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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urges greater access to health care worldwide

AIDS Marriage equality

By Scottie Thomaston

Yesterday Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the World Health Assembly, saying that people who are LGBT need greater access to health care worldwide. This is a systemic problem affecting millions of people in hundreds of countries and though everyone has a right to health care, you can still be denied medical attention simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity:

Everyone has a basic right to health care. This is a principle that all people should share and all nations should strive for.

Achieving this goal means working to break down the barriers that prevent people from getting the care they need. Sometimes those barriers have to do with resources, when people can’t afford the treatments they need. Sometime those barriers have to do with geography, for example when people live in rural areas with little access to health care providers.

And sometimes those barriers have to do simply with who people are – and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

Today, millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women around the globe are not getting the care they need simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

She noted that it takes on different forms. It isn’t always obvious discrimination. There is not always a situation in which someone is denied care because of their orientation. Instead, patients are often denied proper care simply because of unfamiliarity with the needs of patients and lack of training on those needs:

This can take the form of outright discrimination, like when people are given substandard care or are turned away from a hospital or local clinic because they happen to be lesbian or gay.

Often, the barriers are more subtle, like when doctors and nurses don’t take the time to understand the health needs of their LGBT patients

In other cases, health care providers violate patient confidentiality and disclose the sexual orientation of their LGBT patients. This can put LGBT people who are not “out” in their communities, at risk of discrimination, social exclusion, physical violence, or even death. And it leads many LGBT people to risk traveling to distant care facilities in order to prevent this from happening.

Because of this, LGBT populations are often invisible and unacknowledged. But they are there, in considerable numbers, in every country in the world.

In recent years, more media attention has been focused on the way hospitals in the United States are treating patients who are transgender.

Sebelius acknowledges that even the United States has a long way to go to correct these problems:

I know these barriers because they still exist in my own country. Every day, LGBT Americans endure violence and harassment, have difficulty finding appropriate medical care, and face bullying and exclusion.

And it’s important for everyone to work toward simply allowing more people to have more access to health care:

This is a goal that all countries should be able to get behind. Even when we have religious or cultural differences, we should all be able to agree on the fundamental principles of making sure people can see a doctor when they are injured, get medicine when they’re sick, and have access to the basic preventive care necessary to live a healthy life.

The speech follows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on LGBT rights last year.


  • 1. Bob  |  May 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Great speech,,, similar to Hillary Clinton's,,, making that bold statement for the rights of LGBT's worldwide,,,,, very welcome words…….

    now lets watch Americans get to work and be the global leader, in affording these rights to their citizens FIRST!!! and NOW!!!

  • 2. Bob  |  May 22, 2012 at 10:51 am

    great video about Catholics for Marriage Equality,,,,,,

  • 3. Gregory in SLC  |  May 22, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    I loved the video Bob –

    "(on this) the Catholic church is mistaken, like they were with Joan of Arc and Galileo"

  • 4. Sagesse  |  May 22, 2012 at 11:15 am


  • 5. Prop 8 Trial Tracker &raq&hellip  |  May 31, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    […] into the plaintiff’s (in the original EEOC decision) discrimination claims. I wrote about a speech HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave at the World Health Assembly saying that people, and especially LGBT people, should have wider […]

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