Devyn Goetsch has experienced health care disparities from the moment she was born and labeled as male — a gender with which she no longer identifies.
Goetsch, a University of Minnesota gender and sexuality studies student, said she is “constantly misidentified, misnamed and misgendered” during medical appointments. She said she spends a lot of time explaining her gender identity and changes she made to her body to doctors.
According to Goetsch, this is just one of the many health care issues that impacts those who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or gender-nonconforming.
This fall, Boynton Health Service and Hennepin County each released health data specific to members of the LGBT community for the first time. Boynton’s data stretches from 2007-11. Hennepin County’s used 2010 numbers.
The results showed significant health disparities between queer-identified individuals and the rest of the population.
“This research is here, and this disparity exists, and we need to solve this,” Goetsch said.
Boynton staff members presented information on the nearly 7 percent of students who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual from a college health survey of students from 40 universities around the state in late September.
Results showed disparities between LGB and non-LGB students in areas including health insurance coverage, mental health, sexual assault, domestic abuse, sexual health and other health issues.
Similar disparities were found in Hennepin County’s 2010 Survey of the Health of All the Population and the Environment, which was first presented by Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger on Oct. 12.
“When you look at specific populations [who] you think might experience different forms of oppression or discrimination,” Dave Golden, a Boynton spokesperson, said, “health is one of the ways that it can manifest, and this fits that description as well.”
A full report of the Boynton data won’t be available until early December, Golden said.
Boynton’s new data doesn’t include students who identified as transgendered or gender nonspecific because too few respondents identified as such, he said.
The new data highlights the importance of establishing better relationships between members of the LGBT community and physicians, said Joann Usher, the executive director of Rainbow Health Initiative. RHI is a local nonprofit that partnered with the city of Minneapolis, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Hennepin County to present the SHAPE data.
“Health care access is a huge issue [in] both finding physicians who are familiar with LGBT health issues and being comfortable providing information about your sexual orientation and gender identity,” she said.
“A painful experience”
Health care coverage emerged as one of the major health care disparities in the LGBT community.
Boynton’s survey data showed 11 percent of students who identified as gay or lesbian were uninsured, while more than 7 percent of heterosexual students identified as uninsured. Gay males were the most uninsured with nearly 15 percent reporting they did not have insurance.
Among adults, 2010 SHAPE data showed that 10.6 percent of LGBT respondents in Hennepin County are uninsured compared to 6.4 percent of non-LGBT respondents. About 26 percent of LGBT adults said they had medical care needs that were unmet, compared to 15 percent of non-LGBT adults.
Goetsch said there are many reasons LGBT students can be afraid to go to the doctor and think, “Am I going to be discriminated against in my appointment? Is my doctor going to understand me?”
University junior Keagan Goetsch, Devyn Goetsch’s trans-identified partner, said people who identify as LGBT are less likely to have insurance coverage because many employers don’t give domestic-partnership benefits to non-heterosexual couples.
“It’s just this buildup of huge institutionalized problems,” said Keagan Goetsch, who works with the Transgender Commission and the Queer Student Cultural Center to increase access to equal health care resources on campus. He also mentioned economic and hiring disparities that prevent queer-identified people from affording health care.
“We’re not able to take care of ourselves all the time because we [the LGBT community] can’t afford to,” said Devyn Goetsch.
Her partner added “health care is a really painful experience for a lot of sexual and gender minorities.”
“There is change happening”
Ehlinger, of MDH, said the data shows people should be aware of disparities among different populations within the LGBT community because the data shows each group isn’t affected in the same way.
“It’s not one homogeneous group,” he said. “We need to be [aware] of the specific needs of each one of those populations within the LGBT framework.”
He said the data can be used for program development and creating policies that effectively address needs within the LGBT community.
Golden said that Boynton staff members will also have more training this January in working with LGBT patients through the University’s GLBTA Programs Office.
“We’re working to de-stigmatize the LGBT lifestyle, and I think we’re making some progress,” he said.