HEALTH EQUITY: Tegan and Sara Foundation, GLMA bring LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory to Americans and Canadians

by Sophia Lee

When we think about healthcare, we often think about the doctors and nurses that care for us in times of need. However, we rarely think about all the environmental components that go into acquiring and producing a genuine medical care experience. Does my doctor understand the importance of my pronouns? Can they prescribe hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for me? Do they actually care about the health disparities that come with being BIPOC?

Steps in fresh off the runway, the LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory.

“There is no escaping how broken the US healthcare system is,” said Jessica Halem, Senior Director of eidos, an LGBTQ+ Health Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.” “This directory is like a lifeboat in really rocky waters. These are complicated conversations, systems, and structures that we have to work to change so that people are getting what they need and deserve. But in the meantime, we all deserve dental care, we all deserve a pap smear, we all deserve cancer screenings, hormone therapy, and good therapists to help us navigate the waters. Consider this just the lifeboat to get you there while you’re riding out those waves.”

Jessica Halem, Senior Director of eidos, an LGBTQ+ Health Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania

These are the types of questions many queer folk ask themselves before searching for the right type of care. The answers can often be discouraging to people looking for providers that can give affirming, inexpensive, and equitable care. Despite there being several healthcare professionals who can provide these things, there are limitations preventing access to them. Many providers don’t currently have themselves listed as LGBTQ-affirming, weight-inclusive, sex-positive, racially equitable, etc. If they do, there are very few ways for us as patients to find them other than through word of mouth.

With the combined help of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality and The Tegan and Sara Foundation (the Tegan and Sara Foundation also funded projects for Queer Kentucky), compassionate individuals, including Jessica Halem, have begun to bridge the gap between queer folx and their affirming healthcare access. Halem, along with a team of several sponsors and collaborators, has worked tirelessly to put together a resource that all LGBTQ+ individuals may use to address any of their healthcare needs. 

Halem, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was born and raised in Kent, Ohio. She is an impacted individual who actively advocates for LGBTQ+ healthcare justice. She currently serves on the Board of the Tegan and Sara Foundation and, previously, ran the Lesbian Community Cancer Project in Chicago. You can learn more about her passion for queer healthcare here.

“We went through a lot of conversations about research on what to call this. A lot of the research that we heard from people was sometimes we can get a little too creative with our naming. We sort of went down that road about calling it something fun or euphemistic, and a lot of what we heard from patients was ‘I just want clarity. I want transparency. I want trust and honesty, I want to know what this is.’ And that’s why we went with the very simple name, LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory.

LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory logo

“What you see in front of you is a website that is trying to never be a place that causes more harm, or more pain than what LGBTQ+ people are already facing when it comes to the healthcare system. I’ve been doing this work for over 20 years. We have a lot of trauma. We have a lot of discrimination and bias that we are constantly juggling in our healthcare system. So as queer and trans people who built this, we are trying to minimize and never create more harm. So what you see is hopefully a great deal of honesty, transparency, and ease of use, so that this doesn’t cause more pain. We don’t want anyone to get anxious using this website, we want it to be low anxiety,” Halem stated. 

The LGBTQ+ Healthcare Directory is a free, online database of any healthcare providers who cater to the LGBTQ+ community. This resource provides aid to any individual experiencing healthcare disparities. The website itself is easily navigable with there being multiple options for search routes, including searching via zip code, specific health need, care topics (gender-affirming care, trans & nonbinary health, etc.), and six provider approaches. These six categories include trauma-informed care, sex-positive, racial equity, informed consent, weight-inclusive, and harm reduction. 

“These kinds of approaches, we believe, are really where the future of LGBTQ+ healthcare is going. We want this directory to be future-oriented. We want to see more providers signing up, who are weight inclusive. We want to see more providers taking responsibility for things like trauma-informed care and harm reduction. I know in Kentucky, you all are leading the way in thinking about harm reduction. And we think about that on many levels, right? We think about that when it comes to drugs and alcohol, but we could think about harm reduction approaches on many levels when it comes to our health and wellness. We’re trying to create a movement of providers committed to healthcare the way we know that people really would need it, be responsive, and best served,” Halem recounted the thoughtfulness that went into the creation of these categories. 

The directory itself first began as a project by GLMA that started “when the internet began,” according to Halem. GLMA started out as a collective of LBGTQ+ healthcare professionals with a membership directory that all staff has access to use when people would call in looking for an LGBTQ+ doctor. It was never a resource that was widely available to the public but over the course of 15 years, GLMA began expanding this online through their own website, then into the directory itself as a result of the advancements in technology over time. 

On the provider side of things, healthcare professionals can utilize the website to sign up as they please. Providers can put as much or as little information as they choose, and they can even choose to remain anonymous. Halem and her team are hoping to grow this database as a way to increase education and access for LGBTQ+ individuals seeking care as well as providers looking to expand their knowledge on these subjects.

“HIV has a certification – that’s a test they all take. We don’t have anything like that for LGBTQ+ healthcare. We don’t have that for trans healthcare or gender-affirming care. We don’t have it for any other aspect of LGBTQ+ care. And we’re working on that. Our hope for this year, 2023, is to really engage in a major public relations push to reach a diverse range of providers of every kind. We want to see not just MDS and DEOs but we want to see nurse practitioners, physical therapists, and dentists. We want to see every kind of healthcare provider, who is ready to make a difference in LGBTQ+ people’s lives, join this directory, join the movement, become a part of what is this growing LGBTQ healthcare movement,” Halem said.

The directory also features a resources section, where users can read articles about different healthcare subjects to help them assess what their needs may look like before they seek out a provider. 

“We would love to see the entire state of Kentucky and Appalachia, in general, be a part of this. I would love to see this directory full of providers from Appalachia. I would love to make sure that those queer and trans folks living in Appalachia could find a provider and I know they might have to drive or travel far, but I know, for people in Appalachia, if there is the right kind of doctor that you need to get great care that is sensitive and appropriate for your life, people are willing to travel. So let’s get as many providers from around Appalachia as we can!” she said.

Spread the word about this new, amazing resource for queer folx, and find an LGBTQ+ healthcare provider near you with the directory now. If you are a provider in the Kentucky area and beyond, please join.

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