As we wrap up LGBT Health Awareness Week, we know that with the enormous challenge of responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its impact on our community, issues specific to lesbian and bisexual women’s health have often been overlooked or left behind.
But it is vital to bring to light the barriers we all face, and that includes talking about the health of women. Lesbian and bisexual women, for instance, have higher rates of obesity, smoking and stress — which result in higher rates of heart disease and diabetes. Additionally, lesbian and bisexual women report higher rates of depression and anxiety than other women, and they are less likely to have gotten regular reproductive and wellness checks.
These health issues are even more serious among lesbian and bisexual women of color and those with lower incomes; these women face not only the barrier of being LGBT, but also the difficult barriers of racism and financial vulnerability.
As a result, these health disparities can be tragic for so many women. They often result in more lesbian and bisexual women being diagnosed at a later stage of an illness, meaning longer and more painful treatments — and sadly for many of these women, ultimately losing their health care battle.
One way to start responding to these unique health care barriers is by collecting more information about them. While there has been some research on lesbian and bisexual women’s health, much more is needed. With this research, we can educate our providers about how to offer more inclusive and targeted care for lesbian and bisexual women, as well as inform lesbian and bisexual women that they do need health care and should get it — throughout their lives.
Last year, One Colorado surveyed LGBT Coloradans about their feelings on their health care. The survey report, Invisible: The State of LGBT Health In Colorado, found that LGBT Coloradans — like everyone else — worry about access to and affordability of health care. In the survey, lesbian women were less likely than gay men to strongly agree that they have access to LGBT-friendly providers. Lesbian women also found that their providers were less likely to have specific knowledge and training on delivering services to LGBT people, and both lesbian and bisexual women reported being tested for STDs at a much lower rate. Alarmingly, according to the survey, bisexual individuals — including women — are three times more likely to be uninsured then gay men or lesbians.
Clearly, the limited data we have reveals that lesbian and bisexual women are facing an uphill battle when it comes to their health care. We must overcome fears and misinformation in our health care system, and work to address the disparities that lesbian and bisexual women face. With more data and educational work in our community, we can ensure that more women get the health care they need, when they need it.