August 12, 2011 by Lily Reed
Starting this September, a series of classes focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health will be offered by the Drexel School of Public Health to all undergraduate and graduate students.
The series, which focuses on conducting research and addressing health issues uniquely within the LGBT community, will consist of three non-sequential classes, one offered during each quarter this coming school year. The Program for LGBT Health, which was started in 2009, has been working on designing these classes for the past two years.
The classes were developed in hopes of becoming part of a curriculum that will eventually provide students with a certificate in LGBT Health upon graduation from Drexel. While the classes are mostly aimed at graduate students, undergraduates can sign up for the course with permission from their academic adviser.
According to Theodore Faigle, one of the five faculty members behind the Program for LGBT Health, Drexel is one of only a handful of schools around the country to offer this type of class.
“Some schools have been offering LGBT courses which focus on cultural confidence. What makes these courses different is that they approach disparities and health issues that apply to the LGBT population,” Faigle said. “As is similar in all minority cases, people who fall into the LGBT category don’t always fit perfectly into the set criteria that we have for handling certain health issues.”
Randall Sell, the faculty director of the Program for LGBT Health, wanted to start the program along with the other faculty members to better show why it is important to investigate LGBT health from a research, policy, and educational perspective. Those three areas, particularly the educational perspective will be the main focus of the series.
“We find when we look at LGBT people, they are at a greater risk for health concerns,” Sell said. “When you look at youth risk behavior surveys, for example, which are surveys of high school students, they look at the kids in the samples who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, and have found that they are at greater risk for virtually everything on the survey. And it’s hard to create programs or get funding or raise awareness if you aren’t studying these issues.”
According to Sell, even when there isn’t health disparity, there are issues that doctors need to be aware of.
“If a doctor is treating a lesbian with breast cancer, and he advises that she goes to a support group, well the support group will most likely be filled with mainly heterosexual women, if not entirely,” Sell said. “When you realize that a lesbian, going into a situation where everyone else is talking about their husbands, may have different issues or even be stigmatized in the group or not welcome in the group because she is talking about her life partner. In that situation its not even a matter of disparity, its just that the concerns are completely different.”
Sell, though already an advocate for disparity in the health field for people who fall into the LGBT category, had his own learning experience concerning the need for LGBT health.
“I used to say that there are a handful of [times] where the sexual orientation of a person doesn’t matter, and the example I used to use was that if someone went into an emergency room with a broken arm, they just need a doctor to fix their arm and that’s it,” Sell said.
A woman in the audience at one of his talks later came up to him and pointed out that when a person comes into the ER, doctors and nurses try to figure out how it happened to determine if the person was a victim of domestic violence.
“Its already particularly hard to admit you are the subject of domestic violence, but to have to reveal that you are gay as well, there are added issues there,” Sell said. “Even when I find an example where I think that it’s not a big concern, someone always corrects me. There’s always issues you have to be aware of.”
According to Faigle, the series has received positive feedback despite the difficult nature of the courses.
“The responses we’ve been getting are really tremendous. I got an email from someone in Africa wanting to know more about the courses,” Faigle said. “This past spring quarter, we actually offered one of the courses as an elective and the student feedback was overwhelmingly positive.”
Sell will be teaching the first course, to be offered in the fall quarter, titled “Studying Rare or Hidden Groups.”
The course description states that students in the class will study “the ethics of working with such [LGBT] populations; the validity and reliability of health outcome measures; difficulties in sampling and how to ask sensitive questions; how to involve community members in research; and how to analyze and store data collected from rare or hidden populations.”
The class is open to all interested students. For more information, visit publichealth.drexel.edu/lgbthealth.