All across the country, and right here in Colorado, people struggle to gain access to the affordable, quality health care they deserve. While lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Coloradans face many of the same health-care challenges as heterosexual and non-transgender Coloradans, they also encounter unique obstacles to fulfilling their specific health needs. Yet, we know little about how one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression might impact a person’s ability to interact with the health-care system and receive equitable care.
The One Colorado Education Fund LGBT Health Study was initiated as a way to further understand what has been anecdotally described and to empirically document the lived health-care experiences of LGBT Coloradans so that, together, health-care systems, health-care providers, and LGBT people can begin to address these disparities.
In 2011, One Colorado Education Fund implemented a multi-method study of the health needs and beliefs of LGBT Coloradans. This LGBT Health Study was composed of a series of community health dialogues across Colorado and supplemented by an online survey. In total, nearly 1,300 LGBT Coloradans shared their personal health care stories and experiences during the study. Through these responses, a clearer picture of the state of LGBT health and wellness in Colorado has emerged.
The study found that LGBT health needs overlapped with the universal themes of affordability, access, and quality. Similar to their heterosexual and non-transgender counterparts, LGBT Coloradans worry about paying for their health-care needs and struggle to finance their care. But unlike their heterosexual and non-transgender counterparts, LGBT Coloradans report challenges to accessing LGBT-friendly care from providers, and some members of the LGBT community decide to hide their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression to ensure they will be treated with respect by health-care professionals. In addition, the variety of family structures in the LGBT community also underscores the desire and necessity for a higher level of quality that provides both clinically competent and culturally responsive health care.
While it is true that affordability, access, and quality issues confront LGBT Coloradans— and the larger community of Coloradans—as a whole, transgender people were found to be the most vulnerable.
An equitable health-care system in Colorado can be achieved, but only if disparities are clearly identified and action is taken to eliminate them. Included in the findings of the LGBT Health Study are recommendations for health-care systems, health-care providers, and LGBT people. The implementation of these recommendations will better characterize the needs of LGBT Coloradans, expand health equity to a broader array of LGBT people, and improve health outcomes for all LGBT Coloradans and their families.