07/01/2016 10:23 pm
Affirmative Care for LGBT Individuals
Because of positive momentum in a variety of legal and social areas, it is sometimes possible to forget that individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) are still marginalized in this society. Events like the tragedy in Orlando serve as harsh reminders that the LGBT community still struggles with the negative consequences of homophobia and transphobia.
Nationwide, LGBT individuals are twice as likely to experience violence—including bullying, teasing, harassment, and assault—and twice as likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as their heterosexual peers. Thirty-six percent of LGBT youth have been physically harassed and 22% have been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. LGBT youth are more likely than heterosexual youth to experience depression and anxiety disorders, and are at higher risk for suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and completed suicides. One study found that nearly 25% of LGBT youth reported attempting suicide, compared to about 4% of the general population.
The good news: research consistently finds that the above risks are minimized when LGBT individuals have strong social supports, have access to competent care, and feel emotionally and physically safe. To this end, there are many things that families and healthcare providers can do to ensure the best possible outcome for LGBT individuals:
- Educate yourself – learn about and acknowledge the unique challenges faced by the LGBT community, including both children and adults. The CDC has a great list of resources to get you started: http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth-resources.htm
- Use inclusive language – honor pronoun and name choices, opt for gender-neutral phrasing (for example, use “partner” instead of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend”), and ask about preferences rather than making assumptions.
- Be honest – talk openly with LGBT youth about sexual orientation, sexual activity, bullying, and discrimination. Invite conversation and listen compassionately to any problems or concerns that they may have.
- Encourage safe spaces & supportive groups – these can be great places for LGBT individuals and their allies to share experiences and receive support from one another without fear of discrimination. Groups such as gay-straight alliances or other LGBT-friendly organizations that promote understanding and support can be beneficial on both personal and community levels.
- Be a proud ally – consider posting an ally sticker on your office door, for example, that indicates that you can provide an affirming space for LGBT individuals to receive treatment. Parents might let their children know that other teens can come to them for nonjudgmental support. Make it known in your community that LGBT individuals can feel accepted and validated in your presence.