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Thursday, 25 September 2014

LGBT People and Federal Health Policy: An Invisible Population?

By Nick J. Mulé and Miriam Smith

This research was published in the June 2014 edition of Canadian Public Administration.

Three things you need to know about LGBT People and Federal Health Policy:

  1. Despite major strides made on the legislative human rights front for LGBTs in Canada over the past 30 years, such progress has not extended into federal health policy for these communities.

  2. LGBT people have health care issues that are often overlooked in the current system. For example, transgender people have specific medical needs in transitioning and the LGBT population suffers disproportionately from certain cancers and mental health problems, often sparked or exacerbated by prejudice, stigmatization and discrimination.  

  3. Health professionals are not necessarily trained to address the specified needs of LGBTs, a situation not helped by the absence of federal health guidelines on LGBT health issues.

Three myths about LGBT People and Federal Health Policy:

Myth #1: Given the establishment of human rights based on sexual orientation and in some instances gender identity, and the higher profile and greater acceptance of LGBTs in Canadian society, they are now recognized in all sectors including health. 

The Reality: We found that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada pay very little attention to LGBT health and that their documents and websites barely mention these populations.  

Myth #2: Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have both prioritized an approach to health policy that considers social factors that affect health which by extension includes LGBTs.

The Reality: LGBTs are generally absent, yet even when sex and gender are mentioned in federal health policy, these are not taken to include LGBT people. 

Myth #3: Millions of federal dollars have been poured into the AIDS Strategy over the years addressing the health needs of LGBTs.

The Reality: This single-illness approach does not address the broad health needs of LGBTs.

Nick J. Mulé, PhD is an associate professor at the York University School of Social Work, where he teaches policy, theory and practice. His research interests include the social inclusion/exclusion of LGBTQ populations in social policy and service provision and the degree of their recognition as distinct communities in cultural, systemic, and structural contexts. He also engages in critical analysis of the LGBTQ movement and the development of queer liberation theory. A queer activist for many years, Nick is currently the founder and chairperson of Queer Ontario. In addition, he is a psychotherapist in private practice serving LGBTQ populations in Toronto.

Miriam Smith is professor in the of Social Science, York University, Toronto. Among other works, she is the author of Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movements and Equality-Seeking, 1971-1995(University of Toronto Press) and Political Institutions and Lesbian and Gay Rights in the United States and Canada (Routledge). Her research focuses on LGBTQ rights in law and public policy in comparative perspective as well as employment equity in the workplace. 

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