LGBTQ+ People Struggle With Medical Inequities
It is pride month and people around the world are celebrating the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, some doctors continue to ignore transgender, nonbinary, and queer people who have endometriosis.
I was in my early twenties when I first visited doctors about my heavy bleeding and painful cramps. Numerous doctors told me that I shouldn't worry about my symptoms too much unless I was trying to have children.
When I told these practitioners that my mother had to have a hysterectomy because of her endometriosis, they asked, "did your mother struggle with infertility? I mean, she was able to give birth to you, so it all worked out."
Health disparities in receiving care
Now that I am nearing my thirties, some doctors have begun to take me more seriously: until they find out I'm queer and don't plan to give birth. While queer people can and do have children, most reproductive care targets heterosexual people.
People with endometriosis often have to navigate unsupportive doctors, but LGBTQ+ people face additional challenges. A person with endometriosis could spend ten years in chronic pain before they are finally diagnosed.
During this decade, a patient may need to visit different gynecologists and specialists to find someone who will acknowledge their endometriosis concerns and help them find the right treatment options. However, LGBTQ+ people may not be diagnosed at all.
LGBTQ+ patients face high rates of medical discrimination. According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), transgender and nonbinary patients face the brunt of this inequity. In 2018, CAP published the results of a national survey.1
Almost a third of the transgender people who responded to the survey reported that a doctor had refused to treat them because of the patient's actual (or perceived) gender identity. Another third of the transgender patients had "experienced unwanted physical contact from a doctor or other health care provider (such as fondling, sexual assault, or rape)."1
Avoiding medical treatment because of discrimination
With the threat of this all-too-common medical discrimination, many LGBTQ+ people avoid going to the doctor or gynecologist. A study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found some brutal statistics about transmasculine people's experiences with the gynecologist:2
- 92% felt anxious about seeking gynecologic care
- 54% had avoided attending gynecologic care settings because they were trans
- 85% preferred that their gynecologist use nongendered or gender-inclusive language
- 60% felt physically distressed, and 75% felt emotionally distressed after a gynecologist visit
If an LGBTQ+ person cannot safely visit a gynecologist, they cannot receive the care they need. Fortunately, advocates are pushing for more inclusive healthcare. The Endometriosis Foundation of America has created the LGBTQIA Endo Resource Hub. The hub is an online community that provides educational resources and support to LGBTQ+ people with endometriosis.3
Helping make a difference within the community
If you are an ally with the LGBTQ+ community, you can help make a positive difference. Living with endometriosis can be brutal.
With the added pressure of medical discrimination, an LGBTQ+ endo warrior may be exhausted and discouraged. Allies can step up and speak out to help.
If you notice that your healthcare provider lists only "men" and "women" on their forms, encourage your doctors to include more diverse gender options. When one of your LGBTQ+ friends is apprehensive about a medical appointment, you might offer to accompany them to the doctor's office.
Consider donating your time or money to a local LGBTQ+ health group in your community.
Enjoying pride festivals in comfort
If you are an LGBTQ+ person, it can be difficult to enjoy a pride parade or festival during an endometriosis flare. Here are some tips for how you can plan a safe and fun celebration:
- Wear period panties or a pad
- Pack some pain treatment options like medications or a TENS unit
- Bring along a power bank so you can recharge your phone and your TENS unit
- Before you attend the event, make sure to look up the venue. Where are the nearest restrooms? Are there places where you can sit down and rest?
- If you struggle with nausea, bring along some ginger candies
- Wear lightweight, stretchy, comfy clothes
- Bring a spare set of underwear and a small dry/wet bag to store soiled clothing
Pride Month invites us to fight for a better world for LGBTQ+ people. All endo warriors deserve to have access to proper treatment and compassionate gynecologists.
If we want to build a better world for all people of all genders and sexualities, we need to build better support systems for LGBTQ+ endo warriors. Because of medical discrimination, the fight for LGBTQ+ reproductive healthcare is not easy.
But we can win the battle against endometriosis when we fight together.
Have you taken our In America survey yet?