LGBTQI Health Forum: Transcending Heteronormativity in Health Care

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Despite all the challenges faced by the LGBT community, doors are opening, according to Stuart Gaffney, a policy analyst at the UCSF Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. 

As proof of this, on Monday, nearly 300 participants attended UCSF’s fifth annual LGBTQI Health Forum to learn how to better support an often mistreated community in the clinic and beyond.  Just five years ago, this health forum was a small group of people uncertain whether anyone would show up for their event.

The daylong conference explored the pressing health issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community. 

Shane Snowdon, founder of the UCSF Center for LGBT Health and Equity and a current leader of the Human Rights Campaign, delivered the keynote address.  With palpable passion (sprinkled with wry humor), Snowdon introduced the challenges and health care disparities faced by LGBT patients, noting that nearly 30 percent of LGB and 73 percent of transgender individuals in a 2010 Lambda Legal study reported fears of being treated differently by medical personnel who knew of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The statistics are not surprising in the context of the verbal and/or physical abuse and rejection experienced by the majority of LGBT people. Snowdon gave the poignant example of Janice Langbehn, who, along with her three adopted teenage children, was not permitted by hospital officials to visit her partner of 18 years as she lay dying of an aneurysm at age 39.  

A panel of patients later described their own experiences of discriminatory treatment.  The panelists, including a former UCSF Biomedical Sciences student, also gave suggestions on how to interact with LGBTQI patients with greater sensitivity — using gender-neutral pronouns when asking about loved ones, for instance, and asking patients in good faith to explain unfamiliar terminology. 

Subsequent discussions focused on specific topics in LGBTQI health, such as the health care concerns unique to particular subgroups, legal issues in treatment of intersex patients and supporting LGBT youth.

Archimedes Pacheco, education manager for the Trevor Project, expanded on the subject of supporting LGBT youth, which has gained prominence in recent years as a result of suicides associated with bullying. 

The evening ended with an uplifting address by John Lewis, JD, and Stuart Gaffney. Leaders of the freedom-to-marry movement for nearly a decade, they have been partners for over 25 years.

This year’s LGBTQI Health Forum was organized by Marcus Ferrone, Richard Kowalski and Maher Abdel-Sattar (School of Pharmacy); Jerome Atputhasingam, Sai-Wing Chan, Mark Dela Cruz, John Paul Farala, Brandon Perkovich and John Phuong (School of Medicine); Pardis Esmaeili (Department of Neurology); Tina Novero (Multicultural Resource Center); and Paul Day (Office of Diversity and Outreach).  For more information, check out