THE BLOG
03/27/2013 10:27 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

How to Be a Health Care Advocate... for Yourself!

There's a lot of excitement and optimism in the LGBT community these days. Our goals of full equality under the law seem within reach at last. Laws and attitudes seem to be changing at a wonderfully record pace.

Since so much is changing around us, we have to take care of our own health. All patients, LGBT or straight, should have access to high quality, culturally competent health care. Since this is National LGBT Health Awareness Week, it's a perfect time to talk about this issue!

What do I mean by "culturally competent?" I mean having a provider (doctor, dentist, mental health counselor) you feel comfortable discussing your sexual orientation or gender identity and knows not only how to care for your unique health care issues but also how to treat you with the level of professionalism and respect you deserve.

LGBT people will often put off regular health care or not disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity to their health care practitioner out of fear of discrimination or harassment. Because of this, they may also not disclose such things as sexual behavior, substance use, mental health issues or domestic violence.

This is why it's vital to come out to your health care practitioner. You will have a stronger doctor-patient relationship based on trust and honesty, which will lead to improved health care and health outcomes. Also, medical practitioners will be able to acknowledge the health issues more common in LGBT patients and perform appropriate evaluations and screenings.

Now, this may not be an easy thing to do. Some providers still harbor prejudices against the LGBT community. And some providers may not be familiar with our community's health care concerns and unsure of how to care for LGBT patients.

But even those outcomes have benefits. If your provider doesn't know about LGBT health care, you can learn about LGBT health issues together or transfer to a more knowledgeable provider. And, if your provider does have bias toward the LGBT community, you'll know it's time to leave them and find an affirming provider!

Providing high quality and affirming care for the LGBT community was Whitman-Walker's founding principle back in 1978. Back then, our services were limited to screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and treatment for mental health issues and substance abuse. Today, we are a leader in LGBT health care in the D.C. metropolitan area.

While we would love to have all LGBT people in D.C. come to us for care, that simply isn't feasible! And an entire community shouldn't have to rely on ONE provider for the high quality care it needs. That care should be available in any community health center, any hospital, any academic medical center, and any private practice in the nation.

In the end, you deserve and should expect high-quality, affirming health care. You need to be open and honest with your medical providers.

As with all civil rights fights, real progress is only made through action. So, at your next doctor's appointment, tell them about your sexual orientation or gender identity if you haven't already. If they react negatively, then find another provider. If they react positively, then talk about how that information can improve the quality of your health care.

Your health is in your hands.

For more information on Whitman-Walker Health, visit www.whitman-walker.org.