LGBTQ Southerners Still Face A Lot Of Challenges When It Comes To Health Care

"It's a very specific experience to be an LGBTQ person in the South," Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director at Campaign for Southern Equality, told BuzzFeed News.

A new survey released Wednesday revealed that a high number of LGBTQ Southerners, especially transgender people, continue to struggle with their health and the quality of medical care they receive.

Results from the 2019 Southern LGBTQ Health Survey, which collected responses from people across the gender, sexuality, race, income, and age spectrum, suggested that "LGBTQ-friendly health care exists in the South, but is not universally available."

Some 5,617 people across 13 southern states participated in the survey, which was conducted by the Campaign for Southern Equality and Western NC Community Health Services.

According to the survey, transgender patients consistently reported poorer physical and mental health, feeling uncomfortable when seeking medical care, and receiving lower-quality care in general. The survey found 47.5% of transgender respondents also said they always or often have to educate their health care provider about LGBTQ identity, compared to 19% of cisgender participants.

Bisexual, pansexual, and queer participants reported far worse mental health experiences than gay, lesbian, and heterosexual respondents. According to the survey, 75%–80% of bisexual, pansexual, and queer respondents reported being diagnosed with or experiencing depression, and more than 40% of the same group of respondents said they experienced suicidal ideation.

Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director at Campaign for Southern Equality, told BuzzFeed News that though there is an increased focused on LGBTQ issues and health care across the country, "there’s been a real lack of research focused on the health experiences of LGBTQ Southerners."

"It's a very specific experience to be an LGBTQ person in the South," she said.

"We’re a community that’s racially diverse. [We have] higher rates of having lower incomes," Beach-Ferrara said. "We see across the board that there tends to be compounding factors in the South that make it that much more challenging to access the care that folks need."

Beach-Ferrara said that many health care providers have religious affiliations, which in some cases means they can be "less likely to be LGBTQ-friendly or necessarily to be open to implementing LGBTQ-friendly practices." She also pointed to policies that have left members of the LGBTQ community vulnerable to discrimination.

Survey respondents who live in rural areas in the South reported significantly less access to care compared to LGBTQ respondents who lived in urban areas.

"While there has been a significant increase in funding resources to the LGBTQ South in recent years, most of that funding is directed toward established nonprofit organizations in large metro areas," the survey stated, "and very little is currently reaching rural communities or grassroots organizers."

Those who live in rural areas also reported higher rates of depression (74.4%), anxiety (64%), self-harming behaviors (36.6%), and other mental health issues than their urban counterparts.

Overall, 51.5% of people who participated in the survey said living in the South makes it harder for LGBTQ people to access quality health care.

Beach-Ferrara said she hopes the survey, which is described as the "largest known survey to focus specifically on LGBTQ health issues in the South," will be a resource for health care providers, policymakers, and LGBTQ southerners.

Kayla Gore, the lead ambassador for the survey and project consultant for Campaign for Southern Equality, told BuzzFeed News the survey is critical in helping people understand the context around every individual LGBTQ person's experience.

"We can tell our stories as many times we want to to as many folks as we want, but a lot of people who are data-driven, they have to see the numbers," she said. "Partnering stories with the data just makes a stronger case to increase access to health care for LGBT folks."