As a family physician practicing for over 10 years in the state of Arkansas, I've always had a soft spot for the “underdogs." During my time caring for patients of all races, genders, and walks of life, I've come to love taking care of the underserved — the patient that no one else will or wants to see because of their insurance, lack of insurance, medical complexity, medical needs, lifestyle choices, sexual identity, or gender expression.
I am a doctor who provides LGBTQ-friendly health care and hormone replacement therapy for my transgender patients, and therefore see many of the obstacles and barriers that members of the community face when seeking basic medical care.
Some of the questions that consume my LGBTQ patients are "Will a doctor see me if I'm gay or transgender? Is my doctor going to provide good care if I disclose my sexual/gender identity? Will my insurance pay for my necessary medical care? Will my doctor know what it means to be a trans woman or trans man? Will my doctor treat me differently when they find out my sexual orientation?”
These are questions that many heterosexual or cisgender (one whose gender identity conforms to the cultural notions of gender and biological sex they were assigned at birth) people do not have to consider, and unfortunately they stem from evidence-based data around provider bias and denial of care.
On this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia it is more important than ever to realize that bias, stigma, and refusal of care for LGBTQ patients is cruel and unnecessary. Discrimination toward LGBTQ patients is a fact in the medical community. Homophobia and transphobia affect LGBTQ patients at many levels, which gets internalized in various forms of shame and resiliency. In turn, LGBTQ folks are at higher risk for certain medical and mental health outcomes. By not standing up against this judgment and harassment, we are hurting our friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances.
We must treat LGBTQ folks as the human beings they are — deserving of all the rights to which human beings should be entitled. Let’s start focusing on the things that unite us: we all are deserving of health and happiness. We all want to make our own self-informed decisions that are best for our own individual lives. And we are all deserving of civility.
I've burned many bridges fighting for the rights of my underserved patients in Arkansas. And I wouldn't change a thing. Maybe it's medical, maternal, maybe it's the right thing to do, but I am fiercely protective of my patients and will stand up for them at all costs. As human beings, we all deserve access to high-quality health care. And I provide that for the human beings that other doctors won't — my patients, the resilient underdogs.
DR. STEPHANIE HO is a family physician in Arkansas and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health.