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HRC Children, Youth and Families Program Coordinator Sula Malina and staff at the National LGBT Health Education Center authored an important new resource for health care providers who work with non-binary patients. The article, “Communicating With Patients Who Have Non-binary Gender Identities,” published in the Annals of Family Medicine, details best practices for communicating with patients who identify as non-binary.

“I became committed to this work after leaving a doctor’s office in tears, worried that few providers out there would understand how to address my body and identity,” said Malina, who identifies as non-binary. “I realized that this experience is by no means unique to non-binary people -- particularly those like myself who benefit from white privilege and reliable access to healthcare.”

All patients, Malina said, and especially those living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, deserve access to providers who practice cultural humility. “If providers approach these conversations with respect, a willingness to learn, and the understanding that patients know their own bodies best, they can earn critical trust among populations too often overlooked,” they said.

Using an example of a young, non-binary patient, the article addresses concerns that can arise in a medical setting, ranging from terminology to the best methods for apologizing after making a mistake. As the authors note, “As an underserved population at disproportionate risk for discrimination, victimization and suicidal ideation, non-binary people are especially in need of health care clinicians who affirm their gender identities.” The piece also incorporates a brief glossary explaining specific non-binary gender identities and a table displaying the proper use of nonbinary pronouns.

HRC Foundation and the University of Connecticut’s 2017 survey of more than 12,000 LGBTQ youth revealed sobering statistics around the experiences of more than 5,600 gender-expansive respondents. Despite a high risk of negative health and mental health outcomes, only seven percent of non-binary youth surveyed are out to all of their doctors and health care providers with respect to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation, indicating that they are likely not receiving the best care possible. Given low acceptance rates among family and educators noted in HRC’s 2018 Gender-Expansive Youth Report, and high risk of physical and verbal harassment or assault, access to affirming care is absolutely critical for non-binary people of all ages.  

HRC Foundation’s Health and Aging Program is dedicated to improving the health and well-being of LGBTQ people. Learn more about the Health and Aging Program’s initiatives, such as the Healthcare Equality Index (HEI) here.

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