This paper examines the issue of whether or not the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) population can be considered to be “at risk”. The paper begins by outlining the findings of research that indicate the LGBT population as vulnerable with regard to both physical and mental health, and the different factors contributing to this. It also examine the research that indicates the different social factors that affect the LGBT population beyond the context of health care, and the ways in which these factors also contribute to the group being considered at risk. Finally, the paper indicates the importance of greater knowledge and understanding of these issues for social workers, and suggests the benefits such improvements might offer to both the LGBT communities and to society as a whole.
This paper will argue that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) population can be considered an “at risk” group because of their marginal position in society. I chose this group to study in particular because their marginalized position makes it extremely important that sociologists provide social workers with the information and frameworks to improve their “at risk” status.
Sociological literature on the subject suggests that the LGBT population is particularly at risk because of their marginal position in society. For example, one sociology texts cites research which has demonstrated that LGBT people are “less likely to seek medical care, and do so less frequently, than their sexual majority counterparts” (Silverschanz, 2009, n.p.). Furthermore, studies suggest that this is because the marginalized position of these groups within society means that they are often discouraged from seeking medical help because of prejudicial or uneducated responses to their specific problems (Silverschanz, 2009, n.p.). The obvious impact of this lack of engagement with the health profession is that LGBT people are less likely to seek treatment and advice, and the result is inevitably that these groups experience a higher proportion of physical health issues. At the same time, research has also indicated that these populations have higher instances of mental health issues, and suffer more from violence, substance abuse, and suicide (Russell, 2014, pp. 113-114); not only do these issues directly impact the status of this group as at risk, they also have a further indirect impact on the physical health of LGBT people. An additional consequence of prejudicial attitudes towards the LGBT population is the low standard of care these individuals are likely to receive if they do seek help or advice. Research indicates that a lack of education and open-mindedness about these populations amongst health-care workers often results in the provision of misguided or incorrect treatment and care (Russell, 2014, pp. 113-114). Overall, then, it is clear that research clearly supports the status of this population as “at risk”.
In order to address these problems within the health-care community, it is extremely important that social workers be aware of the particular problems that members of the LGBT population are faced with. In Sociology for Health Professionals, for example, Russell describes “the everyday stigma, discrimination and resultant psychosocial stress which LGBT people experience”, pointing out that these occur most often in health care settings (Russell, 2014, p. 114). Acting as a bridge between official organizations such as the health-care community and the LGBT population, social-workers occupy a unique position with regard to the dissemination of information between the two groups. Social workers have the ability to ensure that better information about the needs of members of the LGBT population reaches the health-care community, thereby improving the knowledge and understanding of health care professionals and encouraging better standards of care. At the same time, social workers are in a position to offer issue-specific advice to members of the LGBT population with regard to seeking and receiving health care, thereby helping to redress what one authors terms the “neglect” (Silverschanz, 2009, n.p.) of these populations. The overall result is likely to be greater understanding and improved standards of care across the board, and this can result in benefits for society as a whole. As Silverschanz writes in the Handbook of Research with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Populations, “improving and disseminating accurate knowledge about LGBT people can potentially contribute to social harmony and understanding” (Silverschanz, 2009, n.p.). However, it is not only in the area of health care that members of the LGBT population are affected: the marginalized position of members of the LGBT community has an impact on other social issues as well.
There are a number of other social factors that can affect this particular population. For example, many sociological texts discuss the discrimination that exists in social, economic and political terms against members of the LGBT population. Within the United States, this type of discrimination can include prohibitive laws about same-sex marriage, the inheritance of property in same-sex couples, and about parental and adoption rights (Kendall, 2015, p. 319). What this means in practical terms for the LGBT community is that better sociological understanding about the lives of LGBT communities is likely to foster a two-way relationship between health-care, on the one hand, and policy makers on the other. While discrimination against members of the LGBT communities is institutionalized in economic and legal policies, social attitudes – including those common in the health profession – are unlikely to change. This is a cycle of discriminatory reinforcement, where the attitude of the health profession towards LGBT suggests that the specific issues faced by these groups are too unimportant to warrant policy-based solutions, and the lack of policy addressing these specific issues reinforces the perception within the health-care profession that the issues are unimportant. However, better sociological research about these groups can inform more appropriate responses within the health-care community, and by extension in economic and legal policies. Such research should therefore aim to address not only the health risks to these populations, but the indirect impact of other forms of social discrimination.
Silverschanz writes of the need for better knowledge for social workers (Silverschanz, 2009, n.p.), and it seems clear that this impetus should come from sociological studies. It therefore seems sensible to suggest that more attention should be focused on the LGBT community, which research indicates as clearly “at risk”, with a view to improving social understanding of the particular needs and issues of this community, and thereby the social willingness to address those issues and needs.
- Kendall, D. (2015). Sociology in Our Times. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
- Russell, L. (2014). Sociology for Health Professionals. Los Angeles: Sage Publications Ltd.
- Silverschanz, P. (2009). “What’s ‘Queer’ Got to do with it?: Enlightening Mainstream Research.” In. W. Meezan and J. I. Martin (eds.), Handbook of Research with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Populations (n.p.). New York: Routledge. Retrieved from https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=HQATJsD-MN4C&pg=PT335&dq=Lesbian,+Gay,Bisexual+and+Transgender+Population+Sociology&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCAQ6AEwAGoVChMI6eOw-6nYyAIVy7cUCh0GQAPF#v=onepage&q&f=false.