U of U panel discusses the need for greater inclusivity in health care spaces for the LGBTQIA+ community


Patrick Jones


The University of Utah Health’s (U of U Health) Huntsman Mental Health Institute (HMHI) held a panel on Wednesday discussing the ways HMHI and U of U Health are advancing health equity and provider competency for the LGBTQIA+ affirming care for the community.

The panel included Anna Docherty, PhD, a Clinical Psychologist and Statistical Geneticist at HMHI, JoAnn Cook, Clinical Social Worker on HMHI’s Teenscope program, Ariel Lee Malan, Transgender Health Program Coordinator with U of U Health, moderated by Jessica Holzbauer, Manager of HMHI’s Kidstar and Teenscope programs. 


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Holzbauer started the panel discussion with data on the disparities of quality health outcomes between the LGBTQIA+ community and those not in the community. She said LGBTQIA+ adults are twice as likely that heterosexual adults to experience a mental health condition. Transgender individuals are nearly 4 times more likely as cisgender individuals to experience a mental health condition.

There are many different types of experiences that can lead to these negative impacts. Docherty and Cook said negative impacts start when members of the LGBTQIA+ community are alienated by their families, friends, teachers, peers, and other support networks. Supportive communities foster a sense of belonging, encouraging members of the community to see providers without fear of alienation of proper care. 

Malan said many members of the LGBTQIA+ community also tend to be underinsured and are on Medicaid, which does not guarantee that their specific needs are covered. She also said language around changes in gender identity or other gender-affirming care needs to move from negatively connotative words. She gives examples of negatively connotative words like “gender dysphoria” and “gender identity disorder”. 

“That alone impacts how folks are navigating the health care system,” Malan said. “From whether or not they can ask for gender-affirming mental health letters of support for surgery, if that is a part of their gender journey, or just getting that competent provider. That language … will create barriers if we don’t acknowledge it and think about new terminology.”

The panelists emphasized the importance of physicians and/or providers continuing education on LGBTQIA+ affirming care throughout their career. They expressed the need for competent providers who can understand and properly treat the patient, which is currently not common in Utah. 

Because of this, LGBTQIA+ community members often have a challenging time navigating through the system to find a provider that will meet their needs. To combat this, Malan said U of U has a search tool to find doctors and specialists in which providers can add transgender of LGBTQIA+ care to their profiles. U of U has sponsored educational campaigns to get the word to these providers to show their specialty in their profiles. 

Other LGBTQIA+ inclusive measures include the Health Care Quality Index, which is a specific set of criteria inpatient facilities and clinics must meet to ensure inclusivity of care. Malan said all U of U Health’s inpatient facilities meet this designation now and allows the health system to be accountable for the care they give.  

The panel also highlighted U of U Health’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee, which aims to measure health disparities in local LGBTQIA+ communites through data collection. 

“We have an ethical imperative to be active allies as family members, providers, and community members,” Docherty said. “We have no excuse to stand back and let our patients and children tell us how to care for them. We need to take the initiative to learn these things for ourselves, become competent, and advocate for people in our communities.”