Report: LGBTQ Native Americans Face Discrimination, Healthcare Disparities

Native Americans trained in solar power
Women face disproportionate rates of discrimination and economic disparities among Native American populations in the United States.
REUTERS/Emilie Richardson

A new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School reveals elevated levels of mental health issues, barriers to healthcare access, and violence targeting LGBTQ American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN).

The findings, published ahead of Native American Heritage Month in November, show that approximately 35 percent of AIAN LGBTQ adults living in the US have been diagnosed with depression compared to 23 percent of non-LGBTQ AIAN adults. Furthermore, the report emphasized that the queer AIAN population is more likely to face heightened levels of stress and discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“More AIAN LGBT adults than non-LGBT adults disagreed with the statement ‘You always feel safe and secure,'” researchers wrote. “These differences are strongest among AIAN-only women and AIAN-multiracial men and women.”

The research also points to gender-based differences in the population’s struggles with mental health. According to the report, at least 43 percent of LGBTQ AIAN women have been diagnosed with depression when compared to 25 percent of LGBTQ AIAN men. The Sovereign Bodies Institute released a report during the pandemic revealing that American Indian women, girls, and Two-Spirit communities are calling for more mental health providers that identify with the experiences of the American Indian population.

The report indicated that additional stressors, such as a lack of health insurance, make it even harder to cope with these issues. According to the report, 25 percent of LGBTQ AIAN adults are uninsured when compared to 20 percent of their cisgender and heterosexual counterparts. LGBTQ AIAN adults who have insurance are more likely to receive Medicaid, and fewer report having a personal doctor.

AIAN LGBTQ adults have also faced discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. According to the report, 81 percent of AIAN LGBTQ adults reported that they faced daily acts of homophobic or transphobic bias, while 57 percent have experienced physical or sexual assault. According to the report, 81 percent said they had encountered verbal assault or abuse.

Researchers compiled data for this study using the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index Survey, the Generations Study, and the TransPop Study, a survey measuring the experiences of transgender people in the US. Out of the estimated 285,000 AIAN LGBT adults living in the US, 161,000 people identified only as AIAN, while 124,000 were multiracial. Overall, AIAN LGBT adults tend to skew younger and account for a small percentage of the AIAN adult population.

Despite high levels of violence and stress, the report notes that LGBTQ AIAN adults have support circles that can help them bounce back from these challenges. According to the report, 55 percent of AIAN cisgender LGB adults said they felt connected to the LGBT community, while 37 percent of AIAN transgender adults reported a similar experience.

Experts noted that their data did not fully encompass two-spirit heterosexual communities, nor did their findings explain how these disparities develop.

“Nonetheless, the findings illuminate areas where the self-identified AIAN LGBT subpopulation may be in need of or impacted by policy and services interventions, particularly related to improving conditions for economic stability, safety from violence, and mental health,” researchers said.

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