Associate Professor Dr. Liam Hein is a leading scholar on LGBTQ health in South Carolina, and is nationally and internationally recognized. He was recently selected as an Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity.
What are some of the health disparities that affect the LGBTQ community?
One source of health disparities experienced by LGBTQ people in the south is access to safe affirming health care. Presenting for care can lead to harassment and/or ridicule by staff, nurses, providers, other patients in waiting rooms as well as by visitors of other patients. These behaviors may target a patient’s attire, mannerisms or gender non-conformity. The nexus for harassment is based in biases we may consciously or unconsciously hold against gender non-conforming and non-heterosexual people - members of the LGBTQ community. These biases may originate from social norms, how we were raised and sometimes religious beliefs that condemn LGBTQ people. These enacted biases create barriers to wellness. Some LGBTQ people may present for care at a more advanced stage, may suffer from depression, and lack of legal protections can result in unstable employment and being underinsured.
In contrast, I would encourage people to consider the core values of their faith, and of southern culture: Kindness, hospitality, generosity and family. Focusing on these core values can help all of us, LGBTQ people, people of different faiths, races, ethnicities and political views to not only coexist, but to support each other on our individual journeys. These same values are imbued in UofSC’s Carolinian Creed, respecting the dignity of all people.
How can someone (an everyday person) help bridge the health care gap for the LGBTQ community?
Although it sounds simplistic, the average person can help bridge the health care gap for the LGBTQ community by just being kind. Live out the core values of your faith and southern culture. In the time of the COVID19 pandemic we need to alter this for physical distancing. However, you can be the person who welcomes the lonely person into your virtual circle of friends, your home and family through social media and through reaching out through the phone. Be the person who stands up and defends those who are a little more vulnerable. Call your neighbor to check in on them and see if they need anything. Be generous and share what you have. I challenge you to live the core values of your faith, and of the south, and be kind.
How does the work of Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity improve health care for the LGBTQ community?
As an Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity (The Atlantic Institute – Oxford, England) I’m learning how to more effectively combat health inequity and lead for change. The focus of the fellowship is to expand our vision, strategy and skills to address health inequity in our populations through collaboration with advocates and change agents around the world.
My work focuses on reducing barriers to health care for the transgender population in the south. I’ve partnered with the local LGBTQ community, trans affirming health care providers, and am learning from wonderful colleagues and mentors through the fellowship. There is no quick fix to the issue of safe affirming health care for the trans community in the south. It requires building a coalition in the community, with allies, health care providers AND changing the narrative around LGBTQ health care. It ultimately requires encouraging friends, allies and those who are not quite there yet to return to core southern values of kindness, hospitality, generosity and family. I am hopeful, I am determined and believe in these values. I believe most of you do too.