In March I will be going to the International Federation of Medical Student Associations General Assembly in Tunisia. The UK delegation is doing something exciting. We are presenting a policy that calls for all nations to address discrimination against the LGBT population because this discrimination has an impact on this population’s health.
Sexuality is not usually considered a determinant of health. But the LGBT population suffers much worse health outcomes than the heterosexual population. There are higher rates of mental illness, risky health behaviours, HIV, violence and abuse. Those who are LGBT are less likely to access healthcare services either because they are inappropriate or they receive abuse in a healthcare setting. At school young LGBT people are bullied with dramatic consequences. It was a spate of teen LGBT suicides that led Dan Savage to produce his viral ‘It Gets Better’ campaign. Homosexuality is still illegal in 78 countries and it carries the death penalty in 5 of them. Illegality breeds poor health outcomes and thwarts even the preliminary efforts in making a change.
We may be making in roads towards equal rights but without tackling homophobia we cannot hope to tackle this stark health inequality. Research in the United States found that there was only a median of 5 hours across the whole medical school curriculum dedicated to LGBT health outcomes. This is unacceptable and shows how this minority is being ignored. Furthermore there is a dearth of public health research into the LGBT population, further compounded by the discrimination that prevents members of this population from identifying at LGBT.
In March we will be calling for recognition of this issue and the need to tackle it on an international level. I refuse to live in a world where someone’s sexuality or gender identity defines their health. This is not about moral rights and wrongs; it is about recognising a population who have poorer health and doing something to tackle that. It is about creating a solid foundation of evidence to make that happen and equipping health professionals and public health initiatives to make the greatest impact they can.