How to advocate for an LGBTQ+ loved one’s health care

More than 50 years after the Stonewall riots in New York City gave rise to the gay rights movement and the annual June observance known as Pride Month, LGBTQ+ individuals still face an uphill battle when it comes to health care.

Among many Americans, acceptance of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations has increased, but the idea that people should be allowed to live as their authentic selves is not popular in all quarters. LGBTQ+ populations are still subject to stigma, bias and discriminatory experiences in their daily lives.

As a result, many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are reluctant to seek health care. And this is unfortunate, because, while LGBTQ+ people experience many of the same health challenges as everyone else, they have some challenges that put them at greater risk of illness.

In addition, studies have found that transgender women and gay and bisexual men bear a disproportionate burden of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) compared with non-LGBT populations. Lesbian and bisexual women and transgender men are less likely to access cervical and breast cancer screenings.

Clinicians who are uncomfortable with taking comprehensive sexual history may be the most important barrier to screening — meaning important tests for HIV and STDs may not be performed. This also means that the burden of disclosure is entirely the responsibility of the patient.

If you are a parent, sibling or friend of someone whose gender identity differs from their gender assigned at birth, you may notice high levels of stress produced by experiences of discrimination and stigma, which can have a long-term negative impact on their health.

Rates of smoking, addictive disorders and mental illness are higher, too. And suicide is a particular worry for parents and families of LGBTQ+ youth. (If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, for both cellular and landline phones.)

So the question becomes: How can you support and advocate for your loved one so they can get the health care they deserve?

As I’ve written before, patient advocacy is something anyone with decent people skills can learn. An advocate is simply someone whose only job is to plead the case for another. The advocate pleads the case very strongly because they are emotionally invested in the patient’s best interests. It takes patience, the ability to speak succinctly and listen and a positive attitude.

As a private patient advocate, here’s the approach I would use.

Be accepting

Be accepting of their sexual orientation and gender identity. You loved this person before they came out, right? Check out PFLAG (, an organization for the parents, friends and families of LGBTQ+ people, to learn what the issues are and how to be an ally.

Ask if your help is wanted

Treat your friend or loved one with respect. Share your concerns about their health or health care and ask if there’s anything you can do to support them. Offer your assistance as a second set of ears, a note-taker or just someone to accompany them to medical appointments.

Help them help themselves

Many LGBTQ+ individuals don’t tell their doctor about their gender identity or sexual orientation — and doctors don’t necessarily ask. It’s important for a primary care doctor to be informed because it may affect the types of tests and screenings that are needed to address specific health concerns.

Look for resources

The LGBTQ Health Care Directory ( lists medical practices, including mental health counselors and gender-affirming care, that may provide a more comfortable experience. In the Chicago area, Advocate Health and the University of Chicago are among health care organizations that highlight medical professionals with expertise treating LGBTQ+ patients. Studies indicate that when a clinician is knowledgeable and comfortable with a patient’s gender identity or sexual orientation, it’s more likely that there will be a positive association with health care for an LGBTQ+ patient.

Whether you know it or not, there’s likely someone within your family or social circle who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary. Although there’s still controversy about observances like Pride Month, my approach is always to start from a position of love, acceptance and concern, which makes us all stronger.

• Teri (Dreher) Frykenberg is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care registered nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( Her book, “How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones,” is available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; email her at

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