LGBTQIA+ folks frequently face discrimination in healthcare spaces, but many resources and tips are available for finding a professional who is a true ally.
Historically, trans and queer folks have been marginalized, othered, and pathologized by medical and mental health communities. From conversion therapy to denying funding and care, LGBTQIA+ folks have faced massive discrimination in healthcare spaces.
“Given this historical context — and even more particularly so if LGBTQ+ folks have other intersecting identities, such as being a Person of Color, having a disability, being poor, fat, elderly, etc. — there is hesitancy, reluctance, fear, trauma, and resentment that all [define] LGBTQ+ folks’ relationships to healthcare,” said Kristen Martinez, MEd, EdS, LMHCA, NCC, an LGBTQ+-affirmative counselor at Pacific NorthWell in Seattle, Washington.
Homophobia and transphobia are ongoing issues in medicine. Often, doctors’ offices can become a hotbed of painful questions, answers, and statements based on the assumption that those receiving the care were only ever heterosexual and cisgender, explains sexuality educator Erica Smith, MEd.
Examples include: What’s your preferred method of contraception? Are you pregnant? When was your last Pap smear and breast exam?
This dialogue can force LGTBQIA+ folks to lie about their identities if they feel unsafe disclosing that information or hesitant to come out. That conversation can become a string of apologies or uncomfortable laughter if they do come out. At worst, those fears of discrimination are realized.
Or according to Smith, “The LGBTQ person is forced to teach their healthcare providers about their own needs.”
In a 2018 survey by the Center for American Progress, 8% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer people reported a healthcare provider refused to see them due to their sexual orientation. And according to Ashley Spivak, co-founder of the sexual education platform Cycles + Sex, “That
Ultimately, the issue of having or not having healthcare professionals who are LGBTQIA+ allies can be a matter of life or death.
“When patients feel uncomfortable going to their care provider and giving a full picture of their health, they may face adverse health outcomes as a result,” explains Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, who’s double board certified in OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln.
Professionals need to recognize that simply being “LGBTQIA-friendly” — for instance, loving their gay cousin or having lesbian neighbors — isn’t enough. Professionals also need to know the specific health risks and concerns that affect LGBTQIA+ communities.
Martinez explains, “There should be no barriers for a trans man to be able to access pelvic care and Pap smears, just like anyone else who has these particular organs that need specific care.”
Similarly, a healthcare professional must not tell a lesbian cisgender woman they may not have a chance of contracting HPV if they’re not having penetrative sex with a cisgender man. Such information is incorrect, as people can pass HPV to each other regardless of gender and genitalia.
In many cases, lack of diversity training for doctors can be to blame for these negative experiences.
“Until recently, medical training didn’t address the specific concerns and care of LGBTQ+ patients,” explains Gaither. If older medical professionals wish to learn how to give care to their LGBTQIA+ patients, they often have to seek out educational opportunities on their own.
But it is possible for LGBTQIA+ folks to find healthcare professionals who can provide informed and culturally competent care. The question is how.
We’ve compiled various resources to search for and get LGBTQIA+ services. Use this guide to help find a healthcare professional who’s likely an LGBTQIA+ ally so you can get the care you need — and deserve.
Word of mouth
One of the best places to start is by talking with your queer friends about who they go to, says Smith.
“I rely on my network of friends to find LGBTQ+ healthcare. Thanks to them, I rarely have to rely on Google to tell me if a provider or office is an ally,” said Smith.
Likewise, if you already have one trusted professional who’s an ally but need to contact a new doctor or specialist, you can ask them for a referral. Many LGBTQIA-friendly doctors have a network of professionals they recommend to their patients.
If you don’t have a network of queer folks you can talk with, search for “queer exchange [name of your city]” on Facebook and request to join. Here, queer folks can post questions to their local queer community members and ask for recommendations for LGBTQIA-friendly doctors in the area.
Local clinics and LGBT centers
“Local clinics are also a great resource to find care,” said Spivak, especially those in urban areas. Examples include the Callen-Lorde Center in New York City and the Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C. Both provide services geared toward queer communities, among many other services.
Find one near you by Googling “clinic near me + LGBTQIA” or similar search terms. You can also visit your local Planned Parenthood, which offers affordable care and LGBTQIA+ services in all 50 states.
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) offers a directory that lists professionals who are welcoming to LGBTQIA+ communities and knowledgeable about their unique health needs and concerns. All GLMA professionals are required to affirm their commitment to creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQIA+ communities.
National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center
Primarily for healthcare professionals interested in becoming better educated on the health needs of LGBTQIA+ communities, the National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center has a ton of great, free, comprehensive resources for LGBTQIA+ folks. These include free webinars, a list of national LGBTQIA+ health initiatives, and a list of hotlines.
CenterLink LGBT Community Center Member Directory
This is a database with information on LGBTQIA+ community centers worldwide. Enter your location, find your nearest community center, and call them for healthcare professional recommendations.
