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"You're all right so long as you act nice": Lesbians' experience of the North American health care system

Adams, Mary LouiseFireweed; Toronto Iss. 28,  (Apr 30, 1989): 53.

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"You're all right so long as you act nice": Lesbians' experience of the North American health care system

During the final decades of the last century, doctors seeking to increase the scope and power of their profession added homosexuality to a list of concerns that already included race and poverty. As they had pathologised people of colour and working-class people -- who had been scapegoated as the cause of various European epidemics throughout the 1800s -- medical professionals also came to define homosexuals as "sick." It wasn't until the winter of 1987/88 that lesbian and gay activists were able to convince the World Health Organisation to remove homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. Given this history, it's not surprising that the current relationship between lesbians and medicine is an uncomfortable one. Canadian medical schools continue to admit a preponderance of white, middle-class, Canadian-born males. The doctors these schools produce are ill-equipped to meet the needs of large sections of the general population -- we have good company in our dissatisfaction with them. As lesbians organise to change the nature of the health care we receive, it's important that we acknowledge and learn from the experiences of other groups who have confronted the social, political, and economic power of the medical establishment, particularly disabled people, people of colour, and feminists.

Although lesbians' health problems are, for the most part, the same as heterosexual women's, it is clear that our experiences of the health care system differ markedly. At a recent lesbian and gay health conference, a female heterosexual nurse told of how surprised she'd been at the role played by medical prejudice in compromising lesbian health care. 1 As Nancy Shaw has written, one consequence of an open and self-defined lesbian community has been the "development of `lesbian perspectives' and the...