Self-Advocacy at the Provider’s Office


Self-Advocacy at the Provider’s Office

October 28, 2019
A woman in a rainbow tee holds a pride flag above her head and smiles

Your sexual health affects you physically, mentally, and socially, so it’s very important to keep it in mind regardless of your gender identity, sexuality, relationship status, or sexual activity.

Wherever you fall on the gender and sexuality spectrum you may have birth control needs. If you (or your partner) have the potential to become pregnant, meaning you has a uterus and ovaries and you have penis-in-vagina sex with someone that can produce sperm, and you don’t want to be pregnant, you can use birth control to prevent pregnancy. And with every type of physical intimacy there is a chance  of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV or chlamydia, so using dental dams, condoms, or internal condoms, depending on how you have sex can help protect you from STIs regardless of how you identify.

Unfortunately, for many in the LGBTQ community, access to health care that respects gender or orientation is not guaranteed. In 2018, the Center for American Progress released results from a survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer identifying patients which said that in the last year:

  • 8% encountered a provider who refused to see them
  • 6% were refused care by a provider
  • 7% had a provider who would not recognize their family
  • 9% heard harsh or abusive language from a provider treating them
  • 7% experienced unwanted physical contact from a provider

The answers of transgender patients to the same questions show a larger problem:

  • 29% encountered a provider who refused to see them
  • 12% were refused care by a provider
  • 23% had a provider who would not recognize their family
  • 21% heard harsh or abusive language from a provider treating them
  • 29% experienced unwanted physical contact from a provider

Gender or sexual minority individuals can contract STIs, have an unplanned pregnancy, or experience diseases of reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, ovarian or prostate cancer. All these factors make it imperative that queer people, and especially young people who identify as LGBTQ, receive inclusive and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care.

How can queer people take care of their sexual well-being if their provider doesn’t step up and offer it proactively?

They can learn how to advocate for themselves and become empowered patients. Because every patient deserves high-quality and respectful care.

1. You have the right to end an appointment or exam if you do not feel comfortable, safe, or your provider isn’t listening to your needs.

For many patients going to see a health care provider can be a large investment of time, money, energy, or all of the above, but just because you show up does not mean you have to stay. If a doctor or other provider says or does anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, belittled, or threatened you have the right to end an exam or leave. Providers are responsible for more than giving you the best medical care they can offer, they should also give you respect. If that’s not happening, find someone who will.

2. You have the right to be treated as an equal. Providers are people, not gods.

It’s true that many health care providers go to school for years to learn specialized skills. But school isn’t everything and providers aren’t gods. If your feel as though you’re being spoken down to or your concerns aren’t being taken seriously, it’s okay to speak up or to leave (see #1). It’s always okay to let your provider know how you feel and ask them to treat you as an equal.

3. You have the right to recognize that providers have bias.

Providers are people. People have opinions and personal beliefs. But your provider should not pass on judgements. If you experience judgment, find a new provider.

4. You have the right to ask questions.

It’s normal to have questions when speaking to a health care provider. Ask them! And if your provider can’t answer them right away ask them to either find out and follow-up with you or point you to a resource where you can find the answer yourself.

5. You have the right to not get treatments and tests.

If you are uncomfortable with a treatment or test your provider wants to perform, tell them so. There are always alternatives to anything your provider recommends, including not doing anything. It’s always ok to tell them you want to think about it and come back for another appointment. Ask lots of questions and don’t feel as though you have to do anything simply because your provider suggests it.

6. You have the right to ask for tests you want.

On the flip side, if you believe that a test or treatment is necessary and your doctor doesn’t suggest it, speak up. Do you want an allergy test? Ask for it. Do you want a pap smear? Ask for it. Regardless of who you have sex with, it’s possible to have an STI, so it’s important for everyone to get tested. Don’t let your provider’s potential bias stop you from asking for and getting the care you want and deserve.