LGBTQ Cultural Competence

Course Highlights

  • In this course you will obtain LGBTQ cultural competence.
  • You’ll also learn the basics of treating members of the LGBTQ community with awareness in accordance with LGBTQ cultural competence.
  • You’ll leave this course with a broader understanding of terminology and best practices.


Contact Hours Awarded: 2

Shane Slone

Course By:
Shane Slone

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The following course content

LGBTQ patients may experience healthcare disparities due to multiple factors, including lack of provider knowledge. In this course we will discuss how to deliver care, with LGBTQ cultural competence.


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) individuals represent a rapidly growing segment of the U.S. population [1]. This rapid growth brings with it risk for stigmatization [1]. Implicit physician biases may result in LGBTQ patients receiving a lower standard of care or restricted access to services as compared to the general population [2]. Even when institutions and providers make commitments to equitable care explicit, implicit biases operating outside of conscious awareness may undermine that commitment. There is an urgent need to ensure that health care providers are prepared to identify and address their own implicit biases to ensure they do not contribute to the health care disparities experienced by LGBTQ and other vulnerable populations. Only by addressing their own implicit biases will health care providers be able to provide patient care in accordance with LGBTQ cultural competence.

LGBTQ individuals face significant disparities in physical and mental health outcomes [3]. Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, LGBTQ patients have higher rates of anal cancer [4], asthma, cardiovascular disease [5,6,7,8], obesity [6], substance abuse [8,9,10], cigarette smoking [11], and suicide [12]. Sexual minority women report fewer lifetime Pap tests [13,14,15], transgender youth have less access to health care [16], and LGBTQ individuals are more likely to delay or avoid necessary medical care [17] compared to heterosexual individuals. These disparities are due, in part, to lower health care utilization by LGBTQ individuals [318,19,20]. Perceived discrimination from health care providers and denial of health care altogether are common experiences among LGBTQ patients and have been identified as contributing factors to health disparities [21,22,23,24]. Disparities in health care access and outcomes experienced by LGBTQ patients are compounded by vulnerabilities linked to racial identity [25,26,27] and geographic location [28].

Biases among health care professions students and providers toward LGBTQ patients are common [2930] despite commitments to patient care equality. These biases, also known as negative stereotypes, may be either explicit or implicit [31]. These biases contribute to a lack of LGBTQ cultural competence in patient care. A large study of heterosexual, first-year medical students demonstrated that about half of students reported having negative attitudes towards lesbian and gay people (i.e., explicit bias) and over 80% exhibited more negative evaluations of lesbian and gay people compared to heterosexual people that were outside of their conscious awareness (i.e., implicit bias) [29]. Research in social-cognitive psychology on intergroup processes defines explicit biases as attitudes and beliefs that are consciously-accessible and controlled; they are typically assessed via self-report measures and are limited by an individual’s awareness of their attitudes, motivation to reveal these attitudes, and ability to accurately report these attitudes [3233]. In contrast, the term implicit bias refers to attitudes and beliefs that are unconscious (i.e., outside of conscious awareness) and automatic [3435]. Implicit bias can be assessed with the Implicit Association Test (IAT) [36], which measures the strength of association between concepts [37].

Health care provider biases are correlated with poorer access to services, quality of care, and health outcomes [3138,39,40]. Explicit biases held by health professionals towards racial/ethnic minorities, women, and older adults are known to affect clinical assessments, medical treatment, and quality of care [41]. Importantly, implicit bias measures are more strongly associated with real-world behaviors than explicit bias measures [42] and are linked to intergroup discrimination [43]. Health care provider’s implicit biases towards vulnerable patient groups may persist despite an absence of negative explicit attitudes [44], resulting in preconceived notions about patient adherence, poor doctor-patient communication, and micro-aggressions, all of which can interfere with optimal care. With less time and limited information processing capacity, provider’s decisions are increasingly governed by stereotypes and implicit biases [45]. Medical student and provider biases may contribute to health disparities in vulnerable populations by negatively impacting communication with patients and decisions about patient care [3335]. Taken together, these findings suggest that medical students and healthcare providers are likely to underestimate or to be unaware of their implicit biases towards LGBTQ patients, particularly when they are rushed or fatigued, which could impact their behavior and judgments in ways that contribute to health disparities experienced by LGBTQ populations. By learning about and addressing their implicit biases, health care providers can work towards demonstrating LGBTQ cultural competence and providing optimal care(Introduction section courtesy of Morris, M., Cooper, R. L., Ramesh, A., Tabatabai, M., Arcury, T. A., Shinn, M., Im, W., Juarez, P., & Matthews-Juarez, P.-  reference 45).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What are some cultural misconceptions regarding the LGBTQ community and providing medical care?
  2. How can you demonstrate LGBTQ cultural competence in everyday practice?


Understanding the standard terminology utilized is pivotal to treating and interacting with LGBTQ patients. Below are listed some of the common terms and how they should be referenced.

Ally– A person not identifying as LGBTQ, but whom promotes equality and support of LGBTQ peoples in a variety of ways.

Androgynous– Identifying as neither masculine nor feminine.

Bisexual – A person who is emotionally, romantically, or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender, or gender identity.

Cisgender – A person whom identifies with their gender which as assigned at birth. For example, a person assigned female gender at birth who identifies as female.

Gay – A person who is emotionally, romantically and/or sexually attracted to those of the same gender.

Gender-fluid – A person who identifies as a fluid or unfixed gender identity.

Lesbian – A woman who is emotionally, sexually, and/or romantically attracted to other women.

LGBTQ – Acronym for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.”

Non-binary – Adjective describing person(s) who do not identify exclusively as man nor woman.

Pansexual – A person who has the potential for romantic, emotional, and/or sexual attraction to people of any gender.

Queer – Often used interchangeably with “LGBTQ”, or to express fluid identities or orientations.

Sexual orientation – An inherent or enduring emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people.

Transgender –Umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression is different from cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at birth. It does not imply any specific sexual orientation and transgender persons may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

*Definitions largely derived from (46).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Which of the above definitions have you heard used interchangeably?

Best Practices

Below we will list and discuss the best practices for ensuring a positive, equitable healthcare experience for LGBTQ persons, according to the Joint Commission (this is not a comprehensive list, nor inviolable, but rather highlights).

Create a welcoming environment that is inclusive of LGBT patients and demonstrates LGBTQ cultural competence.

  • Prominently display the hospital nondiscrimination policy and/or patient bill of rights.
  • Waiting rooms and common areas should be inclusive of LGBTQ patients and families.
  • Unisex or single-stall restrooms should be available.
  • Ensure that visitation policies are fair and do not discriminate (even inadvertently) against LGBTQ patients and families.
  • Foster an environment that supports and nurtures all patients and families.

Avoid assumptions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Refrain from making assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
  • Be cognizant of bias, stereotypes, and other communication barriers.
  • Recognize that self-identification and behaviors do not always align.

Facilitate disclosure of sexual orientation and gender identity, but be aware that disclosure is an individual process.

  • Honor and respect patient’s decisions to provide or not provide sexual and/or gender information.
  • All forms should contain inclusive, gender-neutral language that allows patients to self-identify.
  • Use neutral and inclusive language when communicating with patients.
  • Listen to and respect patients’ choice of language when they describe their own sexual orientation.
  • Conduct confidential patient satisfaction surveys that include questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity

*Information largely derived from Joint Commission field guide, reference 47.

For more information on best-practices in the workforce, visit the Joint Commission website by clicking here.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Have you ever misused a pronoun, or overheard a co-worker misuse a pronoun in practice? How can you make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Establishing Relationships with LGBTQ Patients

When interacting with patients, one should not assume gender or sexuality. Addressing a patient whom identifies as a female as a male can cause grave harm to the relationship. Instead, nurses should use open-ended questions. For example, rather than saying “Hi sir, what brings you to the hospital,” a nurse might say, “Welcome, what brings you to the hospital today (48)?”

If a nurse uses the incorrect pronoun, the best practice is to apologize and ask the patient what pronoun and name they prefer. For example, a nurse may say, “I apologize for assuming your gender. How would you like to be addressed? (48).

In conversation, the nurse should use the name and/or pronoun the patient prefers without drawing special attention to the subject (48). For example, if a male patient prefers to be identified as his partner’s wife, you should follow suit.

