New study reveals ongoing stigma for LGBTIQA+ people accessing healthcare

Courtney Dunkerton has been transitioning for more than four years and says the trans community often refers to the ongoing stigma they face at medical appointments as the “trans broken arm syndrome”.

“It’s when our ‘transness’ takes over the whole appointment,” she told NewsWire.

Ms Dunkerton lives in regional WA and will often see a trans doctor in Perth via telehealth for any medical matters related to her own transition.

She said some doctors with no experience of transition did not understand certain things, which could be frustrating.

“My local GP is great if I have an ear infection or stubbed toe, but all things trans I go telehealth to a doctor in Perth,” she said.

“I’m having electrolysis to get rid of facial hair and it’s painful as hell, particularly the top lip.”

Camera IconTrans woman Courtney Dunkerton said she would see a doctor via Telehealth for anything related to her transition and a GP for other medical ailments because of the stigma that can be faced during medical appointments. Credit: Supplied

Ms Dunkerton said she saw her GP about getting a strong pain killer and numbing cream, which needed to be compounded by a pharmacist because of its strength.

But the doctor did not understand why she needed painkillers for this procedure.

“They had not made the leap that someone who (was born) female has soft hair, as opposed to someone born male with thousands of thick wiry hairs that hurt like hell to get out,” she said.

“In male puberty, that’s where the toughest hairs are and it is killer painful.”

The doctor did not give Ms Dunkerton the medication she asked for, so she called her doctor in Perth who knew what she was going through.

“The difference between having first-hand knowledge from someone who sees lots of trans patients to someone who is not familiar is huge,” she said.

Doctor and patient.
Camera IconCourtney Dunkerton said it would be great if trans people could self-manage their hormone levels more, similar to how diabetics manage their own conditions. Credit: Supplied

The other challenges faced by trans people were the number of medical appointments they had in any month and the expense of undergoing multiple procedures during their transition process.

Ms Dunkerton said after 4.5 years she still required appointments, referrals and blood tests to check hormone levels.

“There could definitely be a simpler way and it would be great if there was somewhere to get your hormone levels checked more easily and self-managed,” she said.

“Diabetics are highly regarded as part of their own care team, and it seems trans people are not regarded in the same way.

“After a couple of years on the same hormone doses you learn how your body feels and what you need.

“It would be beneficial if there was someway to self manage a bit more.”

A new report by Curtin University, that was commissioned by Living Proud, revealed LGBTIQA+ people often faced significant challenges accessing healthcare in Western Australia.

They have called on the state government for funding to ensure everyone can access essential services and treatments they need.

The report found there was a lack of action to address health disparities in LGBTIQA+ community who experienced stigma, discrimination and exclusion which impacted on their health and social outcomes.

The study was led by doctor Jonathan Hallett who said LGBTIQA+ people still faced discrimination when accessing

healthcare.

VIC Pride Street Party
Camera IconA new study by Curtin University found people in the LGBTIQA+ often faced significant challenges accessing healthcare in WA.
NewsWire / Valeriu Campan
Credit: News Corp Australia

“There have been improvements in the healthcare system, but when we spoke to study participants they were still sharing some really awful stories of direct stigma, or a lack of understanding or assumptions about their lives,” he said.

“We heard of people visiting GPs or health services for a particular issue which had absolutely nothing to do with their gender identity or sexuality, but that topic still became the focus of the discussion.

“One participant was so fearful of how they’d be treated if they accessed a mainstream regional health service that their condition ended up worsening and landed them in emergency.”

Living Proud chair Barry Cosker said it addressed a critical need for comprehensive, evidence-based insights to help vulnerable people overcome significant health and wellbeing challenges.

“We believe this report will help usher in a new, informed approach to understanding and responding to LGBTIQA+ health needs and priorities in Western Australia,” Mr Cosker said.

“It will assist policy direction and strategic planning across the entire primary healthcare ecosystem, forming a foundation for future efforts to reduce the health and wellbeing disparities the LGBTIQA+ community continues to experience.”

Findings in the report also identified significant gaps in the way data on LGBTIQA+ people is collected and reported, particularly in relation to trans and non-binary people and those with variations of sex characteristics.

“The quality of data is still lacking, rendering LGBTIQA+ communities invisible and undermining service planning in many areas,” Dr Hallett said.

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