The LGBTQ+ community has long faced discrimination and stigma in our society, even in healthcare, but the cycle can end with us. Everyone who needs medical care should be able to receive it without fear of being discriminated against or denied access. There have been steps to call out this type of discrimination on a national level. The American Nurses Association (ANA) not only condemns discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity but also recognizes that it remains an issue that can potentially harm millions of people across the country.
As a nurse, there are ways you can help advocate for this marginalized community on an individual level.
Engage in Nursing Education
Nurses need to be educated about the potential impact of personal bias, whether conscious or unconscious, on LGBTQ+ populations. This can begin with help from socially aware nurse educators as they begin to instruct the next generation of nurses. According to the ANA, nurse educators will help fill the void in knowledge by incorporating the issues of the LGBTQ+ populations as part of the nursing curriculum.
Nursing education already includes population health education, potential barriers to care, patient-specific care, and how nurses can intervene. Nursing educators can build upon this foundation and incorporate approved nursing program curricula that contain content on LGBTQ+ populations, including standardized gender-neutral terminology and documentation. If you are a nursing student, you can make an extra effort to ask specific questions about how you can accommodate LGBTQ+ patients.
Connect With Resources
Although the classroom is a great starting point to begin to learn more and advocate for your patients, the classroom should not be the last place you learn!
It is crucial to stay current on what is happening in the LGBTQ+ community. Like everything else in nursing, the best, most respectful and inclusive form of treatment will change, and nurses need to remain aware of the latest changes. Staying knowledgeable also creates a closer bond with your patient and could help you to identify potential mental and physical health risks. Although you should be able to rely on your peers, you should also utilize external resources for more information:
- The National LGBTQIA+ Health Education Center offers educational programs, resources, and consultation to healthcare organizations to optimize quality, cost-effective health care for all sexual and gender minority people.
- The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) is an interdisciplinary professional and educational organization devoted to transgender health. They offer clinical and academic research to develop evidence-based medicine and strive to promote a high quality of care.\
- The Trevor Project is a leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13-25. They offer community support, hotlines and resources for allies and LGBTQ+ youth.
Nurses can also join committees to learn about and work toward issues impacting many groups, including LGBTQ+ nurses.
The physical environment can have a huge impact on how comfortable someone feels. Some things like unisex bathrooms and anti-discrimination policies are systemwide things that you can advocate your healthcare organization to participate in. However, on a smaller scale, you can promote LGBTQ+ positivity by wearing an ally or pronoun button (if you are in an environment that allows this).
However, actions speak louder than words. In addition to making the physical environment, you should educate yourself on LGBTQ+ terminology. Allow patients to tell you how they want to be addressed during treatment and leave space for patients to give a preferred name, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Also using gender-neutral language creates an inclusive and non-judgmental environment. The organizations we’ve identified as resources can also help you craft the right questions to ask and better understand how best to approach these sensitive subjects for the first time with somebody new.
You have to put personal beliefs or feelings aside since all medical providers are responsible for giving every patient the best care possible. Always remember that the LGBTQ+ patient in front of you is vulnerable and has taken a courageous step by coming to your healthcare organization. Don’t jeopardize that trust. Treat them with the kindness and respect that they deserve and that you would want to be shown to you or any loved one.
Whether you’re an LGBTQ+ nurse, an ally, or someone who wants to learn more ways to offer support, you can be an advocate for your LGBTQ+ patients throughout the whole year. Remember, the stigma and discrimination facing many within this population is something they have had to deal with for most of their lives. That cycle can end with well-informed, caring nurses — the cycle can end with you.