Here are some of the health inequalities affecting the LGBTQ community.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people often face prejudice, social stigmas and discrimination in many facets of their lives. This can have an impact not only on their mental health and happiness, but on their physical health as well.
A lack of acceptance can lead to stress, anxiety, depression and other behavioral health issues. This can result in higher rates of substance use and other high-risk behaviors, such as overeating, smoking or high-risk sex. These behaviors cause health issues of their own and may also contribute to an increased risk for other diseases and chronic health conditions.
Fearing discrimination or a lack of acceptance from the medical community, many LGBTQ people are also more likely to skip routine health screenings or to see a doctor when they have a health issue.
All of this adds up to health inequalities for the LGBTQ community. But by recognizing that you may be at a higher risk of certain medical conditions if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, you can take charge of your health by finding medical professionals you feel comfortable with and adopting lifestyle habits that help protect your health.
Here are some health conditions LGBTQ people may be at higher risk for:
- Anxiety and depression. Experiencing discrimination and/or bullying regarding sexual identity or preference, especially if it’s from family members and friends, can heighten feelings of sadness and hopelessness. According to several studies, LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely as their peers to contemplate suicide. At any age, anxiety and depression can result in people turning to high-risk behaviors, like binge drinking, smoking, drug use and overeating, as coping mechanisms. These are proven risk factors for a number of serious diseases, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.
- Obesity. Lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to be overweight or obese, which can contribute to a number of serious health conditions. Although researchers don’t yet understand exactly why this is, they suspect it may be related to the fact that some lesbian women are less willing to conform to society’s accepted ideals of what beauty is (e.g., being thin). It could also be a result of coping mechanisms like overeating and binge drinking.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Since they’re not worried about sex resulting in pregnancy, gay men may not use condoms, putting them at a higher risk for STDs. But condoms also help protect against the transmission of HIV, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis and some forms of hepatitis so they should be used no matter who a person has sex with.
- Breast cancer. Lesbian women have an increased risk of breast cancer, although it can’t be attributed to biological differences. Researchers think it may be related in part to stigma-related stress, which can lead to overeating and excessive drinking, both risk factors for breast cancer. It may also be due to lower rates of breastfeeding, which lowers breast cancer risk. Another issue is that lesbian women may be hesitant to schedule mammograms or visit a gynecologist over fears of discrimination from health care personnel. This can lead to later diagnoses, making cancer more difficult to treat.
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Date Last Reviewed: April 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD