Having a trusting, open relationship with your health care provider is an important part of your health care. For many of us, however, it can feel strange to open up. It may feel awkward to discuss particular symptoms you’re having, or maybe you’re uncomfortable revealing certain details about your life, but this type of open and honest relationship is exactly what you need to access safe and effective health care.
If you’ve had difficult, inadequate health care in the past, it’s understandable that you’d be reluctant to share your identity, but open and honest communication is an essential piece of high-quality health care.
As an LGBTQ+ patient, sharing your identity with your health care team can be even more difficult. You may have had uncomfortable interactions in the past or even times when you were turned away or rejected in a health care setting. These negative experiences may make you avoid health care or want to protect certain aspects of your identity. But when it comes to getting high-quality personalized care, sharing your LGBTQ+ identity is an important part.
The relationship between you and your health care team is the foundation for safe and effective health care. Learn more about the importance of an open and honest relationship and what resources are available to support LGBTQ+ Veterans to ensure you receive the health care you deserve.
Finding the Right Health Care Provider
Eligible Veterans who are LGBTQ+ patients are entitled to health care that makes you feel valued and safe in all aspects of your identity. The policies of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) require that your health care is delivered in “an affirming and inclusive environment” and that VA employees respect your identity. If you receive health care outside of VA, you’re still protected by law. The Affordable Care Act prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of sex including sexual orientation and gender identity. Check out Your Health Care Matters: LGBTQ+ Patient Rights and Services for more information.
Knowing this, it’s important to find a health care provider that makes you feel supported and safe. If you don’t already have an open, trusting relationship with your current health care provider, consider the following suggestions:
- Do your research. Ask around in your circle of friends or your community. Does anyone have a recommendation? Do they have a supportive health care provider you could see?
- Ask questions. You can ask your provider questions such as: What is your experience with LGBTQ+ patients? Do you see other LGBTQ+ patients in your practice? Have an honest conversation and evaluate how you feel afterward.
- Switch providers. If you don’t feel like your identity is accepted by your current health care provider, ask to change providers. Check out the resources below for assistance.
Sharing Your LGBTQ+ Identity
If you’ve had difficult, inadequate health care in the past, it’s understandable that you’d be reluctant to share your identity, but open and honest communication is an essential piece of high-quality health care. If you’re still unsure about it, here are some reasons why it matters:
- Your health care may suffer. Your provider may not recommend important screenings. Early detection of many diseases is essential, so regular routine care with a health care provider you trust is important.
- You may miss out on care to help you become your most authentic self. If you aren’t sharing your LGBTQ+ identity with your health care team, you may miss out on important resources available just for you.
- You may avoid health care completely. If you aren’t open with your health care providers, you may choose to avoid care in order to avoid uncomfortable situations. This can be dangerous. If you have a trusted provider, you can establish routine health care, and when things come up, you can address them immediately.
Once you make the decision to share your LGBTQ+ identity with your health care team, your health care becomes more personalized and effective. It can include benefits such as:
- Referrals — Your health care provider can refer you to other providers and specialists who are a good fit to meet your needs.
- Support — Your health care provider can connect you to the support and services you may need to cope with stress, stigma, relationship concerns, discrimination and more.
- Vaccines — When you share details about your lifestyle with your health care provider, he or she can recommend vaccines to prevent certain infections. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all gay and bisexual men consider the Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B vaccines to reduce their risk.
- Preventative care — You can ensure you receive proper screenings and preventive care, such as Pap smears, mammograms and more.
- Sexual health — An honest discussion about your sexual behavior and partners can lead to more comprehensive care and important recommendations about ways to stay healthy and safe.
- Minimized health risks — According to studies by the National Library of Medicine, there are certain health concerns that affect LGBTQ+ patients at higher rates. It’s important your health care provider is aware of your identity in order to help you overcome health risks that include:
- An elevated risk for stress
- An increased risk for substance abuse disorders
- An increased risk for mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression
- Higher rates of certain cancers, such as breast and cervical cancers
- Higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection
You deserve high-quality health care in a safe and supportive environment. These resources can help:
- VA LGBTQ+ Health Care Services include:
- Gender-affirming hormone therapy
- Substance abuse/alcohol treatment
- Tobacco use treatment
- Treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections
- Military sexual trauma screening and treatment
- Suicide prevention services
- Mental health services
- Cancer screenings, prevention and treatment
- LGBTQ+ Veteran Care Coordinators are found at every facility to help coordinate the care you need. Your coordinator can answer your questions, advocate for your right to quality care, handle complaints about your care and help you get started with services.
- Make the Connection offers stories from LGBTQ+ Veterans on the importance of sharing your identity with your health care provider.
The CDC offers health information for specific populations including gay and bisexual men, transgender persons and more.