HealthTech
27 June 2019

The Past, Present, and Future of LGBTQ Health in the Commonwealth

How women in digital health are leading the charge to revolutionize disparities in LGBTQ health
Written by Kristina Day

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In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the stonewall riots, Boston hosted its 49th pride parade, shattering records with over 400 contingents, 500,000 marchers, and a million spectators joining together to support the LGBTQ community.

In celebration of this year's theme - looking back, loving forward - we take a look back at LGBTQ health's past, and highlight how women in digital health can help move it forward. 

PAST: Where LGBTQ health has been 

“The second gayest state in the nation”

Massachusetts, the world’s leading healthcare hub, is no stranger to diversity. And with over 5% of the population identifying as LGBTQ, Massachusetts boasts the title of second “gayest” state in America loud and proud. But even with all of that, the health needs of LGBTQ people across the Commonwealth are not being met, due largely in part to the inequality innately tied into LGBTQ identity. 

1/5 of all transgender individuals in Massachusetts lives below the poverty line 

A disproportionately large share of the LGBTQ population lives at the very bottom of the income ladder, suffering from unemployment, housing insecurity, food insecurity, and poverty leading to a far from exhaustive list of physical and mental health consequences. Across all demographics, the LGBTQ population is twice as likely to be depressed than their cisgender, heterosexual counterparts and most vulnerable to this and other devastating health risks are LGBTQ youth

Massachusetts youth are the MOST likely to identify as LGBTQ… and also the most likely to be hurt because of it.

Compared to their peers, the LGBTQ youth of Massachusetts were twice as likely to be threatened and injured with a weapon, nearly three times as likely to be sexually assaulted, three times as likely to purposely injure themselves, four times as likely to commit suicide, and almost six times as likely to use heroin.

These physical and mental health consequences in Massachusetts LGBTQ youth and beyond are a result of pervasive discrimination in healthcare, building a deep-rooted and heavy-set barrier to the necessary medical care that is and should be their right. It is time to shine a light on these dark statistics and bring LGBTQ health out of the shadows. Massachusetts is flipping the switch and doing just that.

PRESENT: What are we doing for LGBTQ health 

Building community to provide healthcare for ALL

Massachusetts, acting as a mouthpiece for the all-too-often ignored LGBTQ voice, calls for change and offers a simple solution to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ community and health: Community. 

OLD LESBIANS ORGANIZING FOR CHANGE - Isolated? Alone? Not with OLOC!

One of the most isolated LGBTQ communities in the Commonwealth is older members of the LGBTQ population. Belonging to a much less accepting generation than their younger counterparts, older LGBTQ adults are often completely alone. With two chapters in Massachusetts, the completely female-and-lesbian-founded Old Lesbians Organizing for Change builds an engaging community where older LGBTQ women can fight ageism, sexism, and racism and celebrate their truths through the joy of working and playing together.

ZENCARE - Breaking down barriers, one therapist at a time

Founded in Boston by fierce femtech female Yuri Tomikawa, Zencare is a fully vetted website where users can browse, sort, and connect with mental health providers that match with their personal needs and preferences. Features such as filtering by provider gender, identity, specialty and approach breaks down the stigma barrier that many LGBTQ people face when reaching out for mental health treatment.

Zencare is a digital health startup that considers the diverse needs and preferences of an equally diverse population, inclusive of the LGBTQ community, to meet people where they are and empower them to access the healthcare they need without discrimination. 

HEY, CHARLIE - An entire community of support in the palm of your hand

Co-founded by Emily Lindemer, Hey,Charlie—an alumni of MassChallenge HealthTech’s inaugural digital health cohort—is another Boston-based startup addressing a health issue increasingly affecting the LGBTQ community: Opioid addiction.

As heroin use has demonstrated a significantly greater presence among LGBTQ youth than non-LGBTQ youth across Massachusetts, an app such as Hey,Charlie presents a unique digital health solution to this social-medical crisis. It comes as no surprise that LGBTQ youth who already face discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity hesitate to seek addiction treatment out of fear of even further stigmatization. Hey,Charlie is the perfect solution: Judgment-free access to necessary support and care, right at your fingertips. 

FUTURE: How can digital health shape the future of LGBTQ health 

Connecting the dots of what is already being done and painting a complete picture of what the future can look like.

Community building initiatives and healthtech innovations throughout the Commonwealth lay a strong foundation for LGBTQ health, but how can digital health revolutionize LGBTQ health and springboard it into the future?

Providing resources to the LGBTQ population is only effective in improving and advancing their health if they have the desire and the means to access it. And, in this imperfect world where discrimination based on gender and sexuality continues to persist and technology holds a firm grip on mainstream culture, there is a strong preference for digital communication in healthcare. 

Bringing the digital health revolution to the LGBTQ population

Digital health technology transforms healthcare every day, innovating the future of medicine. But LGBTQ health, as it exists today, stays stuck in the past. Since the healthtech revolution began, digital health technology has solved one of healthcare’s massive challenges: Community. Through the advancement and integration of electronic health records, health information can now be shared throughout healthcare communities from patients to providers and beyond.

AI technology has added a new dimension to patient care, making health more accessible for the patients seeking it. Patient engagement platforms and apps have further strengthened that community by building connections, breaking down barriers, and empowering people to take control of their own health. The technology already exists, now it’s time to bring it where it is needed: LGBTQ health.

QUEERLY - A digital community with a real-world impact 

One digital health company embodying this community-building model by integrating current digital health technologies and applying them to LGBTQ health is  QUEERLY, a digital health company founded by LGBTQ people for LGBTQ people. QUEERLY is “leveraging the gap (the canyon, really) between the LGBTQ community and safe, comprehensive, and culturally competent health and wellness providers”.

Launching in 2020, QUEERLY is an online marketplace where LGBTQ people can connect with vetted and trained providers, telehealth tools, and concierge health. With a strong foundation already built by leading female innovators and stakeholders in the digital health and LBGTQ communities, Massachusetts is poised to follow in NYC-based QUEERLY’s footsteps and revolutionize LBGTQ health’s future.

Looking back at where LGBTQ health has been, what is being done to address its disparities now, and how digital health can play a role in advancing it in the future highlight the gaps that need to be bridged. From mental health, to healthcare discrimination, to isolation, the LGBTQ community faces social inequities that directly lead to healthcare injustices. But, to echo the theme of this year’s Boston Pride, we have looked back and are now prepared to love forward. Together, Massachusetts can revolutionize LGBTQ health throughout Boston, the Commonwealth, and beyond. 

 

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