LGBTQ+ Healthcare Is About Way More Than Sex

We fixate so much on sexually transmitted diseases like HIV that we neglect the other issues LGBTQ+ individuals face that prevent them from accessing healthcare in the first place.

One day, a young man walked into my medical clinic in Nairobi, Kenya. He was accompanied by almost a whole village — mother, uncle, brothers. I asked him how old he was. He said twenty-one. I told the rest of them to get out of my consultation room. They seemed uncomfortable.

He had come in because of a boil which, after examination, I informed him was a fistula that would need surgical intervention. It was only after speaking to him at some length that he shared that he was gay and HIV-positive. The reason this group of relatives accompanied him, he said, is because they did not want him to disclose that information and disgrace the family.

Before I was able to finish the examination, his mother barged in, asking, “Why have you stayed so long with him?” I responded that I get to decide how long I stay with my patients, not her. She grabbed him and left. I slipped my card to the young man and told him to call me, but he never did. I lost that patient. I lost him completely.

But it got me thinking: how many more people do we lock out of healthcare because of their sexual orientation?

When we think of healthcare for sexual minorities, we often think of things directly related to sex and sexually transmitted diseases — like condoms, lube, PrEP. But that’s hardly it.