LGBT Student Health
Alyssa Montminy, GLBT KC Regional Chair
As I sat down to write this blog post, I asked some of my coworkers what would be an interesting topic. Some of the answers were timely and political, like the current Supreme Court case, or relevant to what would happening on campuses this spring, like Day of Silence celebrations. Through our conversations, a suggestion of “LGBT Health” came up, and had stuck with me since.
It almost goes without saying that identifying as a member of the LGBT* community brings a whole series of quirky life situations to navigate (for example, the coming out process that I wrote about in my last post!!). These situations are deeply personal (as are conversations about health in general) but as we all know, how healthy we are feeling can significantly impact our day to day interactions with others. A simple 1:1 meeting with my RA can quickly delve into details about their trip to an emergency room, and just this last week I had to reschedule a conduct hearing due to the student’s sudden health issue.
LGBT* folks find themselves constantly battling stereotypes and assumptions that can shape their interactions with their healthcare providers. A simple google search of “LGBT Health” pulls up pages and pages of resources guides, studies full of statistics and newspaper articles about recent events focused on the topic. A few weeks ago, a Texas lawmaker introduced a bill to the state senate that proposed cutting state funding to university LGBT centers, because he felt they promoted “unsafe styles” and “facilitated the spread of STIs/HIV.” (The bill was quietly pulled after a similar bill was passed and then vetoed at Texas A&M.) Also in Texas this month, a openly-gay student running for student government came to campus one day to find fliers all over showing the medical files that stated that he is HIV-Positive.
These are public examples – these stereotypes and assumptions are felt on a personal level too. This reminds me of a friend who was eventually diagnosed with a uterine cyst after a fighting with her doctor about it NOT being a pregnancy complication – even after telling her doctor “I can’t get pregnant if I only have sex with women!” – my friend was still forced to go through a pregnancy test, as the doctor was unable to move forward without it.
A few quick conversations with my colleagues brought up several personal stories – friends who switched doctors after continually being referred to as “a homosexual”, or students who were really exciting to be going to a school that offered insurance that covered procedures and medications for transitioning students.
So where does that leave us in our daily practice as student affairs professionals? We all know that college can be a pivotal time in the identity development for LGBT* folk, and for many of these students – they are also dealing with taking charge of their health for the first time also. They are finding their own doctors and making their own decisions. While we probably don’t expect to be discussing health issues with our students on a regular basis, I know that we can all think of at least a few conversations in the last week where students came to talk about one issue and end up talking about something entirely different.
Regardless of our own personal experiences, or our level of knowledge on the topic, it is important to be aware of the issues unique to the LGBT* community. For example:
- young men who have sex with other men (especially Hispanic and Black men) are the group most at-risk for HIV infection,
- adolescent females who identify as lesbian, bisexual or questioning are at an increased risk for unintended pregnancy,
- youth who report same-sex attraction or behaviors also reported higher levels of emotional distress, greater use of alcohol and marijuana, and earlier sexual debut,
- lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers.
So how can we help? Listen to our students! Each person’s experience is going to be unique to them – we all have at least one horror story of a time we’ve been to the doctor, regardless of our own identities. Just because someone identifies as LGBT* doesn’t mean that they are facing these issues. But – we should still be aware of and ready to support someone who has. Encourage your students to stay informed – be aware of their rights and options, and help them to research the information. Try to avoid giving direct advice – you may not know all of the factors. In doing my own research for this post, I found the below links – guides for individuals on topics to address with their doctors.
Ten things gay men should discuss with their healthcare provider:
Ten things lesbians should discuss with their healthcare provider:
Ten things transgender persons should discuss with their healthcare provider:
Above all else – just be open to listening to your students. This could potentially be a traumatic experience – we all know the feeling of nerves we get at a doctor appointment, and to feel judged by your healthcare provider only makes it worse. Providing a friendly ear to listen can make all the difference!
CDC LGBT Youth Health: http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm
LGBT Health at Princeton: http://www.princeton.edu/uhs/healthy-living/hot-topics/lgbt-at-princeton/
APA LGB Student Health Risks: http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/programs/hlgbsp/health.aspx