North Carolina Lesbian Health Care
By Emily Cid
In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic that swept the nation in the latter half of the 20th century in the United States of America, both gays and lesbians united in an effort to inform the nation of diseases that plagued the LGBT community, investigate the causes and concerns regarding health related illnesses, and provide health related support for gays and lesbians within their regions. As a part of the LGBT community, after the initial documented case of AIDS in June of 1981, funds for lesbian specific healthcare were pushed to the way side in order to react to the pressing AIDS epidemic that affected a large population of gay men. Since then, lesbians have worked towards targeting their specific needs as a demographic in terms of resources, reproductive options, women’s health education and eradicating homophobia among health care providers. Within the state of North Carolina, lesbians account for a very diverse and underrepresented population and need their voices to be heard in regards to health related assistance and care. The 1990’s marks a critical decade in healthcare because of the increased emphasis on women’s health and wellness, which caused interest in sexual health and gay health care. The gay liberation movement has made visible the need for greater medical attention regarding sexual minorities such as lesbians, and their rights within the work environment to grant partners access to health insurance and hospital visitation rights as a spouse. Although the LGBT community has rallied and reached particular landmarks in the health care system, the potential passage of Amendment One legislation in the state of North Carolina would curtail the endless years of fight for equal rights regarding health for lesbian couples and their families.
Gay and Lesbian Medical Association
Founded in 1981, The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) represent a crucial initial step in providing support, information and care for the lesbian community on an international level, and jump-started involvement on a national level. The GLMA’s initial focus was to provide assistance to gay and lesbian physicians in the workplace, but has since transformed from centralizing around the providers of care to placing greater emphasis on the needs of the LGBT identifying patient. GLMA has since created the Healthcare Equality Index, which analyses the hospital industry utilizing a standard rubric, provides sensitivity training to employees, and prevent discrimination in a hospital setting. The ideas established by GLMA are important because they set a standard for U.S. hospital care in regards to treating lesbian patients and providing them the same equal care as their heterosexual counterparts. Within the state of North Carolina, GLMA has advocated a change in hospital visitation regulations so that LGBT families are not vulnerable to discriminating visiting hours and eliminating the need for documentation for patient-visitor relation in order to make decisions for incapacitated patients. GLMA also helped harbor national attention by promoting greater medical exploration for the lesbian community. National Academic Press and the Institute of Medicine jointly published Lesbian Health: Current Assessments and Directions for the Future in 1999, discussing the motivation behind the discipline of women’s health. This book is crucial because it calls attention to the study of women in the science research community and discusses the mental and physical health concerns of lesbians.
Lesbian Health Fund
With changes in the politics of The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLAM), came the birth of the Lesbian Health Fund in 1992, which targets misinformation in the lesbian community, lack of medical data and research on basic lesbian health needs, the education of health insurance providers and physicians, STD prevention, population estimation, and the intersectional interests of lesbian identifying women in the United States. This fund, a daughter project of GLAM, represents a crucial advancement in lesbian health because it specifically deals with health problems plaguing lesbians as a demographic, provides preventable health services, receives government support, and provides outreach to states such as North Carolina which may lack a grassroots organization for basic lesbian support. The Lesbian Health Fund has also studied the impacts the lack of health care and information has had on the lesbian community in terms of increased suicidal rates, bouts of alcoholism and other substance abuse related illnesses, prevalence of stress related illness, cervical and breast cancer rates among lesbians as well as barriers of physical activity.
Healthy People 2010
A 10 year health based objective originating from the 1979 Surgeon General’s Report Healthy People, that seeks out health and wellness related problems that plague the nation and provides a foundation for health prevention on a state and community level. Healthy People 2010 mark an important milestone for lesbian healthcare because the government now views sexual orientation as a population group within the United States and identifies the necessity for research and funding, as well as to incorporate the diversity of the lesbian population. The inclusion of lesbians as a demographic in the Healthy People 2010 initiative represents an ideal progression of lesbian healthcare in terms of reproductive health, preventative diseases and removing potential barriers to physical activity.
Established in 1990 as the only National Lesbian health organization, Mautner Project’s main focus is to help lesbians gain the support and care they need in order to survive life threatening illnesses and diseases, improving the lives of lesbians through advocacy programs, and to give lesbians an equal opportunity to be knowledgeable and in charge of their own health. Mautner Project works on a national scale but deals with many states such as North Carolina in terms of setting up workshops and educational events to teach lesbians and bisexual women about their bodies and how they can prevent illnesses.
Mautner Project also stresses the importance of visibility within regions and recognizing the rights of lesbians to equal health care. In the 2010 Annual Report of the Mautner Project, the organization received funding for CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, which provided staff with the appropriate knowledge in caring for lesbian patients in skilled nursing facilities. With funding from health insurance companies, Mautner Project has been able to educate professionals on lesbian health issues and aid regions on a state by state basis.
Video: Lesbian Health Care
On the state level, organizations such as Equality NC, established in 1990, have provided lesbian women with tools and links from more nationwide and publicized organizations such as The Mautner Project, as well as provide women with the necessary listing of local health care providers in their area that are trained professionals in the realm of lesbian wellness and related diseases. Equality NC also helps lesbians find organizations within their respective regions of North Carolina such as PFLAG in the triangle area, or Out in Asheville. Equality NC represents an important landmark for lesbians to come in contact with the information needed to protect them, as well as network with other lesbians and build strong communities.