Recent research by UCLA and UCSF highlighted an area of study that has not received much attention -- the health risks and challenges of the general lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Now the state Legislature is considering two bills that try to address those needs.
AB 673 by John Pérez (D-Los Angeles) would require the state's Office of Multicultural Health to include LGBT patients in their duties. And SB 747 by Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) would require medical providers to take a 2- to 5-hour course on gender issues.
Beyond AIDS and HIV work, not a lot of attention has been focused on what particular health risks are faced by the LGBT community -- until recently.
Last year, UCSF released the first textbook ever written on lesbian health risks: "Lesbian Health 101: A Clinician's Guide." And at UCLA, one of the unusual aspects of its comprehensive health survey is that it includes sexual and gender orientation in its line of questioning. UCLA has released several studies based on the California Health Interview Survey. One recently showed that same-sex couples in California are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as married heterosexuals; another revealed that older LGBT patients are more likely to suffer from certain chronic conditions.
A number of studies have shown that health care providers treat gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender patients differently -- and sometimes insultingly, according to state Sen. Christine Kehoe.
"Oftentimes, health providers don’t have the tools to communicate in an effective, respectful manner to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual patients," Kehoe said. "We have cultural competency training right now along ethnicity lines. This is along the same lines as that."
Kehoe said some health issues may be more prevalent in the gay community.
"There are health challenges in the [LGBT] community that might vary from the population at large," she said. "For instance, younger gays and lesbians appear to have a higher incidence of risk for alcohol abuse, for smoking addiction, and that has to be addressed."
But to Kehoe, it's insensitive treatment of LGBT patients that this bill would target. "We heard of one transgender man who went to two clinics and was actually refused treatment," Kehoe said. In one study, she said, "two-thirds of those surveyed heard or witnessed disrespect. It's not everyone, but the need for education is borne out by the studies."
The Kehoe bill, SB 747, was approved Monday in the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee and now moves into the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The Pérez bill to incorporate LGBT health into the state Office of Multicultural Health, AB 673, passed the Assembly Health Committee yesterday.
"Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians come from every community and from all walks of life," Shannon Murphy of Pérez' office said. "Expanding the mission of the state Office of Multicultural Health to include issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity will help the state develop and implement more inclusive public health policies that benefit all of California's diverse communities."