LGBTI community faces barriers to healthcare, study shows

09/10/2017

ACCORDING TO a new study, members of the LGBTI community are facing barriers to healthcare.

A NEW study, carried out as part of the Health4LGBTI project, suggests that substantial inequalities, barriers and discrimination face LGBTI people in their access of health services.

The report uncovered cases in which LGBTI people said they had been actively refused healthcare on the grounds of their sexuality in a number of countries including Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania and even the United Kingdom.

The research, which combines findings from 12 focus groups in six EU member states, claims that understanding of the LGBTI community within healthcare was patchy.  Accroding to ILGA: “There is very limited research with trans and intersex people to better understand their general health profile, experiences, and physical and mental health needs in relation to service provision.

“Similarly, further research that adopts an intersectional perspective on health inequalities experienced by LGBTI people is required. Where research does exist, it shows that living in rural areas, being a migrant, refugee, and/or asylum seeker, being on a low income, being young or old, and living with disabilities can contribute to health inequalities for LGBTI people and have implications for access to health services.”

“They are not treating their LGBTI patients in an adequate way and they are reinforcing their invisibility within the health sector.” Sophie Aujean, ILGA-Europe

Sophie Aujean, ILGA-Europe’s Senior Policy and Programmes Officer, spoke to CommonSpace about some of the study’s more alarming findings. For example, the claim that there are still “prevailing cultural and social norms that assume people are non-LGBTI by default”.

Ms Aujean said that this didn’t necessarily imply that health providers were behaving with a malicious intent, although she stressed that the study focused more on the impact that behavior had on interviewees, rather than on the motivation on the part of health providers: “When health providers assume their patients are heterosexual or cisgender for instance, they don’t necessarily mean wrong.

“They do not think they are prejudiced. However, they are not treating their LGBTI patients in an adequate way and they are reinforcing their invisibility within the health sector.”

“It’s just too difficult to expect someone who has mental health issues to constantly explain to different areas. I can’t do it anymore without it impinging on my health, so I’ve just given up.” Focus Group Response

She added that health providers have a “professional obligation” to equip themselves with the right knowledge and know-how to support patients in an “inclusive and appropriate way”, and that “even if it was ‘only’ a passive mistake on the part of the doctor or other healthcare professional, the impact on the LGBTI person seeking assistance is still very grave”.

As an example, one person reported that “constant heteronormative assumptions” resulted in a complete abandonment of healthcare. A respondent in one of the focus groups was quoted as saying: “It’s just too difficult to expect someone who has mental health issues to constantly explain to different areas. I can’t do it anymore without it impinging on my health, so I’ve just given up.”

“If they have to explain to ten different people what’s wrong, over and over again, and then face different types of prejudices, depending on who you get, then they too might give up…”

“People are reluctant to even try to seek care because they fear they may be laughed at or stigmatised.” Sophie Aujean, ILGA-Europe

Regarding the rate of improvement, the report states that there are examples of what it calls “promising practice”, but Sophie Aujean told CommonSpace that things are moving too slowly: “It is clearly not happening quickly enough in the sense that every day, across Europe, LGBTI people are discriminated against when accessing care.

“In our experience, people are reluctant to even try to seek care because they fear they may be laughed at or stigmatised.”

She added: “For good practices to become more common, a lot needs to happen: medical professionals have to perceive there’s a need in the first place and they have to be familiar with solutions. Also, policy makers have to put the issue on their agenda: health ministries for instance must become vocal on health inequalities faced by LGBTI people (but also groups such as Roma or Muslim people) and they must provide guidance and training to all stakeholders within the health sector.”

The study is part of a 24-month project which began in April 2016. It is funded by the European Parliament and carried out by the European Commission, which contracted a Consortium of organisations and universities to execute it.

Picture courtesy of Benson Kua

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