Opinion: More support, protection needed for LGBTQ health

LGBTQ flag, rainbow ribbon, stethoscope

June 27, 2024 – Protecting and improving the health of the LGBTQ community will require more research funding to document health inequities, more training for health professionals to recognize and address the community’s unique needs, and more policies to support the equality, dignity, and humanity of every human being, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Brittany Charlton.

Charlton is an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and founding director of the LGBTQ Health Center of Excellence, a joint venture between Harvard Chan School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Institute. In a June 25 opinion piece in the Boston Globe, she wrote, “Ongoing discrimination and an unprecedented wave of legal, political, and societal threats are inflicting damage on the mental and physical health of LGBTQ people.” She cited examples such as anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures—more than 500 were filed during the first half of 2024—and coordinated attacks on clinicians who provide gender-affirming care.

When LGBTQ people experience such bias, rejection, hostility, and marginalization, the resulting “minority stress” takes a toll on the body and mind, Charlton wrote. Evidence has shown that LGBTQ people have disproportionately high rates of both mental health conditions, including depression and suicide among teens, and physical health conditions such as cancer, she noted. One recent study co-authored by Charlton found that lesbian and bisexual women die 26% earlier than their heterosexual peers.

Although LGBTQ health research is on the rise, the field remains understudied and underfunded, according to Charlton. “Leaders in public health and medicine must raise our voices loudly and clearly to demand increased support and protections for the LGBTQ community,” she wrote. “Our call to action cannot wait—we must secure dedicated research funding from NIH and philanthropists, train the next generation of leaders, conduct empirically grounded research, and translate our work into change.”

Read Charlton’s Boston Globe opinion piece: How to address health inequities affecting the LGBTQ community

Learn more

New center to tackle health disparities affecting LGBTQ community (Harvard Chan School news)