BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
As Queens’ LGBTQ population continues to grow, particularly among youths, the need to eliminate LGBTQ health disparities is growing even more urgent, community leaders said.
Among the major issues that LGBTQ people face when seeking healthcare in Queens are medical doctors’ not addressing them by the appropriate pronoun, not asking whether they are LGBTQ and not being educated on transgender-specific needs.
“It’s a well-known fact that we live in a heteronormative world, so LGBTQ young people constantly have to navigate systems that don’t address their challenges,” said Thomas Krever, the chief executive officer at the Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), an organization that is one of two grand marshals at this year’s Queens Pride Parade. “LGBTQ have higher rates of suicide ideation, higher rates of abuse and higher levels of domestic violence. And lots of these issues are underreported.”
Krever said that there are many LGBTQ people who have not come out to their physicians, so they aren’t able to have honest conversations about their health concerns and needs.
“Lots of people lack access to educated practitioners who are informed and adept in serving the LGBTQ people,” said Krever. “Healthcare providers need to be culturally fluent. Cultural fluency suggests that the LGBTQ community constantly evolves. Cultural competency suggests that you’re just checking a box.”
Although Krever said healthcare providers should be doing more than just asking people to check a box stating how they identify, Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) noted that such a move is a step forward.
“When I go to the doctor’s office, they provide a sheet that asks if you’re African American, Latino, white, etc., but they also ask if you are LGBT,” said Dromm. “It’s important for physicians to ask if you’re having sex with members of the same or opposite sex. And it’s important for patients to have an open and honest relationship with their doctors.”
Dromm said that it’s also important for health providers to be informed since such diseases as HIV, AIDS and hepatitis have plagued LGBTQ communities.
Rosemary Lopez, the executive director of the AIDS Center of Queens County (ACQC), said that the center’s staff often attend medical visits with their clients.
“The community faces a lot of stigma,” said Lopez. “Transgender clients who come to us or come in from the LGBTQ community and go to a traditional medical facility have said that they don’t get treated with respect, so we go with them. A lot of the practitioners also don’t ask the questions they should be asking, such as anal sex or about STIs [sexually transmitted infections]. They aren’t sensitive to the community. A lot of times they are like, ‘Are you a man or are you a woman?’ It isn’t fair.”
Mental health care is another significant need in the LGBTQ community, as many LGBTQ people suffer from anxiety and depression during their transitional phase or pre- or post-coming out, Lopez said.
Lopez said that ACQC provides those who are depressed with therapy, rather than immediately diagnosing them. She said that anxiety during a person’s coming-out phase is no different from someone who isn’t LGBTQ dealing with anxiety from work. She said that a person shouldn’t have to be medicated to deal with an issue that can be handled by talking to a therapist.
HMI also offers talk therapy for those dealing with such issues. Krever said that some LGBTQ people from the outer boroughs travel to Manhattan for treatment, rather than staying within their home borough.
“We recognize in terms of LGBTQ rights and feelings of safety that we don’t always feel safe as we should in our own communities,” said Krever. “We also have to remember that with the 2,000 or so young people that we serve at HMI, that over 30 percent of them are not out at home and as a matter of safety what we witness is that LGBTQ young people especially will travel three times the greater distance for the same services as non-LGBTQ young people. Whether it be fear of safety, not being out or if you are a young person who has unique challenges that your community cannot meet, you may need to travel further for services, and so it’s not uncommon for young people to head to the Village for LGBTQ care.”
Dromm said that young people often seek treatment in Manhattan since that borough is known to be more progressive on LGBTQ issues and, therefore, they believe that they will get a better reception.
As a result, facilities are increasing their LGBTQ education initiatives in Queens, but Dromm said that the borough “still has a long way to go, and there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
ACQC, which operates five sites throughout Queens, has its own medical facilities and onsite pharmacy for LGBTQ patients, so that those who do not feel comfortable discussing personal information about their sexuality can get the proper care from experienced and sensitive practitioners.
In addition, ACQC provides shelter and food for LGBTQ youths and adults, laundry service for the homeless, education, help with job searching and other essentials that homeless LGBTQ people need to survive.
“We open our doors to all LGBTQ people who want to be seen with support,” said Lopez. “It doesn’t have to be an LGBTQ-specific service. Most of the time they just come in with a cold, flu, cardiac condition and anything anyone else would typically go to the emergency room for. They come to us because they feel comfortable and they know that we are going to take care of them.”
In addition to such services, ACQC and HMI both offer sensitivity training to local facilities and organizations, so that they can better assist the LGBTQ community.
For more information on ACQC, visit acqc.org. Visit hmi.org for more information on HMI. Both organizations are dedicated to helping the LGBTQ community and educating those outside the community on its needs.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.