As our society becomes more accepting of the LGBTQA+ community, some facilities are relooking at ways to break down the barriers encountered in regards to receiving health care. One group looking to offer that support is the Equality Health Care facility who hosted a LGBTQA+ Healthcare presentation last Wednesday, October 26. This event was in Morrison Hall at Keene State College.
Program Support Assistant for LGBTQ+ students in the Office of Diversity and Multiculturalism Hunter Kirschner said he was able to coordinate with a member of the Equality Health Care (EHC) Board of Directors Mitchel Riley to set up the space and put this event on. Riley was one of three speakers who came to the event from EHC located in Concord, New Hampshire.
Accompanying Riley was EHC Medical Services Coordinator Lisa Hall and the Executive Director at EHC Dalia Vidunas. Early on in the presentation, Riley explained that all populations have different needs. Understanding that there are all different types of identities isn’t always present in our society and more specifically in the medical field. Riley continued that many of those who make up the LGBTQA+ community have faced lack of access to health care catered toward their needs and barriers that cisgender people aren’t challenged with. Being cisgender is for one’s self-identity to conform with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex.
In the presentation, it was brought up that some LGBTQA+ folks have had to teach their doctors about their own health care needs. If a doctor doesn’t have a solid understanding, then he or she won’t know how to advise their patients on what to look for, or what preventative steps to take. The presenters explained that other barriers cisgender patients aren’t burdened with that LGBTQA+ people face is that of filling out different medical forms. It was brought up in the presentation that, this can become tricky for some in the LGBTQA+ community as far as putting down preferred names or legal names, and not all medical forms have check boxes or write-in options for different identities.
Kirschner said, “It’s becoming more aware that there are these disparities that exist but unclear about how to address them or even what the different experiences are and how to make it more of a welcoming practice.” He continued to say that increased awareness is a step in the right direction, while things continuously change as structures of gender break down and more identities expand and become understood and accepted. Kirschner also said, “Being trans[gender] is so much different now than it was 10 years ago, than 10 years before that, and we have people who practice medicine for their entire adult careers and they’re not being exposed to these ideas.”
Kirschner went on to explain how there are certain requirements that some insurance companies and doctors have in order to access care for individuals in the LGBTQA+ community. He said for most hormone therapies and surgeries, those doctors want a trans[gender] individual to see a mental health professional for at least three months so the health professional can say, “yes, this person is mentally sound.” Kirschner said. “It’s weird and gross that we need someone else’s permission approval stamp to say, yes you are who you say you are. It’s challenging because that’s how these services are accessed.” He went on to further explain that one can have surgery and one’s body will be fine, it doesn’t matter if one’s on hormones or not.
Kirschner mentioned that we keep talking about how trans[gender] and queer patients have to educate their doctors. Kirschner said, “One thing that I really appreciate about [Equality Health Center] is that this facility educated themselves and then said, ‘Hey LGBTQA+ people, we have services you need and can provide it in a way that’s competent and respectful.’” He continued, “So, I feel safe recommending EHC, which is so unfortunately infrequent.”
However, EHC, which has been a small non-profit since 1974, hasn’t always gone by this name. Quite recently in June, the facility changed their name from Concord Feminist Health Center to Equality Health Center.
Executive Director at EHC Dalia Vidunas said, “We felt like our name was kind of getting in the way of some people contacting us.” She said this new name better represents the broad array of patients that they serve.
EHC is starting to see an increase in serving those clients who are a part of the LGBTQA+ community. Vidunas said, “We started looking into this program approximately four to five years ago and did a lot of training within the staff with changing our protocols and doing a lot of legwork beforehand to make sure we felt that we had something to offer.”
Vidunas said, “Some of the biggest gaps are the fact that a lot of health care providers don’t have training and/or understanding about the issues that are unique to LGBTQA+ people.” She then went on to explain how, as a result, a lot of the time people in this community will put off getting health care and not receive it preventatively. She continued, they may actually only come see a physician when they are really sick because of not wanting to go see a provider who doesn’t understand or have knowledge about them and the community they make up. Vidunas added, “They may even want to avoid discrimination.”
Hunter Kirschner said, “EHC is trying to promote their services for specifically LGBTQA+ individuals and wanted to make sure our students knew they were a resource in Concord.” Although there may be barriers some face at certain health centers, EHC strives to provide competent care for all. This presentation was meant to be relevant to all who attended, especially for those looking to enter the medical field after school.
KSC junior Kevin Aruilio was present for this event. Aruilio said, “Events like these are needed. These are important events.” Aruilio who’s majoring in film studies explained that in the past, he did a film project about a friend of his who came out as transgender. He said, “There are certain things I learned here that I didn’t know from that film I did.”
Aruilio said, “It’s best to know these things because when you go into any kind of field or business, it’s best to know who people are and how they want to be treated, called and what pronouns they use.” Aruilio continued, “The understanding is growing, but we still have a long way to go at this point.”
The event was sponsored by Equality Health Center, KSC Pride and the Offices of Multicultural Student Support and Diversity and Multiculturalism.
Adam Urquhart can be contacted at email@example.com