March 5, 2015; KOLD-TV (Tucson, AZ)

With the LGBT-rights movement gaining support across the country, CODAC Behavioral Health Services is celebrating the grand opening of a new center that will provide mental health and primary-care services to LGBTQI patients in Arizona. The center, Living Out Loud, is the first of its kind in the state and recognizes that its patients need a discrimination-free environment to receive medical care and support. Services at Living Out Loud will be available to patients over the age of six.

Such a center is integral to the health and overall well-being of individuals who are too often discriminated against in the healthcare community. According to the National Women’s Law Center, studies have found that “approximately 8% of LGB individuals [and] nearly 27 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals…report being denied needed health care outright.” As a result of such discrimination by healthcare providers, LGBTQI individuals can experience unnecessary trauma, emotional distress, and undue financial burdens. Worse yet, many may not receive any healthcare services due to fear of discrimination.

Unfortunately, no federal law prohibits doctors from refusing to provide services to LGBTQI individuals. Krista and Jami Contreras discovered that this kind of discrimination can extend to members of LGBTQI families, as well. After discovering that the baby she would be treating was parented by lesbians, a Michigan pediatrician refused further service to the couple’s six-day-old infant.

According to the Washington Post article detailing the Contreras family’s experience: 

“Ethically speaking, the American Medical Association takes a strong stance against denying care to people because of their sexual orientation—and, it is reasonable to assume, the sexual orientation of their parents. But their ethical guidance is just that: Guidance. Doctors aren’t bound by it.”

The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion seeks to eliminate disparities between healthcare coverage in the LGBTQI community nationwide, recognizing that denial of rights causes higher rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide, and can have a strong negative overall effect on an individual’s mental health. Teenagers are especially susceptible to emotional suffering from denied healthcare support and a lack of acceptance within the broader community. 

The tragic death of Leelah Alcorn last December highlights the resultant isolation that too many face when their identity is questioned. One of the 17-year-old’s last social media posts, “My death needs to mean something,” was heard around the world. Access to gender confirmation services, counseling services, and community groups at a center like Living Out Loud is perhaps the best way to honor Leelah’s wish and to help ensure that others in her situation receive needed healthcare and emotional support.—Michele Bittner