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A lifelong approach to LGBTQ healthcare

Prospective new research program focuses on improving LGBTQ health policies

by Stephanie Taylor

A lifelong approach to LGBTQ healthcare

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Imagine the embarrassment of being called a man if you lived your life as a woman. 

Or the frustration of having to explain to your doctor why, as a woman in a same-sex relationship, you don’t need birth control — even though you are sexually active.  

To many in the LGBTQ community, moments such as these are not only upsetting— but scarring. 

Dr. Jacqueline Gahagan, professor and director of the Gender and Health Promotion Studies Unit at Dalhousie University, says negative experiences with healthcare providers often discourages LGBTQ people from seeking medical care in the future. 

“What would it be like to be a trans person in a healthcare facility where people don’t understand anything about trans identity or issues,” Gahagan says. 

“Do you want to be that one patient on the ward where no one has any sense of what’s going on?”

She describes that queer, gay and trans people are one of the most invisible groups in today’s healthcare system.  

Because many LGBTQ patients grow frustrated with having to repeatedly explain their sexual identity to healthcare staff, they usually decide to avoid medical visits all together until they become seriously ill, Gahagan says. 

But she believes “we can do better with health services to better meet the needs of LGBTQ populations."  

Gahagan is currently working to launch a $1.5 million research program with funding from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to change healthcare policies and practices to improve LGBTQ health in Nova Scotia. 

The program, planned to take place over seven years, would determine what health policies help create and sustain the best overall well-being for LGBTQ patients. 

“We change simple things like (patient) intake forms,” Gahagan explains as an example. “Instead of having ‘male’ and ‘female’ or “Mr. and Mrs.", can we actually look at ways of being more sensitive to trans (people.)” 

 One of her main focuses would be training new health providers to give more “culturally competent care." 

She wants to see gender and sexuality issues taught more comprehensively in classrooms of future health professionals through showing films, such as Gen Silent — a documentary about the aging LGBTQ population — for students to better understand the needs of all their patients. 

"There’s a problem with coming out to health care providers who don’t have any sensitivity,” Gahagan says.  

She sees that LGBTQ healthcare is gaining more of an awareness in the province, and applauds the work of prideHealth — a division of the Capital District Heath Authority that delivers primary care to LGBTQ patients. 

Earlier this year, the province announced it would fund eight types of of sex re-assignment surgeries.

But Gahagan says what’s still missing is a “birth to death” healthcare model that supports all LGBTQ people over the span of their lives — from trans youth to aging gay and lesbian seniors.  

“We still have a long way to go,” she says. 

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