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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

6 - Health

from Section II - Understanding social marginalisation in LGBTQ lives



• What is LGBTQ health?

• Sexual health

• Mental health

• Physical health

What is LGBTQ health?

The US National Gay and Lesbian Task Force defined lesbian and gay (and we would add BTQ) health issues as ‘diseases or conditions which are unique, more prevalent, more serious and for which risk factors and interventions are different’ from heterosexuals (and we would add from non-trans people) (Plumb, 1997: 365). LGBTQ health research spans a number of disciplines outside psychology (public health, medicine, nursing, epidemiology) and, invariably, incorporates very wide, and indeed disparate, areas of research.

Historically, the bodies of LGBTQ people have been subjected to the medical gaze. Just one example is the research conducted by the Committee for the Study of Sex Variants during the 1930s in New York, which aimed to establish scientific ways of identifying and treating (‘curing’) homosexuality. Researchers assumed that there would be physiological differences that distinguished lesbians from heterosexual women: skeletons were X-rayed and genitals were inspected looking for signs of masculinity (Terry, 1990). It was thought that evidence of pathology was visible on the body. Stevens (1992: 91–2) neatly summed up the prevailing view during this period:

Until the late 1970s, lesbians were characterized by the medical profession as sick, dangerous, aggressive, tragically unhappy, deceitful, contagious, and self-destructive … Their encounters with health care systems were fraught with the ideological construction of lesbianism as a sin, a crime, and a sickness.

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Further reading
Cochran, S. D. (2001) Emerging issues in research on lesbians' and gay men's mental health: does sexual orientation really matter? American Psychologist, 56 (11), 931–47.
Epstein, S. (2003) Sexualising governance and medicalising identities: the emergence of a ‘state-centered’ LGBT health politics in the United States. Sexualities, 6(2), 131–71.
Fish, J. (2006) Heterosexism in health and social care. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lombardi, E. (2001) Enhancing transgender health care. American Journal of Public Health, 91(6), 869–72.
Wilton, T. (2000) Sexualities in health and social care: a textbook. Buckingham: Open University Press.