Wisconsin RN Nate Spielman shares his perspective on barriers to healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community
When Nate Spielman’s adopted son was admitted to a treatment center for mental health and developmental challenges, Nate never would have guessed the abuse his son would suffer—at the hands of the facility staff.
Nate is a Prospero registered nurse in Wisconsin. He is gay and married to a man. Because of that, his son was not only harassed while seeking treatment, but also physically abused.
“Painful stories stay with us and seldom, if ever, get told. I do not enjoy retelling my son’s experience of being verbally taunted and physically abused by adult staff when he was supposed to be getting care, but it’s a story I relive every day and probably should tell.”Nate Spielman
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident.
LGBTQ+ individuals and their families face many barriers to healthcare in the United States. Not only can doctors and hospitals legally refuse care to these individuals (and they do), but this discrimination is actually legal and protected under the guise of religious freedom.
In one survey conducted by the Center for American Progress among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer individuals, 8% said that a doctor or other healthcare provider refused to see them because of their actual (or perceived) sexual orientation. Health care providers also refused to recognize the family of 7% of these individuals, including their children or same-sex spouse or partner, while 9% said that a provider used harsh or abusive language when treating them.
This abuse is even more widespread in the transgender community. In fact, 70% of all transgender and gender nonconforming respondents experienced at least one type of discrimination in a healthcare setting. The statistics are staggering: 31% of transgender Americans do not have regular access to healthcare, 20% reported being refused care due to transgender status, and 28% have been subjected to harassment in a medical setting.
“Too many of us feel shame and self-blame when we are treated badly in a healthcare setting. Nobody talks about that. Especially people who work in healthcare. I have cared for patients who have suffered terribly when seeking healthcare, simply because of who they are.”
Although June is Pride Month across the country, it isn’t all rainbows and flags. Pride Month started with the Stonewall Uprising in New York City on June 28, 1969—an uprising led by a black, transgender woman. This uprising has since led to a celebration of life. Now, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, Pride Month is a time to peel off the baggage and shame that people have experienced. It is also a time to celebrate being alive, joyful, extravagant –and most of all feeling like you can be yourself.
How can we create a more inclusive world? With each of us putting in the effort.
One thing that people can do is include their gender pronouns in email signatures and next to their names during video conference calls. This simple act takes seconds and normalizes the use of gender pronouns, prevents misgendering, and opens further conversations. It may not seem like a lot, but it’s a start.
Lawmakers also need to be a force for change, and action needs to be taken at the federal, state, and local levels of government. We need to be advocates for this change.
Although there was a sliver of justice for Nate’s son when the facility where he was abused was shut down and charged with a felony offense, Nate still carries the shame and pain of his family’s trauma. However, he hopes that by sharing his story, others will begin to understand just how widespread these problems are in healthcare.
“Silence does nothing to protect us or make things better. I believe that. What is happening to vulnerable people who are trying to get healthcare from a profit-motivated healthcare industry? What are their experiences? When we take risks and tell our stories we push others to learn, grow and to do the right thing. That’s when things get exciting and when change happens. I appreciate the opportunity at Prospero to share my story, and work hard every day to make sure the people we serve receive the kind of care that I want for myself and my family.”