Common Health Issues Among LGBT People: A Few Examples
There are no LGBT-specific diseases or illnesses. However, LGBT people are more likely to experience certain health issues compared to people who are not LGBT. These health issues are often related to the stigma and discrimination LGBT people experience in their daily lives—at school or work, in public places, or in health care settings. These experiences can be the cause of health issues requiring medical attention.
For example, LGBT youth may experience bullying from schoolmates and, as a result, become socially isolated and turn to substance abuse. At other times, LGBT people’s previous negative experiences getting care can interfere with their access to the health care they need. If they feel uncomfortable due to negative experiences with staff, they may stop going to a clinic or medical facility even if they are in the middle of necessary treatment. Being a member of a group that experiences discrimination can cause high levels of stress (sometimes called “minority stress”), which can lead to a broad range of health problems, some of which are listed below. By learning to avoid discrimination, stigmatization, and simple mistakes due to inexperience, front-line health care workers can help LGBT people avoid the “double whammy” of experiencing these health problems in their daily lives, and then being discouraged from seeking the care they need.
A few examples of these health problems include:
- LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide, and are more likely to be homeless (it is estimated that between 20% and 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT). LGBT youth are also at higher risk for becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). They are also more likely to be bullied.
- Gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are at higher risk of HIV and STDs, especially within communities of color.
- LGBT populations are much more likely to smoke than others; they also have higher rates of alcohol use, other drug use, depression, and anxiety.
- Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer, such as mammograms and Pap tests.
- Bisexuals have higher rates of behavioral health issues compared to lesbians and gay men.
- Transgender individuals experience a high prevalence of HIV and STDs, victimization, and suicide attempts. They are also less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals due to rejection by their families or discrimination when seeking employment.
- Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health care because of isolation, diminished family supports, and reduced availability of social services. Some report discrimination from their peers when living in communal elderly housing.