REPORT: All Children Matter: Healthcare Obstacles and Opportunities for LGBT Families

Our guest bloggers are Josh Garcia, intern for LGBT Progress, and Jeff Krehely, Vice President of LGBT Progress.

The Movement Advancement Project, the Family Equality Council, and the Center for American Progress, the co-authors of “All Children Matter: How Legal and Social Inequalities Hurt LGBT Families,” released a supplementary brief today summarizing the harmful impact that both laws and negative social attitudes have on the lives of children being raised in LGBT families.

Currently, about 2 million children are being raised by LGBT parents in the United States. These children should have access to the basic resources they need to develop a happy, healthy, and well-functioning life, regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation or gender identity. However, a number of obstacles prevent LGBT people and families from having the same access to good and affordable healthcare, compared to those who are straight or not transgender. As a result, gay and transgender Americans experience a number of worse health outcomes and disparities, including higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and HIV/AIDS.

The issue brief, entitled “Obstacles and Opportunities: Ensuring Health and Wellness for LGBT Families,” identifies four ways in which current laws and social stigma have harmful effects on the health and well-being of children living with LGBT parents:

  1. Reduced access to health insurance. Discriminatory laws reduce LGBT families’ ability to secure health insurance. These laws include the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as well as state laws that restrict adoption rights for same-sex couples. The result: approximately 82 percent of heterosexual adults have health insurance, compared to 78 percent of LGB adults. Transgender Americans have an even more difficult time accessing health care, with only 57 percent of transgender Americans having sufficient health insurance coverage. Moreover, even if a person who is transgender has health insurance, the plan may fail to cover medically necessary services, as well as routine office visits and other preventive care.
  2. Restrictions on caregiving and medical decision-making. When LGBT parents are not recognized under the law, gay and transgender mothers and fathers may be denied hospital visitation rights to see their sick child. Only 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws that extend full medical caregiving rights to LGBT couples. These laws have positive effects on LGBT families by allowing both parents in an LGBT family to make informed decisions regarding their child’s health, in the case of medical emergencies. Alternatively, 18 states treat LGBT couples as if they were complete strangers, not allowing them to make decisions for their loved ones in health-related emergencies, such as trips to the emergency room and signing health insurance documentation. Often times, these can be matters of life or death.
  3. Unwelcoming healthcare environments. Healthcare environments can be unwelcoming and hostile to LGBT patients and their families. Professionals in doctors’ offices, from physicians and nurses to receptionists, can even refuse to treat LGBT patients, simply due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Because of the often-hostile environments and lack of legal protections for LGBT families, patients sometimes avoid necessary medical treatment. For example, 29 percent of LGB adults and 48 percent of transgender adults have either delayed or avoided medical care, while only 17 percent of heterosexual adults have reported delaying a doctor’s visit. Not only does this delay in obtaining important medical treatment have a disproportionate effect on LGBT parents, but it also harms their children, whose health and well-being can suffer from negative social attitudes regarding their parent’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
  4. Increased health disparities. With the unequal legal and social treatment of LGBT Americans, families and children suffer from increased health risks and disparities. Fewer LGBT adults report having overall good health, compared to their heterosexual and non-transgender counterparts. For example, while 83 percent of heterosexual adults report having good health, only 77 percent of LGB adults and 67 percent of transgender adults report being in good health. Likewise, LGBT adults report higher levels of psychological disorders, often because of harmful social attitudes and legal inequities. African-American LGBT adults face especially high health inequities due to dual discrimination based on their race and sexual orientation or gender identity. This leaves them with reduced access to healthcare services, and higher rates of diseases, such as obesity, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.

While LGBT families continue to face obstacles accessing the resources they need to maintain happy and healthy lives, lawmakers have the opportunity to reduce the disparities facing this community. “Obstacles and Opportunities” provides a series of recommendations that, if taken, would help overcome many of these obstacles. For instance, the issue brief recommends that the federal government broaden the definition of “family” and “spouse” in health-related laws and programs, and train hospital personnel to be more aware of the unique needs and situations of LGBT patients and their families. In addition, states and the federal government should collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity through public health surveys, so lawmakers, researchers, and advocates can better understand and meet the needs of LGBT people and their families.

These steps would give LGBT parents the same chance that others have to raise their children in a healthy and safe way. Our nation needs to acknowledge and start competently serving all Americans and their families, including those who are LGBT.