Annette Gross

Marriage Equality for Public Health

Filed By Annette Gross | April 20, 2012 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: drug abuse, Indiana University, LGBT health, marriage equality, public health concerns

As the parent of a gay son, I've long felt that discrimination can cause physical, emotional and psychological problems in LGBT people. Wednesday night this theory was corroborated by five physicians who spoke at a forum at the Indiana University Medical School, presented by a group of Indiana University medical students. Titled "Marriage Equality for Public Health," each physician spoke about the ramifications of discrimination on the health of the LGBT community, and particularly, how minority stress would affect these LGBT citizens of Indiana if the anti-marriage amendment (HJR-6) is passed.

bigstock-Doctor-And-Patient-8794939.jpgJonathan Warus, one of the medical students, began with some statistics. Lesbians, gay men and bisexual people comprise 3.8% of the Indiana population. He said that many LGB people suffer from minority stress, which is the effect of discrimination on minority populations. Minority stress will result in a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and alcoholism. LGB people begin to internalize the prejudices that others have towards them, and they can begin to hate themselves and, as a result, indulge in harmful behaviors.

Jonathan said that at least 47% of LGBT teens think about suicide, and that 36% have attempted it. They also will begin smoking, and using alcohol and drugs, which leads to heart disease and other health problems. He also said that when LGBT kids are rejected by their families, they are 3.4 times more likely to engage in unprotected sex, which also leads to health problems.

Regarding marriage, there is an increase in the likelihood of mental disorders in LGBT citizens who live in states that passed constitutional amendments which ban same-sex marriage. The marriage state provides support that leads to lower rates of stress and mental disorders. And without marriage benefits, the cost of healthcare of LGB couples transfers to taxpayers.

Just wait... There's more after the break.

Following Jonathan's introductory remarks, the panel discussion began. Dr. Eric R. Wright, Professor and Interim Chair at Indiana University Department of Public Health, said that "public health" is the study of "population health." He said that "minority stress" is very complicated and comes from multiple places. People often think of stress as physical violence against lesbian and gay people, which are acute stressors. However, there are chronic stressors, which includes constant anxiety that people live with every day. This increases the vulnerability to disease and has a negative impact on them and their families. Dr. Wright said that if the anti-marriage amendment is passed in Indiana, these families will feel victimized and be at greater risk for mental health problems.

The next speaker was Dr. Jeffrey Rothenberg, Associate Professor of Clinical Obstetrics & Gynecology at Indiana University, and Chief of Staff, IU Health Academic Medical Center. Dr. Rothenberg said that medical confidentiality and disclosure is compromised when same-sex marriage is not recognized, and that children are harmed by the lack of protections due their same-sex parents. He also said that these families don't have access to the Family Medical Leave Act, which further impacts family health. Dr. Rothenberg ended his remarks by adding that Indiana University Medical School has already lost talented recruits because of the negative attitudes towards LGBT people in Indiana.

The third speaker was Dr. Janet Arno, Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Infectious Disease Specialist, and Medical Director of the Bellflower Clinic. Dr. Arno related that most of the gay men she has worked with said that family is the most important thing to them. She said that relationships have the power to heal, and that family and marriage must be recognized in order to treat lesbian and gay individuals, and to change risky behavior.

Dr. James A. Lemons, Hugh McK. Landon Professor of Pediatrics, told us that 36% of teens attempt suicide. He said that the greatest determinant for the outcome of a child's health is the love bestowed on that child and the integrity of the family.

The final speaker was Dr. William C. Buffie, who specializes in Internal Medicine and is a Hospitalist in Greenwood, Indiana. Dr. Buffie has a lesbian daughter and has been working tirelessly for same-sex equality. Last year, thanks to Dr. Buffie's efforts, the Indiana State Medical Association passed a resolution stating that that the association (1) recognizes that exclusion from civil union or marriage contributes to health care disparities affecting same-sex households; (2) will work to reduce health care disparities among members of same-sex households, including minor children; and (3) will support measures providing same-sex households with the same rights and privileges to health care, health insurance, and survivor benefits, as afforded opposite-sex households.

This year, Dr. Buffie is seeking adoption of a new resolution that calls on the ISMA to (1) publicly oppose future Indiana General Assembly efforts promoting HJR-6; and (2) support legislative efforts in support of non-traditional marriage.

Dr. Buffie has testified at Indiana House and Senate Hearings regarding the anti-marriage amendment. He told us that we can save billions of dollars by giving equality to gays and lesbians. He stated that this is not a matter of religion or policy - it is a cry for recognition of a marginalized group which suffers health issues as a result of pernicious discrimination.

Dr. Buffie said that he was grateful to the medical students who made this event happen. He also told us that he reached out to many diverse community and state organizations, groups, and religious institutions, such as The United Way, Planned Parenthood, Ball State University, DePauw University, IU Law School, IUPUI, IU Bloomington, the Indianapolis City Council, the American Medical Women's Association, Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation, The Church Within, Second Helpings, Indiana Sports Corporation, HRC, PRIDE at Eli Lilly & Company, Indiana Youth Group, Indiana Equality, The Damien Center, and Indianapolis PFLAG.

Dr. Buffie said that there are organizations, universities and businesses that are reluctant to embrace equality because they are afraid of the opposition. He ended his talk with a passionate plea for the Indiana University Medical School to take a stand and come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

This event was attended by a diverse group of people - gay, lesbian, transgender, straight, religious leaders, politicians, parents of LGBT children, and other medical students. Dr. Buffie has opened the door to begin to educate Indiana health professionals and citizens about the dangers of discrimination on the health of the LGBT population. I hope that his call to action to IU Med School will resonate with the audience members and that they will share what they have learned with their families, friends, and healthcare providers.

(Doctor and patient photo via Bigstock)

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