Advancing Health Equity for Sexual and Gender Minorities
By: Cara V. James, Ph.D., Director of the Office of Minority Health at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
Each June we celebrate National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month by increasing awareness of sexual and gender minority populations’ health disparities and advances in promoting health equity for all.
However, despite making progress on a state and national level with inclusive policies, this June we have been reminded that there are still many challenges to overcome. In many places young people are still distanced from their families because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. For many sexual and gender minorities in the U.S. it is still difficult to be out to family, friends, and co-workers. A survey of U.S. adults found that more than 75% of lesbian, gay, or bisexual respondents reported experiencing discrimination in their lifetime. Experiences of discrimination and unfair treatment have been linked to poor health outcomes among older adults who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). These stressors and impacts are amplified when individuals identify with multiple marginalized groups (e.g., sexual, gender, and/or racial minority). That said, studies have shown that LGBT individuals who have good social support have higher self-esteem, a more positive group identity, and more positive mental health.
Although we commonly speak about the LGBT community as a single population it is important to remember that it is actually made up of many diverse individuals from many unique backgrounds and just about as many different ways of identifying themselves. At CMS it is especially important to remember that racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and older adults may also be sexual and gender minorities.
The CMS Office of Minority Health strives to increase understanding and awareness of disparities, create and share solutions to address those disparities, and implement effective actions to achieve health equity. To that end, we are developing a web-based training to aid providers in the collection of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data. We are working on a new best practices tool box for providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) with an emphasis on sexual and gender minorities and people with disabilities.
What can you do? Get informed. Learn more about health disparities for sexual minorities age 65 and older in CMS’ June data brief. Find out about the Office for Civil Rights’ rule highlighting your right to be free from discrimination in health careimplementing regulations under on the basis of sex, including sex stereotyping and gender identity. You can also learn more about LGBT health and well-being by looking at the work of our sister agencies within HHS. Think about how you can contribute to bringing health equity to your work. We encourage you to join us on the path to health equity by using the resources discussed in this blog, bookmarking the CMS OMH website, joining our listserv, and of course building on your own health equity activities!