Transgender individuals are people who assume a gender definition of identity that differs from gender assigned to them at birth. This social group experiences a diverse range of hardships that originate from social stigma caused by social transphobia. The results of the said stigma include social isolation, economic challenges, and multiple issues of oppression. By extension, the existence of social barriers contributes to the deterioration of mental health and the eventual emergence of problems such as substance abuse and greater risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The issue is further aggravated by the adverse effects of stigma within the field of healthcare.
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Stigma in Healthcare
A growing body of evidence points to the fact that transgender individuals experience difficulties associated with their status when seeking assistance of the healthcare providers. The issues include the shortage of providers competent in specific transgender-related issues, harassment of the patients, and, in some cases, denial of care. A study by Socías et al. (2014) explored the existing barriers to access of transgender women to healthcare. The study concluded that at least 40% of the participants stated their transgender identity as a reason behind their avoidance in seeking healthcare (Socías et al., 2014). The factors that were predominantly identified as associated with the behavior included the discrimination from healthcare workers and patients in the healthcare setting, along with internalized stigma and previous experience of police abuse (Socías et al., 2014). It is important to acknowledge that other factors, such as the presence of extended health insurance can also be tied to the avoidance, which adds an economic angle to the issue. Nevertheless, it does not allow dismissing the issue since the mentioned detail points to the low accessibility of healthcare to transgender patients.
There is also evidence that transgender-associated stigma is influenced by the regional characteristics of the environment. More specifically, the residents of rural areas suffer from the lack of quality transgender-sensitive care in comparison to the urban setting, which is both better prepared for the issue and is more extensively covered in the research. A recent study by Whitehead, Shaver, and Stephenson (2016) identified a positive relation between the readiness to disclose the identified gender and the utilization of healthcare by the transgender patients. The study identified four major themes associated with the matter. First, the participants voiced concerns regarding the perceived lack of personal respect from the healthcare practitioners and the resulting belief in the deterioration of the quality of care. Second, the health care insurance policies and individual physicians displayed the lack of recognition of gender transition as a condition associated with specific medical necessities by. Third, the implementation of anti-discriminatory programs was expected to increase equality in access to healthcare for transgender patients. Fourth, the prevailing recommendation was related to the increase in a number of the qualified and knowledgeable professionals capable of recognizing the needs of the transgender population and the introduction of social support and advocacy that would decrease the effect of stigmatization (Whitehead et al., 2016).
It is, therefore, possible to conclude that the existence of stigma associated with transgender individuals is detrimental to both the health of the population and the efficiency of the providers. Despite the involvement of complex interconnection of social, economic, and cultural factors, the highlighted issues can at least partially be effectively addressed from within by incorporation of the structural and educational interventions and consistent adjustments to medical curriculum.
Socías, M. E., Marshall, B. D., Arístegui, I., Romero, M., Cahn, P., Kerr, T., & Sued, O. (2014). Factors associated with healthcare avoidance among transgender women in Argentina. International Journal for Equity in Health, 13(1), 81-96.
Whitehead, J., Shaver, J., & Stephenson, R. (2016). Outness, stigma, and primary health care utilization among rural LGBT populations. PLoS ONE, 11(1), 1-17.