by Francisco Buchting
Network Steering Committee Chair
Yesterday, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its long-awaited report on what researchers know about the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.
But more studies are needed, because we don’t know enough about key segments of our overlapping communities and this puts LGBT health at risk.
And to conduct more studies, researchers need funding.
This report marks a turning point in the struggle to address health inequalities of this enormously diverse minority group. Among the findings from the report: LGBT people experience significant disparities in access to care, tobacco, mental health, HIV, addictions, suicide; there are other health areas, such as cancer, where data indicate that there may be disparities, but more studies are needed; and unfortunately, there is very little data on, for example, LGBT communities of color and transgender people.
We know, for example, that LGBT people smoke at rates almost 50% to 200% higher than the rest of the population – the American Cancer Society indicating that over 30,000 LGBT people die each year of tobacco-related diseases. Yet LGBT health continues to be forced to compete with a wide range of other stakeholders for funding.
At a minimum, the IOM report will give us all an opportunity to change the local, state, and national dialogue around LGBT health. Previously, the health of LGBT people was barely addressed by either government or private funders of public health and research programs.
Why? Because, the funders said, there was a lack of evidence or data to justify the targeting or even the inclusion of LGBT people in competitive funding opportunities.
Obtaining funding to address LGBT health issues had therefore become a vicious cycle where “not enough evidence or data to justify targeted funding” has been used as a justification to deny targeted funds to actually collect data.
This IOM report will hopefully start to change that.
When it comes to health research and public health funding priorities, if one is not counted one does not exist. The IOM report will help remind private and government funders of health research that LGBT individuals have been counted, that we exist, and that we have significant health needs not being adequately addressed – and, in many cases, that are being ignored – in the face of mounting evidence.
The challenge is up to each of us to make the most of this opportunity to help ensure health equity for all LGBT people and communities.