Your Guide To Finding An LGBTQ-Friendly Doctor In LA
It's a major accomplishment to lock down a medical provider you click with. The process of finding a Unicorn M.D. (or D.O.) can be time-consuming, expensive and sometimes awkward, even under the best circumstances. But what if you also had to factor in whether your doctor will judge you -- or even deny you care -- because of your sexual orientation or gender identity?
That's the reality for many LGBTQ people when they need a check-up or a specialist. And the prospect of encountering homo- and transphobia at the doctor's office is very real.
According to the Human Rights Campaign's latest Healthcare Equity Index, 56 percent of lesbian, gay or bisexual patients and 70 percent of transgender patients reported experiencing some form of discrimination while getting care. What's more, a 2015 study found that straight health care providers generally showed a stronger preference toward heterosexual patients over those who identified as gay or lesbian.
Though the findings don't necessarily mean gay and lesbian patients receive worse care, the fear of being judged, or even denied care altogether, is enough to keep many from going in, or returning for follow-up care. Individuals who avoid care, or have interruptions in care, are more likely to suffer from a myriad of health problems at rates significantly higher than the general population.
Lesbian-identified and bisexual women, for example, are far less likely to undergo routine screenings for cervical and breast cancer than heterosexual women, and less likely to have access to regular medical care in general. Transgender and non-binary people are more likely to contract STIs, suffer from depression, anxiety or substance abuse and be victims of violence.
One bright spot is that more LGBTQ people do have access to health care, thanks to the Affordable Care Act. And California law says mandatory cultural competency requirements for doctors must include training to address the needs of LGBTQ patients.
FINDING A DOCTOR
- Asking around used to be the only way to find an LGBTQ-affirming doctor. It's not the only option that exists today, but it's still a really good one. Ask friends and family, straight or gay, whether they know a good doctor (or if they've had a bad experience with one).
- Another option is contacting local LGBTQ-friendly sources. The Los Angeles LGBT Center has its own primary care center with comprehensive care specifically tailored to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. It also offers the Audre Lorde Health Program for lesbian and bisexual women, as well as services specific to transgender patients. The Center accepts most major insurance plans, including MediCal. Some services, like its mental health and counseling programs, are available on a sliding scale basis. And if you need specialized treatment or a referral, staff can help connect you with an LGBTQ-friendly doctor or specialist elsewhere.
- There's the LGBT Center of Orange County, which has a referral service. It's as easy as filling out this form.
- Support groups offered by LGBT centers across Southern California can be valuable resources.
- You can check out the Human Rights Campaign's Healthcare Equality Index, which lists facilities that are designated as "LGBTQ Healthcare Equality Leaders" -- 24 providers on this year's index are in Southern California. Here's a map of them.
- Then there's the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association's directory, where you can search for a provider by city, ZIP code or speciality.
- Planned Parenthood centers in Southern California offer care for LGBT-identified patients, though the extent of their services will depend on location. You can contact your local Planned Parenthood directly to see what it offers.
- You can call your health insurance carrier or check its website. Most have a searchable online database of physicians in your network, though not all of them will clearly indicate if a doctor is LGBTQ-friendly.
- A growing number of hospitals actively maintain an "out list" -- a list of providers who are self-identified as allies, or have gone through special training to address the needs of LGBTQ patients. While the exact term for it might be different from place to place, it doesn't hurt to ask a health care facility if it has that information. UCLA Health, which oversees all of the school's medical centers, lists 30 "LGBTQ Champions." You can also call their Physician Referral Service number and ask for an LGBT-friendly doctor at (800) 825-2631.
- Some doctors in the Kaiser Permanente network indicate on their biography page whether they specialize in LGBTQ care, though you'll still need to go through each page individually to find that information. Kaiser touts its Los Angeles Medical Office as a "Center of Excellence" for LGBTQ care. The doctors in the L.A. office "understand and are prepared to meet the needs of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender patients," according to Kaiser's website. You can call your local Kaiser office .to ask about specific doctors.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
While you're on your search for a provider, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Under California law, a health care provider cannot deny services to you on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity. You also cannot be denied health care coverage or dropped from your current plan just because you're LGBTQ.
- If you feel that you've been the victim of discrimination or mistreatment because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact a legal services provider that specializes in these kinds of cases, such as the ACLU, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal or the Transgender Law Center. You can also file a complaint with the Medical Board of California.
- You can check out a more comprehensive list of your rights as a patient at the LGBT Healthcare Bill of Rights -- there's even a wallet-sized version for handy referral when you go to the doctor's office.
- Last but not least: Don't give up! Don't let fear or stigma keep you from getting the care you need. There are a lot of LGBTQ-friendly doctors in Southern California, but it's up to you to take the first step.
WE TALKED TO SOME PEOPLE ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES
In 2005, Holly Painter was an undergrad studying English at USC. She went through a bad breakup, and sought counseling through the university.
"I had the expectation, because it was a university, and it was in Southern California, that it would go ok," said Holly, who's now an English professor at the University of Vermont. She describes herself as a "gender queer lesbian" who dressed in 2005 like "a 12-year-old boy."
After a few sessions, Holly said her counselor began making comments about her appearance -- particularly, suggesting that she wear more feminine clothing. "It was a really inappropriate suggestion, and he kept returning to it," she said.
Holly ended up staying on with that same counselor for the rest of the semester -- because, as she put it, "you're at the mercy of whoever is available at any given time." Because of that experience, she said it took her eight years to return to therapy.
Holly said it's been difficult to get regular check-ups over the years, in part because she's moved several times. "You have to start over with a new doctor every time," she said, "and it's not easy to have to constantly come out or explain how my gender identity works to a new person."
And for Holly, homophobia at the doctor's office doesn't just affect her: She and her wife have to contend with how it might affect their 3 year-old son.
"Everything we have to do with him -- medical care, preschool, all of that -- we always have to think about how people are going to treat him," Holly said. "Basically, we're worried about whether they're thinking more about his parents than they are about his health."
Travis Avery lives in Temecula, and is taking testosterone as part of a transition from female to male.
The 27-year-old regularly drives out to Oceanside for his health care -- even for routine blood work.
"Out where I am, my experience for any kind of medical care has not been positive," he said.
Instead, he's chosen to make those long drives out to the San Diego area, and even out to Los Angeles, to see a doctor he can trust.
Travis is dealing with other health issues in addition to his hormone regimen, so "for a person in my situation," he said, "[my doctor] kind of needs to know what they're doing."
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