In the movement for gay and transgender equality, issues like marriage and workplace discrimination dominate media headlines as well as the time and attention of most advocates. The focus on these headline issues has been successful on some fronts in recent years, with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a hate crimes law that is inclusive of gay and transgender people. Other issues that impact the overall equality and wellbeing of gay and transgender people, however, don’t always garner as much attention.
Gay and transgender health is one of these issues. A recent CAP issue brief examines the disproportionately high rates of substance use by gay and transgender people, which is a significant impediment to the health of this group. Although data on the rates of substance abuse in gay and transgender populations are sparse, it is estimated that between 20 percent to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population.
The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principle driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges. And a lack of culturally competent health care services also fuels high substance-use rates among gay and transgender people.
In order to lower these rates, our health care system needs to better meet the needs of gay and transgender people, and our government needs to advance public policies that promote equality for this population.
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