LGBTIQ+ Health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer/questioning (LGBTIQ) Australians experience significantly poorer health outcomes when compared to the broader population. The reasons for these inequalities are grounded in Australia’s long history of institutionalised discrimination. These include:

LGBTIQ+ individuals are more likely to suffer poor mental health and engage in high risk activities such as smoking, illicit drug use or alcohol abuse. Health disparities between sexual minority and heterosexual populations appear to be attributable to stress arising from heterosexist discrimination and victimisation. Lack of safety leads to sexual identity concealment in the face of anticipated stigma (so called ‘minority stress’). Heteronormativity, prejudice, rejection and internalised homophobia compound this minority stress. The health inequalities faced by LGBTIQ+ people are the most prevalent amongst the ageing LGBTIQ+ population, who are doubly invisible regarding the provision of healthcare.

What’s more, there is a disturbing lack of education about LGBTIQ+ during medical school, particularly regarding the health of transgender and lesbian individuals. This does not bode well for changing a system that is already inept at providing safe and inclusive healthcare to LGBTIQ+ individuals.


IN A NUTSHELL:

  • LGBTIQ+ individuals throughout history have suffered globally due to discrimination and persecution.
  • LGBTIQ+ Australians face poorer physical and psychological health outcomes, and are more likely to engage in risk taking behaviour including heavy drinking, smoking, and illicit drug use.
  • Despite recent progress, there is still a long way to go in ensuring equity of access to inclusive healthcare for all.

Collection #1: HIV

1981 saw the discovery of what was then known as ‘gay cancer’ (Kaposi’s sarcoma). This new disease was full of mystery and fear – nobody knew what it was, where it was coming from. All they knew is that it would eventually kill them.

The AIDS scare was an incredibly distorted and duplicitous public health panics of the last half century. The politics of AIDS have always been governed by fear; in the early days, health professionals were not exempt from this, with everyone jumping on the fear bandwagon.

In the 1980s, treating the much feared GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) was difficult. Senior consultants wanted nothing to do with it. Many were calling for a moratorium on the provision of care, with a view that they were likely to die regardless and that the potential for spread of the condition was too great. Try and imagine yourself in the situation. How would you feel, performing CPR on a crashing patient with ‘gay cancer’? Not to mention the emotional burden doctors suffered, dealing with the loss of so many patients and helping their families during this time.

Beyond the four walls of the hospital, fear was everywhere; spurred on by scaremongering political advertising campaigns (pictured). Even if you ‘looked gay’, you were at risk of sustaining physical abuse, facing stigma and discrimination around every corner.

Thankfully, by the 1990s, solid progress was being made in the establishment of supportive networks and access to appropriate treatment for HIV sufferers. Outside of Africa, HIV infection today continues only to affect vulnerable members of our society (injecting drug users, men who have sex with men). Even within these communities it remains quite rare, and is a treatable and preventable chronic disease.

For more information about the timeline of the AIDS epidemic, check this out. (Images sourced here, here, and here).


Collection #2: #TransDocFail

Dr Richard Curtis was the UK’s first transgender doctor. Dr Curtis specialises in the treatment of gender dysphoria. Dr Richard Curtis was born a woman but described himself as feeling like a “gay man trapped in a woman’s body”. As a GP in the UK, he was investigated by the General Medical Council for prescribing sex change hormones to several patients without the specialist knowledge or skills to do so. This negative media portrayal lead to the #TransDocFail, sparking discussion among the trans community of their experiences of how they are treated by medical practitioners in general. Several thousand tweets proved that the biggest problem facing the trans community was institutional transphobia rather than a rogue specialist. Read more here.

Read a summary of tweets using the #TransDocFail hashtag, put together by activist Zoe O’Connell here.


Collection #3: Homosexuality; A Disease to be Cured

Homosexuality was in the DSM as a formal psychiatric illness until 1973. Practices aimed at ‘curing’ homosexuality have existed for centuries; examples include:

  • Dr Carl Vaernet, a Nazi doctor who experimented with injecting hormones into testicles to cure homosexuality
  • A Nazi German doctor, Eugen Steinach (pictured), who believed that homosexuality was rooted in the testicles, and thus carried out testicle transplantation experiments

Gay conversion therapy (AKA cure therapy, reparative therapy, ex-gay therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts) comprises all ‘treatments’ aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation to comply with the heteronormative standard.

These practices are diverse, spanning from intensive psychotherapy to chemical castration, electric shock therapy, aversion techniques, and ‘corrective rape’. Not limited to outdated practices, iTunes and Google Play offer a 60-day “gay cure” app. Rather than showing any demonstrable benefit, therapy has been shown to increase anxiety, depression, high-risk sexual behaviours and a nine-fold increase in suicidal thoughts. 

Gay conversion therapy remains legal worldwide, including in the UK, Germany, and the USA. (images sourced here, here, here, here and here)


Image 4: Reimer and Dr Money

In 1965, twins Bruce and Brian Reimer were born as perfectly normal healthy boys. However, due to issues with urination, they underwent circumcision at age 7 months. An accident during the procedure left Bruce without a penis. Dr John Money saw this as an opportunity to prove his hypothesis that gender is determined purely by how we are raised, so now 17 months old, Bruce became Brenda, undergoing full castration.

Dr Money told the Reimer parents to raise Brenda as a girl, stressing that if they wanted the sex change to work, the parents must never let Brenda or her twin brother know that she had been born a boy. Brenda was raised as a girl, but by the time she was 13, she was feeling suicidal.

At this stage, her parents decided to go against Dr Money, revealing the sex change. Within weeks Brenda chose to become David. However, the trauma of the experience plagued both David and his brother, who both committed suicide. Dr Money falsified his results, yet there are still decisions being made about whether to bring children up as male or female if they suffer from what is called Disorders of Sex Development based on his “research”.(images sourced here and here)

WANT MORE?

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