An Advocate for More Inclusive Health Care Systems

2014

In the United States and much of the West, this would seem to be a time of great progress for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And yet, few medical professionals explicitly address health issues that disproportionately affect LGBT people.

Enter Jeff Lubsen. He grew up in the rural U.S. state of Iowa in the 1980s—the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. When Lubsen told a doctor he was gay, the physician responded, “You’ll live a life of disease and loneliness.”

“It made me feel bad for being who I was,” says Lubsen, 43. During the next two decades, Lubsen built a successful career in television journalism. By 2008, however, Lubsen was contemplating his next act. That led him to Walden University, where he is studying for a doctoral degree to be a mental health counselor, with a focus on gay people. The online courses gave Lubsen the flexibility to move with his partner’s medical career.

“Hopefully, someday prejudice toward sexual and gender minorities will no longer be a factor in health care.”
Jeff Lubsen, the Healthcare Guild

During Lubsen’s internships, he heard a recurring narrative from patients: Many therapists barely acknowledged their patients’ sexual identity. So, in 2011, he created the Therapists Guild of Kansas City, a group of LGBT-friendly mental health care providers. Two years later, Lubsen moved with his partner to Denver and helped create the Healthcare Guild, an online network of medical professionals committed to serving the LGBT community. The guild has challenged discriminatory policies in health care systems, including restrictions on same-sex partners’ hospital visitation rights. Through its website, the guild has connected hundreds of people with gay-friendly health care providers.

The need for the guild’s work was made clear in a 2011 report by the Institute of Medicine, a U.S.-based nonpartisan research center. The report highlighted evidence that LGBT people suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety than the general population and use alcohol and tobacco at higher rates, too. Evidence also suggests that LGBT people face higher risks of certain cancers and heart disease. Research in Lancet, one of the world’s top medical journals, has attributed some of the disparities to the stress of discrimination and to medical professionals’ lack of awareness about how to work with LGBT people. But there are signs of progress: In 2013, the U.S. government’s National Institutes of Health announced a plan to expand research on health issues facing sexual minorities.

Jeff Lubsen and the Healthcare Guild are taking another important step. They’re planning to push medical schools to train students on LGBT issues. Ultimately, Lubsen wants the Healthcare Guild to be unnecessary. “Hopefully,” he says, “someday prejudice toward sexual and gender minorities will no longer be a factor in health care.”