okay to explore new therapists and physicians. You won’t hurt anyone’s feelings by seeking out what’s best for you when it comes to healthcare.
Engage in Healthcare Activism
Finally, you might consider joining the fight and becoming an advocate not just for your healthcare rights but for those of your peers and future peers as well. Healthcare activism can take many forms — from mediathons to letters written to a senator. Use your voice as an individual to support a world of more equitable care.
These are just a few suggestions that will ideally help you in your advocacy work for better care. Everyone has the right to quality, necessary treatment. Your youth and sexual orientation can never change that. Unfortunately, the world may force you to advocate for yourself in the search for healthcare that is at least on par with that of your heterosexual peers.
Start being a health advocate by learning your legal protections. Then, assemble resources and a care team that fit your needs. A more equitable healthcare system awaits; it just might take a bit of advocacy first.