Bioethics Blogs

LGBT People and Federal Health Policy: An Invisible Population?

Nick J. Mulé and Miriam Smith argue that the Canadian Federal government must recognize the distinct and diverse healthcare needs of LGBT populations.


Over the last thirty years, there have been major strides in the recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Canada. While the situation is far from perfect, most Canadians probably think of themselves as quite tolerant and believe that most LGBT issues have been settled. Yet, when we look at health care policy, we find that is not the case.

LGBT people have issues in health care that are often overlooked in the current system. For example, transgender people have specific medical needs in transitioning and the LGBT population suffers disproportionality from certain cancers and mental health problems, often sparked or exacerbated by prejudice, stigmatization and discrimination. Doctors often don’t ask if patients are LGBT and simply assume that people are heterosexual.

Our research looked at the extent to which federal health policy recognized the specific health problems of the LGBT population. While provincial governments administer and deliver health care to Canadians, the federal government plays an important role in setting priorities and in influencing health perspectives. It is also directly responsible for public health, Aboriginal health, and drug regulation.

We found that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada pay very little attention to LGBT health and that, indeed, their documents and websites barely mention the words gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, sexual orientation or gender identity. This is surprising, given that both organizations have prioritized an approach to health policy that considers social factors that affect health such as poverty.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.