straight for equality
frequently asked questions - healthcare

What is an ally to the LGBTQ community?

Here at Straight for Equality we don’t demand that allies meet certain criteria or that they become a political activist. An ally is simply someone who is willing to learn more, to start a conversation, and to ask questions. An ally is someone who is willing to acknowledge their own discomfort when it comes to talking about the issues people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) continue to face in the US. Allies think about small things that can be done to create more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming space. And finally an ally is someone who is willing to speak up on behalf of their LGBTQ patients, colleagues, friends, and family when the opportunity arises.

What is Straight for Equality in Healthcare?

Straight for Equality in Healthcare is a part of PFLAG National’s Straight for Equality program, which seeks to invite, educate, and engage allies in effort to achieve equality for LGBTQ people. The healthcare module aims to teach healthcare providers about the unique healthcare concerns of the LGBTQ community as well as their family and friends. It also helps to show healthcare professionals some of the subtle things they can do to create a safe, inclusive, and culturally competent atmosphere for their LGBTQ patients.

What are the benefits of being an ally?

You may be asking yourself, “why is this important?” or, “what's in it for me?” Well, as many healthcare providers know, if a patient feels comfortable around you, communication and rapport will improve. Being LGBTQ-inclusive and culturally competent allows patients to feel comfortable around you. When your patients feel comfortable around you, you'll experience greater patient retention, treatment adherence and compliance, and satisfaction. We have also found that it is good for healthcare professional’s careers. When LGBTQ patients find a doctor they like, they let others know, and your patient list will grow. And finally, you’ll feel good about it. You can take pride in knowing that you are providing the best possible care to everyone.

How do I avoid becoming “the gay practice?”

This is a common reaction we hear from many healthcare providers. Don't worry: You don't need to wallpaper your waiting room in rainbows or march in the annual Pride parade to be an ally. Incorporating some very subtle changes can signal to your LGBTQ patients that you are inclusive. For example, changing the language you use and the language on your forms to say “partner/spouse” instead of “husband/wife” is a simple change that can make a world of difference for LGBTQ patients. You could also post a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity on the wall of your waiting room.

It doesn’t matter to me if a patient is gay. Why should I treat them differently?

We do believe that every patient, regardless of orientation and/or gender identity should be treated with the same respect afforded all of your other patients. However, LGBTQ people often have differing health, privacy, and safety concerns from other patients, and you should be equipped to address those concerns. Check out the GLMA Resources section to learn more.

Can I put these tools into practice without giving up my moral or religious beliefs?

You can still be true to yourself personally while providing the best care as a healthcare provider. By making sure your patients feel comfortable enough to come out to you and by learning about specific LGBTQ health issues, you can provide the best care to all your patients. This is not about changing your personal beliefs, but about how you can change your behavior to be a more effective caregiver.

How can I minimize the time and effort that these sorts of changes will take?

Being inclusive does not take extra time (well, maybe an extra 30 seconds). Also, it’s not an “extra”; it’s an integral part of giving the best possible care. By signaling that you are inclusive, the patient is more likely to be immediately honest about the medical situation, which saves you time and frustration otherwise spent on trying to figure out what’s really going on with the patient. To make all your patients feel more comfortable, don't assume that every patient is straight. Use the word “partner” instead of “husband" and/or "wife”, and ask if patient has sex with “men, women, or both”. This way, you can be inclusive of both straight and LGBTQ patients.

I just work in the front office for a doctor. Does any of this really apply to me?

Yes, it does! You have a lot of contact with patients, and by sending inclusive signals you can make the patients feel more comfortable as soon as they arrive. How you interact with a patient sets the tone for their entire visit so treat every patient the same. You can also be more proactive if you feel comfortable doing so. For example, you can ensure that people do not make derogatory comments about LGBTQ people in the waiting area. You can also be prepared to provide information about local resources for the LGBTQ community such as a local PFLAG Chapter, the LGBTQ community center, or other inclusive healthcare providers.