Health and Testing Progress Within the LGBTQ+ Community: HIV, AIDS, and Beyond

It is no secret that LGBTQ+ people have a lot to worry about, especially when it comes to their health, wellness, and safety. With stigma, discrimination, and other barriers in their way, it can be scary to reach out and ask for the help they need. There is still a lack of existing care, so if they were brave enough to seek help, they may not receive it.

With what seems to be a constant amount of legislation affecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, it is no wonder why this continues. These rights that are often put at risk include health.

While all of this is true, there has been some progress for the LGBTQ+ community concerning health and testing. We are not where we need to be quite yet, but things may get better in the future.

LGBTQ+ people face unique challenges when it comes to health and testing.

The LGBTQ+ community has dealt with stigma and discrimination for quite some time. This discrimination impacts the ability to receive necessary care and treatment. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, social inequality is linked to poorer health status.

The LGBTQ+ community faces a higher risk of health threats than heterosexual individuals. The CDC explains that some of these differences come from sexual behavior, but plenty of these distinctions are a direct result of inequality. The extreme levels of stigma and discrimination that LGBTQ+ people face often lead to poor care. It can even make queer people too afraid to seek help out in the first place. 

According to Queer Health Access: 

  • LGBTQ women have higher rates of depression, obesity, suicide, substance abuse, and some gynecological cancers
  • 34% of LGBTQ physicians reported observing discriminatory care of an LGBTQ patient
  • 56% of LGBTQ individuals have faced discrimination from their doctors
  • 21% of low and middle-income LGBTQ women are uninsured

These statistics do not stop there. It is clear that LGBTQ+ people face unique challenges and have for quite some time. Things might be looking up, but there is an extraordinary amount of progress left to make.

One thing that may come to mind when thinking about LGBTQ+ health and testing is HIV.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic began in June of 1981. At this time, the disease was referred to as Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) because it was thought to only affect men who were gay. These men were reporting oddly high cancer rates and rare forms of pneumonia. The disease was renamed a year later to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). At this time it was found that the infection can be caused by HIV and be sexually transmitted.

In 1983, it was found that women can be infected through heterosexual sex as well. It was even discovered that HIV can be given to children who were breastfed by their mothers with HIV. By 1990 there were around 8-10 million people with HIV throughout the world. In 2013, those numbers were much higher. At that time, more than 70 million people had been infected, and around 35 million had died. Today those numbers are even higher.

Even with these discoveries, the stigma against gay and bisexual men remained true. People still carried the belief that it was a gay disease and that these individuals did this to themselves. This stigma has continued to be an obstacle for queer people with HIV or AIDS.

The 4th decade of the HIV epidemic came to a close in 2020. Today, HIV and AIDS are considered disabilities by The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). They believe that even if someone does not have symptoms, it still impairs their immunity and should be considered a disability. HIV and AIDS can seriously impact a person’s ability to partake in activities in their life or to complete tasks, which is something the ADA takes into account.

Even though the ADA holds this stance, the Social Security Administration (SSA) disagrees. Those with HIV or AIDS do not always qualify for social security benefits. To them, it all just depends on how severe a person's condition is. If they have less apparent symptoms or do not have symptoms at all, the SSA may decide they do not qualify.   

Although some people with HIV or AIDS may not qualify for social security benefits, they can receive benefits through other programs. According to Medical News Today, some of these programs that will provide income to those with HIV or AIDs include the Ryan White Program, Medicaid, Medicare, the Health Center Program, and the Veterans Administration. Some employers provide long-term disability insurance as well.

How has health care and testing progressed within the LGBTQ+ community over the past few decades?

HIV testing has come a long way since 1981, but there is still so much progress left to make. When it comes to HIV, routine testing and rapid testing have been created. This has been beneficial for many people, especially in low-income and middle-income countries. This allows people to receive their results in around 20 minutes.

The biggest benefit of rapid testing is that people do not need to wait for long periods of time to figure out where they stand. If someone were to test positive through one of these tests, they would know their next steps in seeking out HIV care much quicker than they ever would have been able to before.

Other rapid sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests have been created as well. They help people save time, but they also take away a lot of the stress that comes with anticipating results. These tests can of course look for HIV, but they can detect gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other infections too. Some of these can even be taken at home which gives people a bit more privacy and control of their health.

There has been an increase in couples HIV testing and counseling (CHTC). This helps couples navigate these challenging conversations and be sure they are putting their health first when it comes to sex. In these counseling sessions, couples consent to HIV testing and they learn their status together. After this, important conversations surrounding HIV prevention take place.

Antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been able to reduce the suffering and death associated with HIV. ART is a treatment that involves a combination of anti-HIV drugs that work to suppress HIV replication. This has helped people in high-income countries lead nearly normal lives.

Clearly, there has been quite a bit of progress made in queer health and testing. This growth is a part of other LGBTQ+ health-related concerns, not just HIV. With that said, stigma and discrimination remain major barriers for the LGBTQ+ community.

It is also necessary to highlight the current fears that exist in regard to HIV. It is believed that there will be a rise in HIV because of COVID-19. The pandemic halted the progress in treatment and prevention. Data collected by the CDC has shown large drops in HIV testing. The CDC found that there were 670,000 fewer HIV screening tests than normal, and around 4,900 fewer HIV diagnoses. 

We need to focus on progressing LGBTQ+ health and testing now more than ever. More attention needs to be given to testing and care. Healthcare providers need to stand up for what is right, be better allies, and make queer health a priority