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by Jessica Carreras
Torii Hamilton of Auburn Hills has always been out to her doctor – and sees it as a necessity more than a choice.
“I was planning to tell him anyway just because I thought that was important – I believe in being out and visible wherever possible because I think we change people’s lives without even knowing it that way,” she said of the experience several years ago. “But … he got to one of those ‘are you sexually active’ questions and I said, ‘Yes, but not in the way you may expect. I’m a lesbian and I have a partner and we’re monogamous.”
Luckily, his reaction was completely favorable. Her doctor even divulged that he has a gay brother. Hamilton has been with the same doctor ever since.
But some people are not so fortunate. Many times, instead of being commended for their honesty with their physician, LGBT people are greeted with cold reactions – or even ridicule or mistreatment – because of their sexuality.
Bad experiences – or even the fear of them – causes many LGBT people to be silent about their sexuality or gender identity, leaving them and their doctors in the dark about issues specific to their needs. Studies have shown that LGBT people are at a higher risk for such problems as addiction, mental health problems, obesity, certain STDs and HIV.
And while LGBT people remain largely unprotected from discrimination in their doctors offices, they also remain silent – or avoid doctors entirely.
Still, most in the Michigan LGBT community profess to understand the importance of being out to one’s doctor.
“I came out to my doctor years ago,” said Ron Harrington of Flint. “It only makes good sense.”
“I told him at our first consultation,” concurred Bob Jones. “He didn’t have a problem. (It’s) been 36 years.”
For Hamilton, who came out at the age of 39, it was part of a series of coming outs that she felt were necessary to live her life openly and happily. Still, she said it was difficult to work up the nerve to tell her doctor. “This kind of conversation is not as easy as it sounds,” she confessed. “I had to gear myself up for those conversations. Once I’m in them I’m fine, but you get a little nervous about it.”
But once out, she found that her doctor was willing to work with her on the issues particular to lesbians – and to treat her with respect. “He did have some knowledge and it wasn’t an issue for him, so I didn’t have to delve into a lot of detail,” she said of coming out to her doctor. “But I did put forward that because I’m a lesbian, I may have different health issues … and he seemed to cop onto that. I let him know that I’m willing to discuss that with him if he was interested or if he wanted to ask me something.”
For some, like Hamilton, coming out is a conscious choice – and an important one. For others, the discussion of sexuality is inevitable as life-changing events dictate it. “My wife and I have always had the same doctor, so I believe we have always been out to her,” said Anna Bartolotta of Grosse Pointe. “But when we told her we wanted an exam to make sure we could have kids, that probably hit the nail on the head.”
In addition to an increasing attitude that LGBT people now have that being out to their doctor is important, many organizations are now offering referral services to gay-friendly doctors. Affirmations in Ferndale is one of them. Their LGBT-Friendly Healthcare Referral network helps partner people looking for dentists, massage therapists, doctors or other health care professionals by providing an ever-growing list of Michigan practitioners in many areas.
“Selecting a health care provider can be difficult. Picking one that you know will be LGBT-friendly takes some of the fear out of that process,” they wrote on their Web site, www.goaffirmations.org. “At Affirmations, we’ve created LGBT standards of practice for the health care community and have built a database of practitioners who agree to abide by those standards.”
Their list includes over 100 doctors, chiropractors, counselors and more. The Out Center of Berrien County features a similar service.
Or, like Hamilton, LGBT people can take a chance with their doctor and hope for the best. Either way, she said, being out is better for your health and your happiness. “I’m passionate about being out where you can because I know there are some people who can’t be comfortably or safely so I always feel it’s important to do that anyway, but I also think it’s important for health issues,” Hamilton concluded. “He needs to know about me in order to properly diagnose me.”