As the world celebrates Pride month this month, it would be understandable to think that we live in a time where gender and sexuality are not a barrier to equal access to healthcare, but unfortunately the Rainbow community is still underserved in this area. In a US study 20 percent of trans individuals and 8 percent of LGBTQ+ individuals had negative experiences while trying to access health care.
Rock Health’s 2020 Consumer Adoption Report found that during the Covid-19 pandemic, 53 percent of LGBTQ+ respondents delayed or avoided medical care compared to 41 percent of non-LGBTQ+-identifying respondents.
The World Health Organisation reports as a community, they are more likely to experience human rights violations including violence, torture, criminalisation, involuntary medical procedures, and discrimination. In addition, they face denial of care, discriminatory attitudes, and inappropriate pathologising in healthcare settings. As a result, those within the Rainbow community have higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health and substance use disorders.
Equity is a key feature of the Spark Group strategy and the Spark Health strategy for the coming three years. For Spark Health it is a topic that is particularly close to their hearts as they endeavour to help all New Zealanders live healthier lives through the power of technology.
Digital platforms and tools can play a key role in removing some of these barriers and start to build trust between health providers and the community. Providing care remotely can help those that may feel apprehensive of accessing services through physical spaces.
In the HiNZ webinar, Digital Equity, bridging the divide, sponsored by Spark Health, then chief executive of the Burnett Foundation Jason Myers shared how important digital spaces can be in supporting LGBTQI+ people.
“People of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity don’t often see themselves reflected in society and digital spaces are sometimes the first space they really feel seen and heard.”
Supporting LGBTQI+ community initiatives such as the Hauora health zone at the Burnett Foundations annual Big Gay Out and their Sweat with Pride programme, also underway this month, are an important part of Spark Health’s sponsorship programme.
“We see it as doing our bit to shine a light on areas where there is a lack of digital equity and a lack of equitable access to health services that some of us can take for granted,” says Clare Dill, marketing director.
“We encourage our team to turn up and participate in the events and we have some real and rich conversations with those that attend. We feel it is an important part of being able to develop digital tools that will actually make a difference to our communities.”
Small change – big impact
Some seemingly small changes can often make the biggest difference to those that feel underrepresented.
In 2022, Spark, supported by the rainbow mental health organisation, OutLine, launched their Beyond Binary code which aims to help businesses re-evaluate if, when and how they ask for gender data. First by assessing if capturing gender data is even necessary, and if it is, generating an HTML code that can be added to their website to make forms and fields more gender inclusive.
The code also includes supporting materials that help businesses apply good data privacy practices, get company buy-in and create change within your organisation.
As well as supporting healthcare delivery, digital tools can enable people to share their stories and experiences with each other and with others outside of the Rainbow community.
Another recent partnership of Spark Health’s is with author Kate Langdon and comedian/actor Karen O’Leary. In the Full Disclosure podcast O’Leary interviews a range of well known and not so well-known Kiwis including Tom Sainsbury, Ali Mau, Ryan Bridge and Grant Robertson as they share how they navigated their coming out journey.
“There’s no right or wrong way to come out and no rule book on how to do it. It’s uncharted terrain for everyone who breaks the news to their whānau, friends, and the world at large,” says O’Leary.
“I came up with the concept for the podcast because at the time there was no podcast focusing on people’s coming out journeys being produced in Aotearoa, which I thought was a shame and something I could potentially do something about,” says creator and producer Kate Langdon.
“Our aim with the podcast is to normalise conversations around sexuality and to provide content for any young Kiwis who may be struggling with their sexuality and/or being heard. For young people even hearing one or two comments from our guests that they can relate to is huge. By our wonderful guests sharing their own personal journeys we hope this will help in making any young listeners not feel so alone, or perhaps even any gay or bisexual adults who are coming to terms with their own sexuality later in life,” she says.
“We have been so amazed and impressed by how open and honest our guests have been. For many of them it’s a scary—raw even—topic, but they have laid it all on the table without fear and for that we are immensely grateful.
“The more we talk about these things the more normalised they inevitably become. I think the main benefits of digital channels, like podcasts, is the speed and breadth with which content can be created. All you need is a microphone and some good chat and you are off.”
Langdon says Spark Health is the perfect fit for the podcast. “Talking about sexuality and being okay with your own sexuality – particularly if this doesn’t fit into the ’norms’ society dictates – is a huge part of being and feeling healthy, especially with regards to mental health.”
There is certainly work to be done to ensure those identifying as LGBTQI+ to feel more included and represented when it comes to accessing health and being able to access inclusive digital health tools but by creating places for communication and connection it’s a starting point to moving from understanding and inclusion, hopefully towards equity.