Health organisation ACON is on a new mission to improve the general health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ Australians, offering education and support to healthcare providers through their new Pride in Health + Wellbeing program.
After a string of successful initiatives as part of their over-arching Pride Inclusion Programs, ACON are now hoping to empower organisations within the Australian health and wellbeing sector to more effectively meet the complex needs of LGBTIQ+ Australians — providing extensive sector support, resources, networking opportunities, training, consulting, and advice.
“Australian LGBTI communities and individuals are extremely diverse and face a number of shared and distinct health and social inclusion issues,” says Matt Janssen, Associate Director of Pride in Health + Wellbeing.
“We know that when LGBTI individuals require access to health and wellbeing services, they often hit more roadblocks, refrain from accessing critical services, and as a result, experience poor health and wellbeing outcomes than their non-LGBTI peers.”
While ACON’s existing Pride In Sport program was inspired by the Out on the Fields study - which uncovered widespread homophobia in sport - Janssen cites a growing body of Australian and international research suggesting significant disparities in the health status of LGBTI people compared to their heterosexual peers.
This research includes a 2016 report on the mental health of LGBTI people in Australia from the National LGBTI Health Alliance, which revealed that almost 50% of all LGBT people hide their sexuality orientation or gender identity when accessing services for fear of violence or discrimination.
The report also found that 35% of transgender people aged 18 and over have attempted suicide in their lifetime; 42% of people with an intersex variation aged 16 and over had thought about self-harm; and 26% had engaged in self-harm on the basis of issues related to having a congenital sex variation.
“Because of experiences or fear of discrimination, exclusion and prejudice, many LGBTI people do not access necessary health or wellbeing services, further contributing to negative outcomes,” Janssen says.
With the relationship between LGBTIQ+ Australians and the health sector marked by the historic inclusion of homosexuality and “transsexuality” as mental disorders, Janssen explains that it can still be difficult for members of the community to find a queer-friendly and informed GP.
Pride in Health + Wellbeing Foundation Members. Standing, from left: Oonagh Rocks (Viiv Healthcare), Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney Kerryn Phelps, Dawn Hough (Pride Inclusion Programs), Kristy Turnbull (Lifeline), James Lamerton (Murrumbidgee PHN), Alexandra Conroy (Reliant Healthcare), Rebecca Bell (Medibank), Kate Spurway (NurseWatch), Jill Reich (Uniting) and Pam Rutledge (Flourish Australia). Seated, from left: Matt Janssen (Pride in Health + Wellbeing), Nicolas Parkhill (ACON CEO), Justin Koonin (ACON President). Photo: ACON/David Alexander
“Many GPs have little or no knowledge of transgender health pathways,” he says. “We know that trans people’s wellbeing and mental health is significantly improved through access to hormones to assist with transition but many health professionals lack knowledge in this area.”
“Not to mention that knowledge of intersex persons is almost non-existent.”
Furthermore, Janssen says that stigma associated with HIV continues to be prevalent in general health settings, with clients reporting that doctors and nurses have a low level of knowledge of HIV and sexual health outside of specialist services.
With large organisations like Lifeline and Medibank already signed up as foundation members, Janssen says that members of the Australian LGBTIQ+ community can expect “over time” that their experiences of dealing with the health and wellbeing sector will improve.
“Inclusion initiatives will start to become more visible and members of the community will be able to select service providers that are leading the way in inclusive service provision,” he says.