You're a WSW woman who's looking for a new health care clinic, or you're visiting a new new clinic for the first time. How safe are you to be OUT? How can you know?
Hopefully this won't even be an issue for you. However, if it is, here are 5 clues as to whether or not your provider and/or clinic is safe and affirming toward gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, intersex, transgender, and queer women, or women who identify as straight and have sex with women.
1. Before booking your appointment:
Check the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association website to search their provider DIRECTORY. Also, ask your friends and other LGBT acquaintances for recommendations, if you feel comfortable.
2. Look for a non-discrimination policy:
Either online on the clinic or provider's website, or in the clinic's waiting room itself, there should be a posted non-discrimination policy that affirms sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, look for symbols that may be posted around the clinic or in the provider's exam room, such as rainbows, pink triangles or the human rights campaign equality symbol. Look for posters/pictures of non-traditional families or non-heterosexual couples. Check out the reading material in the lobby. Any LGBT-friendly magazines or resources? If so, you can reasonably expect the clinic to be culturally safe.
3. The intake forms:
Pay attention to the intake forms. When it asks for your gender, does is it provide a space for transgender or "other?" When it asks for marital status, does it include options such as "partnered or other?" Does the form assume you are heterosexual or give you any chance to easily show you are a WSW? For example, does the form include options such as: "I identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, intersex or other?"
4. How does the nurse talk to you?
When the nurse or MA is rooming you, what kind of language does she use? If you are at a women's health/female exam, does she assume you are straight and ask you what birth control you are using after asking if you are sexual active? Does she ask about your "husband" or "boyfriend?" Using language that is based on heterosexual assumptions is a sign that the office/clinic needs more training in cultural safety.
5. How does the provider interact with you?
Lastly, what kind of language does the provider use toward you? What kind of specific WSW health-related issues does the provider have knowledge of? Does he/she use inclusive language? Instead of asking "Do you have a boyfriend or a husband?" does he/she say, "Are you single, married, partnered, or do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?" Instead of asking, "Are you sexually active?", does he/she say, "Are you sexually active with men, women, both or none?"
Also, does he/she have knowledge about WSW health concerns: cancer risks, STDs, domestic violence, cardiovascular risks, domestic abuse risks, mental illness risks, and so much more.
These are a few clues to help you identify if your health care clinic/provider is open and affirming.
Depending on what sort of community you live in, it may be challenging to find a clinic that "feels" culturally safe and open to you and your WSW status. But keep trying. Most likely, there will be at least one provider in your community who is committed to providing health care for WSW in a culturally safe and aware way.
What about you? What considerations do you have when picking a new clinic or provider? Please share your experiences in the comments below. I look forward to interacting with you.