2021 marked the fourth year of the LGBTQ+ Health Care Conference sponsored by IU School of Medicine. It was developed to address the growing need for LGBTQ+ health-related education in Indiana. The conference, held annually in late March, has grown since it was first held in 2017 as a one-day event. It now spans two days covering medical, behavioral health and community-oriented topics.
"As healers we have an obligation to learn how to provide better care and eliminate health disparities for all the people we serve, including the LGBTQ+ community," said IU School of Medicine Dean Jay Hess, MD, PhD, MHSA.
Approximately 1,000 registrants, consisting of physicians, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, psychologists, therapists and other healthcare professionals and learners, engaged with the conference from across the country.
"Some of the LGBTQ+ patient population experience being marginalized in health care. While some of this is due to discrimination by providers, often it is a consequence of lack of knowledge, training and research," said Alvaro Tori, MD, associate dean for diversity affairs at IU School of Medicine. "It is our responsibility as a medical school to lead the way in providing high-quality equitable care and listening to the LGBTQ+ community."
Over the years, the LGBTQ+ community has grown, making up at least 5.6 percent of the total U.S. adult population and 4.5 percent of Indiana's population. However, there are still barriers to health equity in the LGBTQ+ community. Janine Fogel, MD, medical director of the Eskenazi Health Gender Health Program and clinical family medicine professor at IU School of Medicine, is an influential contributor forging this change. In 2016, Fogel launched the Eskenazi Gender Health Program as the first comprehensive gender-affirming care program in Indiana, now serving over 1500 patients.
"A lot of national data has shown that people who are LGBTQ+, especially the trans community, faced discrimination in trying to find and access necessary services. Even once they get in the door, they have experienced the stigma and discrimination. As a result, they may make decisions to delay seeking care. They may not seek care when it was medically needed because of this fear," said Juan Carlos Venis, MD, assistant professor of clinical family medicine at the IU School of Medicine and co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Health Care Conference planning committee.
The conference helps healthcare providers mitigate the disparities as mentioned above. Those who attend learn how to provide respectful, patient-centered, culturally competent health care and better support LGBTQ+ patients and families. They also learn about new research and innovations in LGBTQ+ care through speaking engagements, poster sessions and more. Additionally, the conference has become more community-oriented with programming designed for non-clinicians. This year, the planning committee involved community leaders for the first time, and they plan to build on this in coming years.
"The conference aims to have an open door. You can come in and learn what it means to be an affirming, welcoming provider and develop some basic skills. To learn how to take good care of people regardless of their gender identity and regardless of who they love. Our community members can get empowered with information to help advocate for themselves and their neighbors too," said Venis.
Missed the conference? Read some highlights below from this year's keynote speakers. The next LGBTQ+ Health Care Conference will be March 24 – 26, 2022.
Keynote Speaker Highlights
J.D. Ford, Indiana State Senator, shared his journey as the only openly out serving member in the Indiana State General Assembly and his fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Ford shared some history of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Often, hate crime laws exclude LGBTQ+ individuals. Indiana is one of 14 states that still has anti-LGBTQ+ policies. Though he is not alone in this fight, as the only openly out serving member, he is aware of his responsibility to represent the community well.
"Sometimes, the media calls me the ambassador of the community. That is both humbling and terrifying. Humbling because I get to use my voice and platform and speak out on issues. Terrifying in the sense that I am always worried that I will not adequately represent the community," said Senator J.D. Ford.
Alex Keuroghlian, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, presented on transgender and gender diverse mental health, discussed mental health inequities across different diagnostic categories using a gender minority stress and resilience framework. He encouraged building inclusive, affirming and trauma-informed environments within health care centers to optimize mental health outcomes.
"We increasingly refer to a gender minority stress and resilience framework so we can support people in a process of post-traumatic growth and to cultivate more resilience," said Keuroghlian.
Kali Cyrus, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at John Hopkins School of Medicine, gave remarks on endurance. Advocacy is an uphill battle. It is important to stay conscious of your identity and well-being to avoid burnout. When running on low energy, find time to rest, and re-evaluate what depleted your tank. Remember, those disparities are widespread so pace yourself. Always take the time to recharge.
"Advocate by learning about the systems because it will make you stronger and more effective when your gas tank refills. You might find that it doesn't deplete as quickly next time," said Cyrus.
Kate Bornstein, author, actor and performance artist, continues spreading awareness of nonbinary gender. Bornstein shared their personal experience around gender. Providers may help patients feel more comfortable by asking, "What gender were you assigned at birth?" followed by "What is your current gender?" Health care professionals can still obtain the information that is needed while maintaining an atmosphere of compassion.
"Compassion is the doorway to love, and love is the foundation for good health care for people of all genders and all sexualities," said Bornstein.