Transforming the Approach to Health Equity

Benjamin Wilburn

On Jan. 19, 2021, then President-elect Joe Biden announced he was nominating Rachel Levine as his assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services. If confirmed, she will be the first transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. According to the Washington Post, nationwide, there are only three elected transgender officials and little representation on the state and local levels. Her potential historic appointment and visibility as a transgender leader in health care comes at a time when LGBTQ health equity is in the hearts and minds of many health care leaders.

This year, in conjunction with National LGBTQ Health Awareness Week (March 22- 26), some communities are launching the Transgender Month of Action for Healthcare Equality. The month, specifically focused on the health care needs of transgender and gender non-conforming people, aims to address barriers and areas for growth and highlight victories.

For transgender people, barriers to health care include discrimination, use of wrong name and pronouns, socioeconomic status and little access to transgender competent care. Transgender people are three times more likely than non-transgender people to travel more than 50 miles to receive gender-affirming care. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, roughly one third of transgender people reported prior mistreatment by a health care professional, causing them to delay or avoid preventative care. In addition, 23% of respondents did not see a doctor when they needed to for fear of mistreatment. Although disheartening, these statistics provide a foundation for where to begin and what lies ahead.

In 2021, we look to improve the health and well-being of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Bright spots are already on the horizon from the visibility and leadership of Rachel Levine to an executive order strengthening anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. This year has the potential to advance health equity and propel social change. This month looks at ways to connect, engage and learn about these important topics.

Key AHA resources with additional guidance and insights on advancing health equity for transgender people, gender non-conforming people and patients in other diverse communities include:

Benjamin Wilburn serves as senior diversity and inclusion specialist for the AHA’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity