How to Close the LGBT Health Disparities Gap: Disparities by Race and Ethnicity

In the past decade lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people have made rapid progress in winning and securing equal rights. Fifteen states and Washington, D.C. now give same-sex couples at least some of the same rights afforded to heterosexual married couples. Even more states offer nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or both. Polling data show that the general public has increasingly positive views of LGBT people and are becoming more supportive of their civil and political rights. In short, heterosexual Americans are finally recognizing LGBT people as a legitimate social minority that should have equal access to our society’s basic rights, opportunities, and responsibilities.

Despite this progress, however, members of the LGBT population continue to experience worse health outcomes than their heterosexual counterparts. Due to factors like low rates of health insurance coverage, high rates of stress due to systematic harassment and discrimination, and a lack of cultural competency in the health care system, LGBT people are at a higher risk for cancer, mental illnesses, and other diseases, and are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, use drugs, and engage in other risky behaviors.

People who are both LGBT and members of a racial or ethnic minority will often face the highest level of health disparities. For example, as the National Coalition for LGBT Health notes, a black gay man faces disparities common to the African-American community as well as those suffered by the LGBT community, and a transgender Spanish-speaking woman, regardless of her sexual orientation, must navigate multiple instances of discrimination based on language, ethnicity, and gender. A companion CAP brief, “How to Close the LGBT Health Disparities Gap: Disparities by Race and Ethnicity,” explores these in more detail.

Population of focus: People who are both LGBT and members of a racial or ethnic minority

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Date: 2009

Organization: Center for American Progress