Gay, Gray and at Higher Risk for Illness: Wish it were an April Fool's Joke

04/19/2011 11:22 am ET | Updated Jun 19, 2011

A new report from the Center for Health Policy Research at the University of California, Los Angeles confirms what LGBT conventional wisdom suggests: Illness is more prevalent among older gay, lesbian and bisexual adults than our heterosexual counterparts. The research is based on data from the California Health Interview Survey gathered in 2003, 2005 and 2007.

The New York Times reported on the study in a short Science Times article -- "Disparities: Illness More Prevalent Among Older Gay Adults" on April 1st. The article was written by Roni Rabin, whom I remember writing a great deal about reproductive health during her stint at Newsday. Roni is a good reporter, no slouch by any standards.

I wished it had been an April fools joke -- but there is nothing funny here. Not only are lesbian and gay people more likely to suffer from more chronic physical and mental health problems, they are also less likely to have live-in partners or adult children who can help care for them. In 20 years the number of older lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the US will double as will our need for health support and medical care.

I'm neither a scientist nor medical researcher, but I am a lesbian and I felt that both the underlying cause and immediate cost effective remedy were at hand: Cause? Discrimination. Remedy? End it! I dashed off a letter to the New York Times, and lo and behold they published it! I'll admit it, I was happy, my letter was in print. However being the New York Times, and the Science section at that, it was edited to a succinct, abbreviated paragraph. I appreciated that they kept it to the point without attitude or editorializing. I also had mixed feelings. Excited but disappointed too that some of the heart of the matter had been cut. So let me share my original with you:

Dear Editor,

(re Disparities: Illness More Prevalent Among Older Gay Adults by Roni Raybin)

This one is a no brainer, if there is one thing you can't say about this ,it's "they were born that way." Why am I not surprised that illness is more prevalent in older gay adults.? Health disparities among older gay people are the direct result of disparities in equality. There is no question about the cost of discrimination to the human body: increased stressors lead to increase in illness. We already know a great deal about the devastating impact of discrimination in regard to race.

The remedies are clear. To begin with lets put an end to institutionalized discrimination. Repeal the laws that perpetuate discrimination and increase stress--like the Defense of Marriage Act. Lift the ban on same sex marriage in the 23 states that now contain such discriminatory laws in their State constitutions. Make it illegal to discriminate against people based on sexual identity, sexual orientation or gender expression in employment, housing, accommodation and credit. End discriminatory practices in all public service sector jobs. Pass legislation that grants equal protection under the law to all. Tell the so called " community leaders" who hawk anti-gay bigotry from their bully pulpits that we won't stand for it any more.

Our health care system can't afford it. Hey folks, not only is extending equality to all the right thing to do, it might even prove to be cost effective in the long run when healthier citizens, mean lowered health costs.


Roberta Sklar