March 22, 2018 at 11:38 am PST | by Craig E. Thompson
Fighting to stay healthy

APLA AIDS Walk 2017. (Photo by Brian Lowe)

LGBT Health Awareness Week (March 26 – March 30) is a time to bring attention to the devastating cycle of discrimination and health disparities that affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It is also a time to rise to the challenges this new era presents, including looking for facts and authentic analysis to empower LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities.

For instance, in Los Angeles County, poverty is one of the biggest barriers preventing individuals from accessing healthcare. Roughly 68 percent of the clients we see at APLA Health live on less than $20,000 a year. Throughout California, LGBT individuals are more likely to be poorer than non-LGBT individuals; with LGBT females being even more likely than their male counterparts to be poorer or lack the money for healthcare.

In addition to poverty, LGBT individuals experience various unique mental health needs. Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of substance abuse, depression and suicide.

The need for cultural competent behavioral health is especially acute among our transgender brothers and sisters who may feel like they have nowhere to turn. Among transgender individuals, behavioral health indicators show even more disparities compared to cisgender adults. 34 percent of transgender adults experience lifetime suicidal thoughts, 22 percent experience suicide attempt(s) and 33 percent have had serious psychological distress.

APLA Health is fighting this stigma by creating an environment where people comfortably access vital services. We provide culturally competent counseling with regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural background, or ability to pay.

In addition to the social and health disparities LGBT encounter, our civil rights are also under attack by a Congress and a White House who are trying to erase LGBT individuals from healthcare and public policy.

Some of the recent low points for LGBT individuals in America include creating an environment of self-censorship among CDC staff resulting in seven banned words (including “transgender”), the wholesale removal of LGBT data from government websites, the removal of questions from the U.S. Census regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, the Justice Department’s decision that federal law does not protect LGBT employees from discrimination, the creation a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, which will open the door to flagrant acts of discrimination against a broad range of individuals including LGBT people and their families, and the White House’s failure to nominate anyone as director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.

Ongoing attacks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also risk the health of LGBT people. The ACA allowed more individuals than ever to get healthcare coverage, but still 15 percent of LGBT Americans across all income ranges were uninsured in 2017, compared to 7 percent of non-LGBT Americans. If the ACA is further undermined by Congress or the White House, nearly a million LGBT adults may lose health insurance by 2026.

APLA Health has been serving the LGBT community throughout Los Angeles County for 35 years, addressing those disparities – including poverty and unique mental health needs – and working to fight the stigma around HIV and gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals.

At our six clinic sites, APLA Health provides free and low-cost medical care and support services to more than 14,000 patients and clients each year; 69 percent of who identify as LGBT and 57 percent who are from a community of color. We help in four key areas: Healthcare, Critical HIV Support Services, Health Education & HIV Prevention and Advocacy for the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.

As a federally qualified health center, APLA Health helps our LGBT community by providing free or low-cost primary, dental and behavioral healthcare regardless of ability to pay or insurance status. We believe that no one should put their health at risk because healthcare is too expensive. Everyone who walks through our doors will be treated with respect and will work with our team on one goal – to get them healthy and keep them healthy.

We work with each of our patients as a unique individual so we can best serve their healthcare needs. We also partner with other organizations to share best practices on how we can all improve our community with collective cultural competency to serve LGBT individuals.

With everything that is going on, it is more important than ever this year to take a moment, reflect, and recommit to addressing the struggle our LGBT communities face to simply access the basic human right of health. Rest assured that APLA Health is here fighting for our community and taking care of everyone who walks through our doors; just as we have done for the last 35 years.

Craig E. Thompson is the Chief Executive Officer at APLA Health

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