As a Lesbian and Queer social justice activist, I have been working to address gaps in services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer + (LGBTQ+) communities for many years. With this research I have had the privilege of combining my passion with my academic pursuits.
This research aids in developing a community understanding of LGBTQ+ access to services in smaller communities. Much of the literature that exists has been in large cities where LGBTQ+ culture and services are more readily available.
This qualitative study was community based and guided by the principles of participatory action research, meaning that I worked closely with an LGBTQ+ social justice group, community members, and a Trans Research Assistant. Semi structured interviews and a focus group were used to document the experiences of 12 LGBTQ+ community members. The results of this study uncovered that participants did not feel safe about disclosing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with service providers, nor did they see themselves represented in these spaces. Being represented in doctors’ offices, hospitals, and counselling offices is not something most think about because the world is set up in a way that automatically represents heterosexuality and gender conformity. However, for those on the margins, assumptions force people into awkward or even dangerous situations of having to out themselves. Some participants described having healthcare providers refuse to work with them, while others felt worried that discrimination would prevent or pose a risk during serious medical procedures.
Participants overwhelmingly voiced that they do not always face physical violence but frequently experience violence through micro-aggressions. Although these experiences were not physical, they were damaging just the same. They told participants that they were not accepted or considered “normal”.
While participants expressed experiencing discrimination, they also articulated the solution. Virtually all of the participants described safer spaces as spaces that represent them through acknowledging their existence. Some of these ways were through not making assumptions but asking how people identify, having visible rainbow stickers or inclusive posters and reading materials. While a sticker does not automatically make a space safe, it does let LGBTQ+ people know that an effort to acknowledge and welcome them is being made.
This research pertains to relationships, family and human sexuality because negative experiences with services often prevented LGBTQ+ participants from accessing them at all, which may affect their overall health and well-being.