Accepting differences is part of personal emotional growth. Sometimes that acceptance is a difficult process. As a member of the LGBT minority it is easy to feel separate from the heterosexual majority. Whether that feeling of separation is based on personal experience, or witnessed struggle from our peers, there is a historical understanding that who we are can leave us vulnerable, depending on where we are. This is true even in medical care.
In my home and in most of my daily life, I do not feel different from anyone else. I live in a progressive area with many formations of families, and mine certainly does not stand out in that mix. However, when I step outside of my neighbourhood, there are moments that catch me and remind me of the differences other people may see and judge. It is in those moments when I recognize the underscored societal pressures that truly dictate my responses.
When I was in the hospital, my partner sat by my side, joked with the nurses, and asked important questions to my doctors. We acted in a perfectly non-threatening, television approved, gay couple way. She held my hand, but when she went to kiss my forehead I glanced quickly at the door to see if anyone might walk in. I personally couldn’t feel comfortable with our normal loving behaviour because there was a fear that although medical professionals are supposed to treat everyone equally, someone might disagree with who we are and use that moment of weakness to argue. I love to talk about spirituality, but as a young adult cancer patient in a hospital bed, having a conversation about religious condemnation at that moment, would have been too much for me to handle.
Fertility discussions, hospital recognition of relationships, health insurance battles and even answering some basic medical questions are all just a little more difficult for the LGBT community. In welcoming environments it is easy to forget we still live in a world with tremendous bigotry against that minority. It was not so long ago when AIDS was first acknowledged as an epidemic, and then immediately labelled as the gay cancer. People in powerful positions joined with a chorus of average citizens to say this horrific disease was God’s condemnation of homosexuality. Many in the medical field refused to care for these patients, wore hazard suits to enter hospital rooms, or didn’t enter rooms at all, not even to offer food or water.
Most of us scoff at the ignorance of that time period, but there are still those who think exactly the same way now. There is always someone in the public eye saying that hurricanes, terrorist attacks, illness and every other disaster, is the fault of the LGBT community. Several countries legally imprison and sentence to death lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, because of who they are. In the news we read about attorneys successfully using the “gay panic” defence to blame LGBT murder victims for their own murder.
Taking in all of these messages does not change who a person is inclined to love, but it does caution who they are inclined to trust. Therefore, it is important for medical professionals and support organizations to take extra steps in hospitality towards people with a history of marginalization. An equality sticker on a door of an exam room, a gender neutral wording choice when discussing sexual partners, a support group pamphlet showing diversity, are all welcome signs for a cautious LGBT patient needing care.
If you are a medical professional looking for more information on this topic, please see the below links:
If you are an LGBT person dealing with cancer and looking for a support network here are a few resources to check into:
Erin Havel is an AVM (arteriovenous malformation) and CML (chronic myelogenous leukemia) young adult survivor. She is also an author/blogger/activist for those living with cancer and other rarely understood medical conditions. Her book The Malformation of Health Care is available on Amazon. You can follow her on Twitter @Erin_Havel, Facebook and her website.