By: Ashland Johnson, FellowPosted on November 15, 2011 Issues: Health Care & Reproductive Rights

A recent article in the New York Times finally sheds light on a question many LGBT individuals have been asking for years: why is it so hard to find culturally competent health care professionals who are willing and able to deal with the unique health issues that face the LGBT community?

In a study done by Stanford’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Medical Education Research Group, researchers found that many medical schools only provide students with five hours of training on health care for LGBT patients. One third of medical schools did not give any LGBT medical training. Also, over twenty-five percent of the medical school deans surveyed characterized their school’s LGBT training as “poor” or “very poor.” About half of the surveyed deans characterized their school’s training as “fair.”  

Ignoring the unique needs of an entire community is clearly a public health issue as it promotes disparities in healthcare services among marginalized communities. But more specifically, it is a major reproductive health and reproductive justice issue. Why? Because the lack of knowledge of those providing health care services to LGBT patients, and the general lack of accessible information means that many LGBT individuals obtain no information, and sometimes misinformation, about maintaining their sexual and reproductive health.

Indeed, this problem is indicative of far reaching reproductive health inequalities that individuals in the LGBT community face. This is because these issues are not just “neglected” in medical school curriculum; they are institutionally ignored on many levels. For example, LGBT specific sexual health education is often left out of the standard sexual education curriculums in schools. In fact, only twelve states require such a discussion. Three of these states only require negative information about LGBT sexual health issues. The absence of such education contributes to the spread of STDs that can be detrimental to the sexual and reproductive health of LGBT youth. Moreover, disparate access to culturally competent care impacts the reproductive choices of LGBT individuals, especially transgender individuals. For example, many transgender people rarely receive the reproductive counseling needed for them to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives.

Given the major reproductive health implications, we urge our medical schools to follow the recent LGBT-inclusive examples set by the Department of Health and Human Services the Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest standards-setting and accrediting body in health care. Such actions are essential to ensuring that more marginalized communities have access to culturally competent health care services.