04/26/2012 01:54 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Feds List LGBT People Among Priority Populations Affected by Health Disparities

A big development seems to have flown under the health care radar. For the first time ever, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have been identified as a priority population affected by health disparities. Not only that, but the federal government has (finally) taken a stand that transgender people are among the most vulnerable.

To those of us who have spent years working to improve health outcomes for transgender members of our communities, inclusion in a federal report is a game changer. The fact that the change is rolled into a congressionally mandated report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, means information will be tracked and future policy will include the specific needs of transgender people.

This news may have gone under the radar for many, but including LGBT people among what the government terms as "priority populations" is a big deal. It puts more pressure on lawmakers at every level to improve policies and health care funding for LGBT people. It can also influence the National Institutes of Health to revise its definitions of priority populations, and conduct systematic research about LGBT people so we can learn even more.

Real Impact

As an elected official, my job is to improve the quality of life for my constituents. Reports like this from the Department of Health and Human Service help guide decision-making without a doubt. For example, I have applied data on the dangers of smoking to support an ordinance banning smoking in outdoor dining areas and provide education and cessation tools targeted to priority populations. From a health perspective, this doesn't just affect the people at a restaurant, but can produce long-term positive health effects for LGBT people, women, and racial and ethnic minorities by specifically educating these groups and providing resources they might not otherwise have known about.

Leading a mental health services organization for LGBT youth, this report validates what we've known for years: LGBT youth, especially transgender youth, are at disproportionately greater risk for harmful behaviors, including suicide. Now that the federal government recognizes LGBT people as a priority population, it means we can make a better case for resources for LGBT youth in communities that need them, from LGBT youth centers to training for first responders. It can also open doors to getting more resources for schools to combat bullying and harassment, address truancy rates, or provide counseling.

Next Steps

Earlier this month, Scout, Ph.D. highlighted that it's been more than a year since the Institutes of Medicine released a comprehensive review of LGBT health. At 300 pages, this road map for scientists and policymakers has lacked the federal backing that could put its recommendations into practice. In other words, leaders in health, including the NIH, needed a reason to identify LGBT people as a priority population experiencing health disparities. I hope that by including LGBT people in the 2011 National Healthcare Quality & Disparities Report, the Department of Health and Human Services will now develop focused action to do just that and we may begin to see health disparities addressed.