Voices of Health: Seeing LGBTQ health in Minnesota

Sheila Nezhad
Research & Education Manager
Rainbow Health Initiative
Voices of Health: Seeing LGBTQ health in Minnesota


In March, 2013, Rainbow Health Initiative released a landmark report that outlined the results of a health survey of 1,144 LGBTQ people in Minnesota.  The results made it clear that we need to take immediate action to advance health equity for Minnesota’s LGBTQ population.

wrfwefsLGBTQ people in Minnesota are smoking at significantly higher rates. 30.8% of respondents were smokers, compared to 16.1% of the general population in Minnesota.[1] Tobacco can be a tricky issue to address because, too often, it is attributed to an individual lack of willpower, rather than systematic targeting and discrimination by tobacco manufacturers. However, I want the members of my community to lead long and healthy lives. This means we need to support the 61% of respondents who said they want to quit, and prevent the tobacco industry from recruiting new LGBTQ smokers.

The survey identified some structural barriers to LGBTQ health. 32.7% of transgender LGBTQ respondents reported that not having a safe and convenient place to exercise was a barrier to physical activity—three times the rate of cisgender LGBTQ respondents (11.3%). LGBTQ people of color were less likely to have good quality fruits and vegetables available where they usually shop for food (24.4%) than their white counterparts (15.8%), suggesting they are more likely to live in food deserts.  We must utilize our knowledge of structural barriers to health in order to design systems that are accessible to everyone.

The survey revealed that LGBTQ people in Minnesota are being severely underserved by our healthcare system. One in four LGBTQ respondents reported receiving poor quality healthcare because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  One respondent wrote,

“Every time I go to the doctor I end up wasting time having to justify my gender and the changes I’ve made to my body to the doctor, even if I am seeing a doctor for something unrelated to my gender.”

More than one in every six LGBTQ respondents reported being discriminated against by a healthcare provider because of their identity.  A respondent recounted their experience:

“Doctors are so confused by me and afraid at urgent cares that sometimes they won’t touch me or often prescribe three times the antibiotic I may need.”


This disservice disproportionately affected the transgender population. Trans people were nearly twice as likely to have received poor quality care (44%) than cisgender

people (24.5%) and more than twice as likely to have experienced discriminatory care (38.2%) than cisgender people (15.2%).  Healthcare professionals need to make an explicit commitment to improving LGBTQ cultural competency to address this disparity.

In order to design culturally competent policies and programs, we need to understand the needs of our LGBTQ communities. Part of that understanding means improving data collection. Universities, healthcare providers, and policy makers need to follow the example of leaders like the National Health Interview Survey and the Williams Institute and adapt their techniques to local contexts, as Minnesota’s Hennepin County SHAPE survey has done. Better data collection also means that LGBTQ people need to remain engaged with research efforts. The more people who participate, the more we can break analysis by identity to understand the needs of all members of our communities.

Download the full report here: http://www.rainbowhealth.org/files/1013/6318/9525/VoicesofHealth_Rainbow_Health_Initiative.pdf

check out this cool infographic of their findings!

Learn more about Rainbow Health Initiative: www.rainbowhealth.org


[1] Cigarette Smoking and Secondhand Smoke Exposure Among Adult Minnesotans Continues to Decline. Retrieved from http://www.mnadulttobaccosurvey.org/

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