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Health challenges facing the LGBT community

| Monday, July 3, 2017, 9:00 p.m.

Pittsburgh recently hosted the state's first LGBT Health Disparities Conference. The conference, organized by Tobacco Free Allegheny, Adagio Health and Erie County Department of Health through a partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health, highlighted health disparities impacting the LGBT community. The conference focused on data collected through Pennsylvania's LGBT Health Needs Assessments, administered by Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown in 2015 and 2016. Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, discusses below some of the health challenges facing the LGBT community.

What did the survey data show?

In every region of Pennsylvania, the data demonstrated significant disparities related to tobacco consumption, cancer screenings and diagnosis, HIV, healthy eating and active living, alcohol and other drug usage, and challenges with access to LGBT-welcoming care. For example, in much of the state, tobacco consumption in the LGBT community was more than double that of the general population and high numbers of LGBT people reported negative past experiences from healthcare providers as a result of their LGBT status.

Why do LGBT people face different health challenges than others?

LGBT people have come a long way in terms of legal and social equality, but our access to the highest quality of health has not mirrored the same path. Historically, and still today, LGBT people tend toward higher-risk behaviors, and, as a result, experience worse health outcomes. Social and cultural experiences with discrimination, violence, bullying, harassment and familial homophobia contribute. An added dimension is that for years, LGBT people haven't been included in health data collection — that's changing, and a great example is the statewide LGBT Health Needs Assessments administered regionally across Pennsylvania in 2015 and 2016 by Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, in partnership with Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Where do we go from here?

Through collaborative public-private partnerships, we can address these challenges and work to eliminate the health disparities that are shortening LGBT lives. We've already seen some amazing work happen resulting from the needs assessments. LGBT pride celebrations in Erie, Allentown, Reading, Harrisburg, Lancaster, New Hope and Chester County have gone smoke-free. LGBT Community Centers in Philadelphia, Allentown and Harrisburg are providing direct outreach for LGBT tobacco-free living. Recently, there was an amazing statewide LGBT Health Disparities Conference in Pittsburgh. But much more work is needed. Data is best when we can compare it over time, so we need to continue our data collection work, and we also need to keep working to ensure that in every community in Pennsylvania, LGBT people have access to high-quality, welcoming health care.

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