Just for the Health of It!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a major federal agency, monitoring and educating the American public as it faces a variety of health and illness risks each year. It is important for this agency to be aware of the dangers we face and to know the demographics of the people it serves, so it can remediate the causes and hopefully reduce the occurrence of such threats. According to the CDC, the LGBTQ community is notably at risk for COVID-19, due to a variety of factors.
The CDC released its study in early February. The introduction reads, “People who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) are members of every community. They are diverse, come from all walks of life, and include people of all races and ethnicities, all ages, all socioeconomic statuses, and from all parts of the United States. The perspectives and needs of LGBT people should be routinely considered in public health efforts to improve the overall health of every person and eliminate health disparities.”
Early on in Trump's term, directives were given to cease using sexual orientation and gender identity as reference points in surveys of older Americans and their health practices. Thus, the data collection conducted under the Obama Administration came to a screeching halt with Trump. Key survey questions that identified a portion of the pool of those interviewed as LGBTQ simply disappeared.
Michael Adams, CEO of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE), spoke out vehemently about this omission. “This was a stealth effort to strip LGBT elders out of the survey without anybody noticing.... We hear over and over about LGBT elders who feel forced to go back into the closet to avoid mistreatment by caregivers and by other seniors. All of these aging service providers need to hear from this population.”
Let’s get back to the CDC report itself. Following a cursory introduction, the report splits its focus across the spectrum, and treats gay/bisexual, lesbian/bisexual, and transgender on their own terms.
In the section on gay and bisexual men, one finds this broad summary: “Just like all other men, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men need to know how to protect their health throughout their life. For all men, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death. However, compared to other men, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are additionally affected by higher rates of HIV and other STDs, tobacco and drug use and depression.”
The report pivots into a list of “Other factors that can negatively impact your health and ability to receive appropriate care: homophobia, stigma, discrimination, lack of access to culturally- and orientation-appropriate medical and support services, heightened concerns about confidentiality, fear of losing your job and fear of talking about your sexual preferences or orientation. These reasons and others may prevent you from seeking testing, prevention and treatment services, and support from friends and family.”
The section that focuses on lesbian/bisexual women does not have the same commentary as that of gay/bisexual men. A broad listing of resources is provided for the reader. The first resource, and the one that seems most relevant, was compiled by GLMA, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. Today, their moniker is “GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality.”
GLMA provides a list of the “Top Ten Things Lesbians Should discuss with Their Healthcare Provider.” The report begins, “Following are the health issues GLMA’s healthcare providers have identified as most commonly of concern for lesbians. While not all of these items apply to everyone, it’s wise to be aware of these issues.” They include: breast cancer, depression/anxiety, heart health, gynecological cancer, fitness, tobacco, alcohol, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, and sexual health.
Once again, the information is focused across a broad spectrum of the lesbian/bisexual community and is outdated. The last revision to this document was in May 2012.
The CDC report that reviews the transgender community is even less specific and comprehensive. This section also lists resources that are available from other venues. The report falls far short of fair and equal examination of health risks to transgender persons. One reason for this is that there were fewer involved in their survey to provide a good base sample.
It is vital that everyone takes responsibility for their health and well-being. Under the Biden Administration, the CDC will likely provide better data collection for the LGBTQ community. Until it does, and we know the particular risks, take care of yourselves—just for the health of it!
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult trans daughter. Email David Garrett at firstname.lastname@example.org.