The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has named University of Wisconsin Health a “Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality.”

Historically, LGBTQ+ individuals have faced greater disparities in receiving the healthcare they need. Various studies have revealed people in the LGBTQ community contract sexually transmitted infections at a higher rate due to lower rates of STI screenings. Substance abuse and suicide rates are also higher for LGBTQ individuals.

UW student Natalie*, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, reiterated the struggles health care commonly presents for individuals who don’t identify as heterosexual.

“My health care experience has been different from my straight peers,” Natalie said. “I think [the inequalities] most commonly manifest themselves when it comes to sexual reproductive health.”

Natalie described what she called a “recurring” situation. At every annual checkup, she faces the decision to either lie to her health care provider or be forced to out herself when asked questions about her sexual health, such as whether or not she uses condoms.

Once the doctor has to be informed that she doesn’t partake in what is seen as “traditional” sexual activities, a feeling of embarrassment is created that results in a lower sense of safety for herself, she said.

“Many of the concerns when it comes to STIs and STDs are different between women who have sex with men and those who don’t,” Natalie said. “When [it is assumed] that I am straight, I don’t believe I am being treated with the proper concern for conditions I am at a higher risk for. So there’s a fundamental issue: Do I sacrifice my feeling of safety to make sure I am receiving the most appropriate health care?”

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Natalie described negative experiences with mental health care as well, stating that some therapists have tried to explain away her sexuality as a result of childhood trauma and sexual violence.

UW Health has been working to dispel inequalities like these and create a greater sense of acceptance and safety for LGBTQ individuals.

Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, chief diversity officer at UW Health, leads efforts in the area of quality health care for the LGBTQ community.

“For the third year in a row, UW Health has been designated a ‘Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality’ by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights organization,” Bidar-Sielaff said.

UW Health was assessed on four criteria, Bidar-Sielaff said. The criteria included LGBTQ Patient-Centered Care, LGBTQ Patient Services and Support, Employee Benefits and Policies, and LGBTQ Patient and Community Engagement.

In 2018, 418 facilities nationwide received the maximum score in each of the four sections and earned an overall score of 100 and UW Health was one of those places, Bidar-Sielaff said.

“[UW Health] has an internal LGBTQ Task Force that discusses and works on implementing initiatives,” Bidar-Sielaff said.

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UW Health has added a preferred name field to electronic medical records in an effort to recognize that a patient’s preferred name may differ from their legal name based on the gender they identify with, Bidar-Sielaff said.

Bidar-Sielaff explained in addition to adding a preferred name field, clinical staff have also been offered training on how to provide inclusive and affirming care to LGBTQ patients. UW Health also supports and partners with organizations such as OutReach, GSAFE and the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

UW Health has plans to begin focusing on designing better electronic medical records with a better system to note sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as providing more employee training on issues within the LGBTQ community.

“This is a journey, not a destination,” Bidar-Sielaff said. “We will continue working on making sure we are providing an inclusive and affirming care to our patients and families and an inclusive environment to our staff.”

*Names have been changed of students who wished to remain anonymous.