The Difference Between LGBT and Just T


rainbow flag.

Transgender health is an understudied and oft misunderstood phenomenon.

The health care needs of the transgender population are much different from lesbian, gay and bisexual population groups. From a care provider and health researcher perspective, I believe that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) individuals are viewed as a unitary group, in part, due to the sociological categorization that assists in documenting their marginalization.

Having specific health care needs met in the era of “personalized medicine” allows for a precise and individualized plan of care. This means that the treatments one gets is based in what that person needs and not so much in “what’s worked before.” Having specific health care needs met is no different for the transgender population. For far too long, health care providers (and researchers) have viewed the LGBT population as a collective with overlapping health care needs. This is not the case, as each one of these groups have different needs.

Take for example, HIV testing.

HIV testing has been foundational in decreasing HIV infection in gay men and some gay men of color. Unfortunately, this is not the trend in transgender or bisexual population groups, as their HIV infection rates are either unchanged or increasing. 

As a researcher, I am often asked what I am proposing and how I will be able to adequately address health disparities that LGBT groups encounter.

Well, for starters, I am suggesting that we understand the transgender identity. This means that we need to start being comfortable with a system that allows individuals to identify who they are and not provide some preselected category that doesn’t capture someone’s true identity. In my own research, which is specific to transgender health, I encounter numerous self-identifiers such as transgender male-to-female/transgender female-to-male to gender neutral/gender non-conforming or simply just male/female.

Secondly, we need to view transgender health needs independently of lesbian, gay and/or bisexual population groups. Many of my colleagues are hesitant to view LGBT health in a different way. One of the main concerns is that breaking up this historically marginalized collective will dilute the advantage of “strength in numbers.”

While I recognize that socio-political gains regarding basic human and civil rights for all LGBT individuals result from the contribution of the whole LGBT collective, I am only suggesting that each group have health care needs met using precise and individualized interventions.

When it comes to improving the health status of the transgender population, these individuals deserve a focused and appropriate plan of care specific to their needs.

To do otherwise is to discard their human individuality.