Study: 15 Percent of LGBT Women Humiliated by Israeli Medical Staff

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A youth with rainbow colors painted on her face takes part in a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015.
A youth with rainbow colors painted on her face takes part in a gay pride parade in Tel Aviv, June 12, 2015.Credit: Reuters

LGBT women ask for medical services less than straight women, and when they do ask for such services they may well encounter a humiliating attitude and lack of understanding on the part of medical staff, reports a recent Israeli study on LGBT women’s use of medical services.

The study reveals a distressing picture, though not necessarily a surprising one, of the complex relations between the medical system and the LGBT community, in this case the female part of it. These relations are reflected in the way LGBT women use health services, and in their health, too.

Dr. Ruth Gophen, who conducted the study with her colleague Dr. Gal Wagner of Tel Aviv’s Gan Meir Clinic, said: “In recent years research has been published around the world that shows LGBT women request less medical services, but no such study had been conducted in Israel until now. Or study shows that although the awareness of the issue in Israel is growing and improving, LGBT women may still encounter an insulting and hurtful attitude on the part of the medical staff while receiving medical services.”

These are some of the findings of a study conducted of some 1,100 women, in advance of the Talking About Health With Pride conference, which will be held as part of the International Health Conference on Women’s Health, being held this week under the auspices of the Tel Aviv municipality’s Tel Aviv Pride Festival, along with the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBT Community Center and Gan Meir Clinic.

Some 1,100 women of all ages, including 582 LGBT women (lesbian, bisexual, asexual and transgender) and 518 straight women. The study showed that LGBT women request significantly fewer medical services, including checkups by gynecologists. Only 9% of straight women have never been examined by a gynecologist, while the figure is twice as high, 185, for LGBT women.

Partly as a result, LGBT women undergo fewer essential tests such as mammography to diagnose breast cancer and Pap smears to find cervical cancer, compared to straight women. Half of bisexual women and 32% of gay women have never had a Pap smear, compared to only 24% of straight women. In addition, only 71% of bisexual women have a regular family doctor, compared to 81% of straight women and 80% of gay women.

The differences do not end with just the frequency of medical tests and checkups, but also point out an at times humiliating attitude towards the women in the LGBT community. The study found that 15% of LGBT women who requested medical services reported suffering from an insulting attitude on the part of the medical staff, and 17% of LGBT women reported they encountered a lack of knowledge on the part of the medical staff concerning their sexual orientation or identity.

Some of the respondents in the survey reported distressing experiences in dealing with the health system. For example, one of the women, a lesbian, said: “The gynecologist did not understand why I didn’t need [birth control] pills but conducted sexual relations regularly, and needed detailed explanations.”

Another woman said she went to a gynecologist for a routine checkup and told her she was gay and in a steady relationship with a woman, and was told, “You are not a woman – so what do you want from me?” More worrying is that many gay women reported that when they asked their family doctors about relevant sexually-linked diseases, and whether they needed Pap smears or the vaccine against cervical cancer, the family doctors said they did not know the answers.

A higher percentage of transgender women reported their doctors refused to treat them. One woman described her experiences: “The [female] doctor insisted on relating to me in male figures of speech, despite the treatments and hormones, and even though I requested to speak to me as a woman.” Another woman reported that almost not a single doctor she spoke with knew who to refer her to, or how to treat her as a transgender woman.

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