Honesty is the best policy when it comes to LGBT health

Morgan Kelly

Going to the doctor to get tested for Sexually Transmitted Infections can be awkward to begin with. Add being a closeted lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person and it can be terrifying.

While not every doctor assumes an individual’s sexual orientation, there have been cases where they have, and Wayne Glass, LGBT Student Services volunteer, intern, & practicum graduate advisor, has experienced this firsthand.

“The two times out of me going to the doctor in the last three years, they’ve assumed my identity,” Glass said. “With the line of work that I do, people often assume that I’m gay. I just want to say, ‘Whoa, let’s back up.’”

He added that health officials have assumed that when he went in for a simple checkup on a fungal bacterial infection, they wanted to check him for STIs.

“It was causing lacerations all over my body, but I knew my status so I knew it wasn’t HIV,” Glass said.

Lacerations are a sign of being HIV positive.

“A part of me wants to say, ‘yes testing for HIV makes sense,’ though, another part of me was upset by that because they were assuming my identity again. Even though it is better to be safe than sorry I suppose,” Glass said.

Adam Guenther, senior in animal science and president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Ally Alliance, said he’s been to Thielen Student Health Center for something like bronchitis and had to mention that he was gay beforehand.

“The first few years I went I wasn’t out and they never brought up HIV testing or anything, and now that I’m out, every second or so time I go in they ask if I’ve been tested for HIV,” Guenther said. “They just assume because I’m gay, I’m going to need a test.”

Dr. Cosette Scallon, a physician who works at Thielen Student Health Center, said she does not assume a person’s sexual orientation.

“While we do not assume anything, there are cases where we need to know,” Scallon said. “It’s recommended that everyone at least get a baseline HIV test, so yes, someone might come in with flu-like symptoms but I will often recommend an HIV test just so they get that baseline test.”

Lois Smith, a nurse at the Student Health Center, said they’re not discriminating or assuming, they’re only trying to take care of the whole person, and being LGBT is part of them.

“We can’t treat everybody the same because the LGBT community does have special factors and higher risks than other communities on campus,” Smith said.

The difference in care between being gay and lesbian is drastic, not to mention if a person was transgender — that care is also very distinctive and separate, Scallon said.

While universities like the University of Iowa have specific LGBT health clinics, Guenther said Iowa State is one of the more inclusive Midwest universities, and has the most resources in Iowa.

Glass and Guenther both agree that doctors should undergo some sort of specific LGBT healthcare training.

Guenther added there should be a special section of high school sexual education devoted to LGBT health risks.

Glass, Guenther, Scallon and Smith all agreed that there were higher risks for LGBT health, and that honesty was necessary to get the most effective care.

“If you go in because you know there is something wrong sexually, it’s going to be awkward anyway,” Guenther said. “No one gives you a gold ribbon for having syphilis, but you have to come out and tell your history so they know what to test you for.”

While the doctor might not be the first one a person wants to come out to, they have to if they want the best treatment possible, Guenther said.