January 01, 2021

LGBTQ health

Addressing challenges

You stare at the form in front of you as you sit in your primary care doctor's office. It asks you to specify your sexual orientation. You identify as a lesbian, but because you've experienced negative reactions to your sexual orientation in the past, you're nervous. Does your doctor really need to know?

This scenario is just one of many health situations faced by people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer (LGBTQ) communities, many of which can be more challenging with older age.

While each group within the LGBTQ population is unique, there are some shared concerns — and thus common strategies — that can be used to help ensure good mental and physical health.

Disparities and discrimination

Research has found an array of health disparities and poor health outcomes in the LGBTQ population. For example, a pioneering 2011 study of LGBT adults age 50 and older found that almost one-third reported symptoms of clinical depression, including almost 50% of the transgender older adults.

Discriminatory experiences, along with other possible factors such as stigma, bullying and family rejection, can act as stressors that affect health. The 2011 study found that 64% of LGBT adults age 50 and older had experienced three or more instances of victimization — such as verbal insults, harassment by authorities or physical assault — due to their identity. It's important to recognize that simply being part of the LGBTQ community is not a health threat; stigma and discrimination are the threats.

Issues and action steps

There are a...