LGBT And Health
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While many LGBT people are vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmittable diseases, most prefer not to seek medical help unless absolutely essential.
While we have come a long way from the days when there was an outright rejection of those who exhibited a sexual orientation that we felt was at odds with what one considered the norm, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community still confront a great deal of discrimination within their families, among friends, and in educational institutes. While urban centres have seen a change in the way the LGBT community is perceived and addressed, people from rural India still remain very vulnerable as there is a limited understanding of the issue, and there is an assumption that anything that deviates from the norm cannot be accepted. There have been many instances of honour killings, rapes, and the like in villages where LGBT cases have come to light.
One of the biggest challenges that comes with accepting their existence is the large number of health issues that often accompany them. Enhancing healthcare systems to be inclusive and ensuring they address the health needs and concerns of the LGBT community remains a constant battle. In most cases, concerns about being discriminated against prevent members of the LGBT community from seeking assistance even if there are health problems at hand. While there are over 2 million transgenders in the country, they prefer to suffer in silence because the administration is often uncooperative and they are ill-treated in public spaces.
While many LGBT people are vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmittable diseases, most prefer not to seek medical help unless absolutely essential. This stems from embarrassment due to the questions they will be asked as most doctors are awkward around them and don’t know how to ask the right questions in a professional manner. It is noteworthy that according to a 2006 study when medical students were studied vis-à-vis their attitudes towards the LGBT community, more than 50 per cent thought homosexuality was a psychological disorder and needed to be treated accordingly.
Given the lack of data, it becomes difficult to track the health problems that are generally faced by the community. It has been found though that those who are in same-sex relationships typically lack health insurance. Also, there is a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV cases reported among them and that is indeed a worrying trend. According to a study carried out by Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, “31 per cent of transgenders in India end their life by committing suicide, and 50 per cent of them have tried to commit suicide at least once before they turn 20.” There is also a higher incidence of depression as many of them are unable to cope with the reality of their sexual orientation and the stigmatization that comes with it. This is especially true among the youth in the early stages when they discover their sexual orientation and are confused about how to come out.
While in 2014 the Supreme Court recognized a third gender, giving transgenders the societal recognition they needed desperately, as far as healthcare goes, there are still gaping holes. There are very few counselling centres for members of this community who are grappling with fear, insecurity, and uncertainty. In addition, since they cannot talk about their health concerns freely, they are forced to consult quacks who make things worse by mistreating the problem because of inadequate professional knowledge. Studies indicate that psychological problems, especially anxiety, moodiness, and depression are often observed among homosexuals. This is due to the constant prejudice and discrimination they face, something that is backed by the law in our country.
Though the Mental Health Bill of 2017 talks of how “no one shall be discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation with respect to access to mental health care” we are still a long way off from this being practised across the country. Also, given the current status of homosexuals, India is poised on a threshold where things could go either way. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes sex “against the order of nature” is a reality in India but is currently under judicial review, and there is hope that the community will be accepted and treated better if it has the legal backing of the constitution. Once a section of the society can come out from behind the veil, they will be more in a position to address their physical and mental care in an official manner, a step which is crucial to restrict the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases among this community and the society at large.