LESBIAN HEALTH: Research Uncovers Discrimination, Misconceptions
In the first case of sexual discrimination in a physician's office brought under the California Civil Rights Act, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in May against Mission Viejo-based Dr. Ronald Axtell, who, after treating a lesbian patient, recommended that she make future appointments with other doctors in the practice, as he "didn't approve of her gay 'lifestyle,'" the Los Angeles Times reports. Axtell's attorney, Jeff Moffat, denied the allegations, noting that the doctor did not refuse to treat the patient and "made other arrangements for her to receive care." The ACLU hopes the case "will draw more attention to treatment of gay women." The suit comes only months after the Institute of Medicine released its first report on the subject in January, and other while other research efforts are under way to discern "attitudes and behavior that keep lesbians out of the health care system," Pap smear and mammogram rates among lesbians, and notions that lesbians are heavy smokers and drinkers. Still others are looking at the spread of STDs among lesbians, including "rare woman-to-woman spread of HIV." Research reveals that many doctors and lesbians falsely assume that homosexual women cannot contract the viruses that lead to cervical cancer. Some lesbians report visiting doctors who insist they cannot truly be homosexual, "because they were too attractive or appeared too normal."
Progress to Date
Kathleen Ethier, a Yale University behavioral scientist, received the first CDC grant to study HIV transmission among lesbians and is currently gathering data in New York, Baltimore, San Francisco and Washington. She said she hopes to find cases of female-to- female HIV transmission as well as behavioral information in the absence of "guidelines for women who have sex with women." A study of 10,000 women conducted by Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente found that "lesbian and bisexual women [are] equally likely ... to use preventive health care and more likely to rely on alternative medicine" than their heterosexual counterparts. Additionally, the study found that younger lesbians are at higher risk for health problems, as they typically smoke and drink at a higher rate than straight women, and that lesbians "were marginally more likely to report taking antidepressants" (Allen, 6/21).