LESBIAN HEALTH: New Clinics, Research Aim to Meet Needs
Fear of discrimination and lack of insurance can keep lesbians from seeking the medical care they need, but new clinics are beginning to cater to their special needs. The New York Times reports that women in general are less likely than men to have health insurance, but the problem is more acute for lesbians, because they cannot depend on a husband's policies and are often blocked from inclusion under their partners' health insurance policies. In the last two years, two clinics for lesbians have opened in New York City: Beth Israel Medical Center's Gay Women's Focus and the Michael Callen-Audre Lorde Community Health Center. Others have opened in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Callen-Lorde, funded by $3.5 million in donations and a $7.6 million state government bond, has launched an "energetic outreach campaign that includes advertisements in gay newspapers and staff visits to lesbian community meetings," drawing about 1,000 patient visits a month. Patients pay on a sliding scale, and the center will soon begin accepting health insurance. Some lesbian advocates contend that special clinics keep lesbians "at the margins of the medical community," and instead support efforts like Planned Parenthood's campaign to educate all providers about lesbian health. But others point out the shortfalls of mainstream medicine: "If you lie [about being a lesbian], then you may not get the information you need to take care of yourself. And if you come out, your doctor may become really uncomfortable with you," said Katherine Strieder, a discussion leader for the Queens, NY-based lesbian group All the Queens Women.
New Funding Trend?
While the primary funding source for research on lesbian health previously came from the Lesbian Health Fund, which dispensed 30 grants totalling $200,000 last year, "now mainstream scientific organizations are underwriting such research." In January, the Institute of Medicine identified cancer and mental health as "two areas in critical need of research," since lesbians are less likely to undergo the "hormonal changes that come with having children" and face "the stresses of living in a world with widespread homophobia." The NIH is funding a $400,000, University of Illinois study on lesbians and alcohol abuse, and two ongoing inquiries, NIH's Women's Health Initiative and Harvard University's nurse study, now include questions regarding sexual orientation (Thompson, 3/30).