Are you LGBTQ inclusive?

by Michaela Penix

In May, I attended the fabulous Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina Annual Conference, where they announced their rebranding with a new name and mission. They are now SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiatives For Teens), and they are focusing on a variety of sexual health issues including healthy relationships, sexually transmissible infections, and, of course, adolescent pregnancy prevention. This was exciting for supporters of life course health initiatives and more comprehensive sexual health education for adolescents. Trena Saunders, an accomplished sexual health educator, was the breakfast keynote speaker for the last day, and left us all with a lot to think about when it comes to more comprehensive reproductive health education and outreach.

Ms. Saunders described her work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LBGTQ) youth. Through her presentation she painted a very vivid portrait of the unique issues that exist among this particular population, both as adolescents and adults. Most health professionals are aware of the increased risk for attempted suicide, certain sexually transmissible infections, and lower use of birth control methods. But very few of us were aware that some self-identified lesbians and gay men feel shame for having sex with a person of the opposite sex, and are much less likely to engage in safe heterosexual health. We were also shocked to hear, that unintended pregnancy is a serious issue among this particular population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a longitudinal study from 2001-2009 which looked at the self-reported high-risk behaviors and self-reported sexuality of adolescents responding to the Youth Behavioral Risk Surveys (YBRSs) in nine selected sites. Surprisingly, a greater percentage of students who responded that they were lesbian, gay, bisexual, or unsure reported that they engaged in risky and dangerous health behaviors such as driving while intoxicated and engaging in unprotected sex. In addition to engaging in high-risk behaviors, these adolescents also reported in a greater percentage that they were not educated about HIV/AIDS. This data supported much of what Ms. Saunders presented, and further drove home her message that more should be done to improve the health and health behaviors of this particular community.

As health professionals and advocates, we have to take a tough look at how we educate young people about sexual health and their reproductive health. Here are some questions that you can ask yourself about your education and outreach efforts:

•    Are your materials relevant to your audience regardless of their sexuality?
•    Does your material use language that is neutral to any romantic relationship? (i.e. “partner” vs. boyfriend/girlfriend)?
•    Do you include same-sex examples?
•    Do you include any sensitive advice for sexual curiosity?

These questions don’t nearly cover all the bases, but they present a good start to creating a more inclusive environment for the LBGTQ community.

Everyone of childbearing-age, and even younger, should be hearing preconception health messages that prepare them to be as healthy as they can be prior to having a baby. Our current messages are traditionally focused on heterosexual relationships, but we have to make sure that every set of parents will be prepared to have a healthy baby. In order to do so, we must make sure that our medical offices, education, and outreach are relatable to every patient every time.

For more information and training opportunities on LGBT Health, visit the Fenway Institute’s National LGBT Health Education Center at

To read the full CDC Report on Teen Sexual Identity and Health Behaviors, visit:

Revised: January 11, 2016

This web site is designed for informational use only; it is not designed to give advice, diagnose, cure or treat any medical condition you may have. If you have any questions about your health, please contact your health care provider.