In my previous posts, I discussed my own experiences as a lesbian with breast cancer, and the differences in cancer risk and screening recommendations for the LGBT population (including ovarian cancer). So, now that you know all of that, and if you're a member of the LGBT community or have friends or family who are, how do you go about finding a culturally competent doctor so you can get that screening or treatment and be treated with dignity and respect while doing so?
The most important piece of advice I'd offer is to start the search early, before you actually need to see a doctor. This gives you the freedom to make a considered choice and not one based on urgency or pressure to address a health concern. Of course, if you're being referred for a treatment you didn't expect you'd need, this isn't always possible, but it may be possible when searching for a primary care physician, a gynecologist or even a mammogram facility.
The first step would be to ask around: if you have other friends who are LGBT or any variation thereof, ask for recommendations. Seek out clinics that specialize in treating LGBT patients.
SHARE does not endorse or recommend specific doctors, but they do provide information, including web site resources that help locate doctors. Also, The National LGBT Cancer Network has a great resource page for those of us in New York City looking for culturally competent cancer screening.
There are also other ways to find doctors who will provide you with quality care. If you already have a competent primary care doctor or gynecologist, and you are in the position of needing a referral for a mammogram or to a surgeon or oncologist, ask your doctor. And then, don't take your doctor's word for it – call the doctor you are considering seeing and ask the office whether they treat any LGB or T patients. Ask if the doctor is experienced with this population. Ask if you can bring your partner with you (even if you don't have a partner or a primary partner) and see what the response is. If you don't like the office's response to your questions on the phone, chances are the office won't be welcoming in person.
New York is a large, diverse city, and there is no shortage of doctors. Trust your instincts, and if you are not happy with your care, move on. Now, I realize this is easier said than done, especially in an era when so many of us are unemployed, underinsured, and/or uninsured. But you have a right and a responsibility to be the ultimate decision-maker when it comes to your body and your health. This fact is scary, but also empowering. Don't be afraid to demand quality medical care for yourself and your LGBT loved ones.
Mimi has worked as a consulting LGBT Outreach Coordinator for SHARE. She is also a singer/songwriter/actress and yoga teacher in NYC.