Lesbians and Healthcare

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What barriers can sometimes prevent lesbians from having access to good healthcare?

There are many barriers that prevent lesbians from gaining access to adequate healthcare services. Some of these barriers include:

  • homophobia, a fear or hatred of homosexuals, which could result in a healthcare professional refusing to provide care to a lesbian;
  • heterosexism, or assuming that everyone is heterosexual;
  • other types of prejudice such as racism and sexism or biases against people living in poverty, or against immigrants;
  • healthcare professionals who are not trained in the healthcare needs of lesbians;
  • a bad experience in the past with a healthcare professional and/or the healthcare system; and
  • disinformation, or misconceptions about the health problems that could affect lesbians and the importance of screening tests. Lesbians as well as healthcare professionals can have these misconceptions.

These barriers can result in poor health care. For example, a health practitioner may propose birth control methods to a lesbian patient who does not need them. A doctor may also wrongly believe that a lesbian does not need to have a Pap test or may not take seriously other aspects of her gynaecological and sexual health.

For many reasons, lesbians may feel uncomfortable talking about their sexual orientation and worry that their healthcare could be compromised if they talk about it. They may wait before asking for medical help or to do nothing at all, which, in certain cases, could put their lives in danger.

How can I know whether a healthcare professional will be able to offer me adequate healthcare?

Below are a few questions to ask yourself that will help you determine whether a healthcare professional is open to the healthcare needs of lesbians:

  • Does the doctor uses inclusive vocabulary that takes sexual orientation into account in his/her questions? If the doctor asks, “Are you sexually active?” does she/he include the option of answering that your sexual partner is a woman, such as “Is your sexual partner a man, a woman or both?”
  • Does the doctor provide brochures and resources to patients on lesbian health?
  • Does the doctor have posters that take into account sexual orientation in his/her office or waiting room?
  • Does the healthcare professional listen to you, respect what you have to say and take this into account when assessing your healthcare needs?

You are the only one to know when and with whom to share information regarding your intimate and private life.

I am a lesbian and am looking for a doctor. What should I do?

  • Ask a lesbian (or bisexual or transsexual) friend for the name of a doctor she knows with whom you can speak openly and trust.
  • Ask an organization that offers services to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transsexual (GLBT) community in your area to refer you to a doctor or recognized clinic that provides good healthcare to the GLBT community.

Remember, adequate healthcare is your right!

Where can I go for more information?

Revised June 2006