Public Health Policies and the LGBT Community: A Persisting Challenge

July 02, 2021

In the context of Pride Month, the Santiago Center and Universidad Católica held the webinar “Incorporating Gender & Sexual Orientation in Chile's Health Policy,” in which panelists explored the health inequities that persist among the LGBT community and discussed how public policies can – and should – help address that gap.

The panel was chaired by Lilian Ferrer, Universidad Católica’s Vice President for International Affairs and included presentations by Margarita Bernales, Professor at Universidad Católica’s School of Nursing; Andrés Rivera, Consultant in Human Rights and Gender Identity; and Tonda Hughes, Associate Dean of Global Health at Columbia School of Nursing.

Bernales opened with a reflection on how sexual and gender minorities can be pathologized and/or psychologized, leading to only a partial understanding of the LGBT community. Since they are subject to daily microaggressions, these individuals face more mental and emotional health issues than heterosexuals and cisgenders, she said, noting: “Creating public policies and academic research beyond those hegemonic views is a significant challenge.”

Hughes then presented some of the findings of the investigation she has conducted in conjunction with Universidad Católica, under a project funded by the Columbia President's Global Innovation Fund (PGIF) initiative. Led by Hughes, the team analyzed the Chilean National Health Survey, finding that sexual and gender minority populations have poorer health than their heterosexual cisgender counterparts. “This information is critically important to help understand and inform policies aimed at reducing sexual orientation and gender-identity related health disparities,” she said.

As a transgender man, Rivera has been the subject of multiple discriminations and microaggressions. “The pathologizing way in which our bodies are looked at, determines how we are going to be cared for and respected in health situations,” he said, speaking on a macro level. Sharing his own personal experience as a patient, he revealed that he has had to instruct medical staff on the reality of transgender bodies since they are not properly trained to do so. “Why must we use our bodies as an instrument to teach and make this issue more visible? Shouldn't public policies act as such instruments?” he questioned.  

In turn, Ferrer spoke about the challenging road that lies ahead in securing dignity for all citizens. “We should never leave anybody behind. When we think about health promotion, everybody should be part of the discussion. There's so much work that needs to be done and not only in Chile, that's why it's important to continue with initiatives like this one,” she noted.