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LGBT Health Awareness Week an Opportunity for Reflection on Young LGBT Health

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The overlap in the research areas on youth health and LGBT health is too consistent and too important to ignore.

CREDIT: istockphoto

With all the think tank and media hoopla surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act earlier this week, it’d be easy to forget that this week was also LGBT Health Awareness Week.

(Read more about how the ACA is beneficial for LGBT Americans.)

The risks to LGBT Americans’ health are often at the periphery of the conversation, blamed on our behavior, and corrected through education and disciplinary programming rather than taken seriously and accounted for through holistic healthcare. Because of this, LGBT youth face heightened health risks due to lack of cultural competency, health effects of discrimination, and increased rates of homelessness and disconnection from schools and birth families.

The particular health problems of young people and LGBT people are well documented, and provide an opportunity to discuss how health risks shared by these two marginalized groups intersect.

Both LGBT people and young people generally face higher rates of substance abuse, which would suggest that LGBT youth face even higher rates than either general population. Both young people and LGBT people also have particular sexual health needs which commonly go unaddressed, and though this suggests that the sexual health of LGBT youth would be especially at-risk, little research exists to help us figure out if that is indeed the case. Both young people and LGBT people also generally face barriers to health care access that make sudden illness and injury especially dangerous and difficult to address. Again, it stands to reason that LGBT youth would face even higher rates than either general population.

These three areas—substance abuse, sexual health, and injury and violence—are all issues surrounded by social stigma and are rarely productively discussed in mainstream coverage of health care and surrounding issues. Many people learn about them and address them privately, including through social networks—which in the case of LGBT youth are severely marginalized and under-resourced.

Luckily for LGBT youth, a steady stream of community and institutional resources and research about these three issues has accumulated over the last 20 years.

Several weeks ago, the Center for American Progress, our parent organization, released some great analysis exploring the reasons behind the data that show LGBT people have higher rates of substance abuse. Detailing the impact of “Minority Stress,” the psychological toll of discrimination, and its relationship to substance abuse yields important insight into the root causes of such health disparities. When using the same analytical framework to read reports about marginalization and homelessness among LGBT youth, an even more urgent picture forms.

The overlap in the research areas on youth health and LGBT health is too consistent and too important to ignore. This LGBT Health Awareness week, make sure you’re thinking about LGBT young people and what we can do to address our unique health crises.

Sam Menefee-Libey is the LGBTQ Advocate with Campus Progress.

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