World Professional Association for Transgender Health
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s online directory can help you find transgender-affirming professionals. Enter information about where you live and the type of healthcare professional you’re looking for.
Please PrEP Me
This is a community-based service that curates professionals who prescribe PrEP based on your ZIP code. Go to their webpage and enter your ZIP code.
National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) can certify businesses as LGBTQIA-friendly or owned and operated by LGBTQIA+ folks nationwide.
Their tab “Affiliate Chambers” is useful for finding a healthcare professional. Click it, and you’ll see a chamber in almost every state. Pick your state, then search the health directory for the service you’re looking for.
“You’ll find local healthcare providers, adoption and neonatal concerns, and gender-affirming surgery and more,” notes Jonathan Lovitz, senior vice president at the NGLCC.
The goal of Out2Enroll is to connect people who are LGBTQIA+ or allies with health insurance coverage options, especially options involving benefits like gender-affirming care. It mostly focuses on Affordable Care Act plans but has links to local organizations that can lend financial and insurance-related advice.
One Medical is a national primary care provider that offers practitioners who are experts in LGBTQIA+ health concerns.
“We can address all of a person’s health concerns, from allergies and asthma to STI testing and skin infections,” said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a professional with One Medical based in Arizona.
And they don’t require an office visit for STI screening. “Patients can get STI screening done through our on-site labs. We even offer video visits for patients, which may be a more comfortable platform for some,” said Bhuyan.
Planned Parenthood has a large online repository of sexual and reproductive health information for LGBTQIA+ patients. “They launched a chatbot, Roo, which patients of any orientation and gender can use to ask questions about their body, sex, or relationships,” said Bhuyan.
The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is geared specifically toward providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to young people in LGBTQIA+ communities.
“While their goal is to provide mental health support, they can also refer folks to other resources that meet their [other] health needs,” said mental health professional Kryss Shane, MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW.
While the above resources do some of the preliminary work for you, Gaither and Shane advise patients to do more research on the healthcare facility and professional before making an appointment.
But as Shane says, “Too often, folks stick a rainbow flag on their site and their business door and claim to be LGBTQ+-friendly but don’t actually have the supportive knowledge or programming in place to support their claim to be a safe place.”
The steps below can help you learn more.
Visit the professional’s website
Take a close look at the language used on the professional’s website. Unless they’re talking about someone specific, a professional shouldn’t gender their services, says Spivak.
Instead of directing people to “women” services, “An LGBTQ-friendly provider will use ‘pregnant person’ or ‘someone who menstruates’ instead as to not gender those experiences,” she explains.
Smith notes that many queer folks will call out if a healthcare professional is exceptionally welcoming — or not — in online reviews. These can help provide a sense of the quality of care provided.
Keep in mind reviews aren’t always reliable, though. They can be outdated or misleading. But a particularly glaring review of how the doctor approached or treated someone based on their identity is a big red flag.
Call the front desk
According to Spivak, a telltale sign that a professional isn’t LGBTQIA-friendly is when the front desk unnecessarily uses gendered lingo, assumes your pronouns or sexuality, or questions your identity.
“Progressive providers have ensured that their staff have undergone special trainings to work with LGBTQ+ folks as well,” said Spivak.
Further, Shane says you might even ask the staff member if they and the professional have had training in LGBTQIA+ client work. “If they say yes, you might ask how they were trained and how often training and continuing education occurs,” said Shane. This is a case of more is better.
Questions to ask
- Do you have a nondiscrimination policy? A professional committed to providing equal opportunity care should have an anti-discrimination policy to protect employees.
- Does this doctor regularly work with [insert identity marker(s) here], or would I be one of the first? Whether you want to be one of the first patients with your identity your professional has seen is up to you, but it’s a useful question.
- Does your facility have gender-neutral bathrooms? Even if they don’t, how the employee responds is often telling.
- Do any LGBTQIA+ employees work on staff? Not every workplace will, but if they do, it’s a good sign. Staff members should also feel affirmed and comfortable being out at work, even though providers are focused on their patients.
Look at a digital patient form
Most facilities will email you intake and first-visit paperwork before your appointment if you request it, says Shane. Check to see if options are available for gender identity markers and whether there’s a place to list your preferred and legal names.
For instance, according to Bhuyan, One Medical uses an electronic health system that allows patients to self-identify their gender and preferred name. “They enter the info, and then it’s presented in a way that’s very visible to our staff,” she says.
Trust your instincts
It’s important to trust what you’re seeing and trust yourself.
Remember: “Clinicians who provide culturally competent, judgment-free, and quality healthcare and are sensitive when it comes to creating a safe space for patients to be vulnerable and honest do exist,” said Bhuyan. “It’s just a matter of finding them.”
Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tried the Whole30 challenge, and eaten, drunk, brushed with, scrubbed with, and bathed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books, bench-pressing, or pole dancing.