Photo via Advocate.com
I was taken aback by a recent health article that appeared in The Advocate STUDY: Your Doctor Is Likely to Be Biased Against LGBT People. http://www.advocate.com/health/2015/07/20/study-your-doctor-likely-be-biased-against-lgbt-people According to a study published by the American Journal of Public Health, “implicit preferences for heterosexual people versus lesbian and gay people are pervasive among heterosexual health care providers.”
I wanted to share my personal account of experiencing this bias while visiting a dentist many years ago. I was just starting out in my career and was looking for a new dentist. With the recommendation of a coworker, I made an appointment with a dentist in walking distance from our Rockefeller Center location. I figured my visit would routine; X-rays and a cleaning. But instead my “routine” check-up turned into a frightening ordeal.
My gums had been bleeding slightly and I also noticed a few white spots in my mouth. I explained this to my new dentist and she said “let’s take a look.” When I opened my mouth, I noticed her face change. She said, “The white spots were of concern and that I needed to follow up with my medical doctor immediately!” The concern being the spots, in her opinion were associated with Candidiasis. A yeast infection in the mouth; a symptom of a possible HIV infection. Wait, did she just say “HIV?” I was shaken to my core, I only had a few sexual partners and had played safe. I know there are always risk but thought “how could this happen to me?” I felt sick to my stomach and returned to work dazed and confused.
I took the dentists advice and made an appointment with my medical doctor right away. My doctor could tell I was visibly up-set. I explained the ordeal and upon examination he said, “open your mouth.” I followed his command – he said “do you see any white spots now?” I didn’t, they were gone. My doctor thought the white spots were more likely be attributed to the overuse the mouth wash I had been using. But as a precaution, he ordered an HIV test. It would take two weeks to get the results. My doctor was livid at the dentist and demanded I give him her number. He said, “She should have not made such an assumption and should have asked to speak with him first about my medical history.” He called her and told her off.
I felt relieved but being a hypochondriac, the next two weeks are a living hell. I didn’t tell anyone what I was going through, I didn’t want to worry my friends and family. So I kept it to myself. I would go to work and go right home after. I remember laying in my bed thinking if I was positive how was going to move forward with my life. How would I treat the disease? What would I say to my sexual partners? How would I tell my mom? My follow up appointment could not come soon enough.
The agonizing two weeks had passed and I fought myself back at my doctor’s office. The results were in – I was HIV negative. When I received the news, it felt like I could breathe again. But my sentiments quickly turned to anger, thinking I had been profiled and discriminated against because of my presumed sexual orientation by the dentist. I decided to write her a letter detailing my discontent. By writing the letter, I felt as if I was taking my power back. How dare she be so presumptuous?
A couple of days went by and I received a response with no apology. It turns out, I owed her office two dollars; due to a mix up with my co-pay. I sent her two dollars in cash and in a hand written note, told her where to shove it. I told my co-workers what happened and asked them kindly to boycott her office. It’s been almost 15yrs and I have not experienced bias by another health care professional. I still have the same medical doctor as well, he earned my trust and respect for standing up for me.
There are great medical professionals out there who are not biased. But if something like this happens to you there are protections under the law. If you feel a health care provider has discriminated against you, you may file a civil rights complaint with U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Civil Rights at http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/index.html