The core of relationship-building with LGBTQ patients is no different than any other patient, fundamentally. If nurses have a basic understanding of best practices and a healthy dose of respect and compassion for LGBTQ patients, a positive relationship is likely to develop.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Do you have any biases which may affect the care you provide to LGBTQ patients?
  2. Have you worked for someone who did NOT demonstrate LGBTQ cultural competence? In what ways could they improve their practice?

Health Disparities of LGBTQ Patients

LGBT Americans are at higher risk of substance use, sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, bullying, isolation, anxiety, depression, and suicide when compared to the general population (49). LGBT youth are frequently bullied at schools (49). In fact, early victimization and subsequent emotional distress accounted for 50% of the disparities between LGBT youth (49).  In other words, LGBT Americans are discriminated against and disadvantaged from a very young age.

When home life also reflects a lack of LGBTQ cultural competence, more problems arise.  A major cause of LGBT distress is family rejection. Disclosure of gender identity or sexuality can cause very significant interpersonal conflicts among family and friends of LGBT persons (49). This explains some hesitancy and should help nurses understand the importance of respecting privacy, while giving options to patients about disclosing sexuality and gender.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Are there any circumstances in which your current hospital’s policies could discriminate against LGBTQ families?
  2. If so, how would you begin to work with leadership to change those policies so they reflect LGBTQ cultural competence?

Providing an Inclusive and Accepting Care Environment

LGBTQ patients often experience difficulty in finding healthcare environments in which they feel accepted and understood (48). Past negative experiences, lack of knowledge among healthcare providers, and limited access to healthcare in general may become major barriers for LGBTQ persons when seeking care (48).

The core tenant of providing an inclusive environment is understanding the needs of LGBTQ patients, and working diligently to create an environment which does not disadvantage or discourage them from seeking care.

Policies and procedures at institutions should be designed to reflect a non-discriminatory environment. For example, many hospital policies dictate that only legal family spouses or partners can visit in specific circumstances. Policies such as this are inherently discriminatory toward LGBTQ patients, as they may not have legal spousal status due to social, legal, or personal reasons.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Have you ever had an experience where a colleague made a derogatory remark about a patient, based on sexual orientation or gender status? If this happened to you, how would you handle that situation differently?

Laws Specific to Washington D.C.

1973: Title 34 is passed, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

2006: The D.C. Human Rights Act is updated to ensure residents of the district are protected regarding employment, house, and public accommodations.

2016: The Armstrong Amendment is repealed in D.C., which allows religious schools exemptions from complying with anti-discrimination laws.

2016: LGBTQ Cultural Competency CE Act is passed. This requires that all licensed healthcare providers take a 2-credit hour course to increase competency (such as the one you are currently taking!).

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. Think about the structure of your facility. Does it create an environment which minimizes friction and discrimination of LGBTQ patients?
  2. Do you feel there are any biases among healthcare staff?
  3. If so, how would begin addressing those?

Exercises on LGBTQ Cultural Competence

To help solidify your learning, please complete the following exercises at your own pace. The answers/guidance for each are provided below.

Scenario 1

A patient enters your emergency department and you assume the patient identifies as a female. You introduce yourself and say, “Ma’am, how can we help you? What brings you in today?”

The patient appears dismayed but answers the question. The nurse is confused and does not understand why the patient appears distressed. What is the best course of action?

Answer: The nurse should apologize to the patient and ask the patient how they would like to be addressed. Then, the nurse should update the patient’s records to reflect such, to reduce further confusion.

If the nurse does not address the issue, the patient may feel uncomfortable and develop a negative association with healthcare, which can lead to disparities in the future.

Scenario 2

A patient in your ICU has had a deterioration while his husband was in the room. After a family meeting, a member of the healthcare team makes a derogatory remark about the patient’s sexuality. What is the next best action for the nurse?

Answer: Pre-conceived phobias and stigmatizations can cause significant distress to LGBTQ patients, even if not stated directly to them. These type of remarks are abusive and should not be tolerated. The nurse should confront the co-worker (if safe) and consider reporting the comments to the Human Resources department.

Scenario 3

A LGBTQ patient is being admitted and prefers not to disclose their sexuality. However, the nurse is unable to proceed with the admission process without this information. What could be done to rectify this system-level issue?

Answer: The nurse should work with administration to ensure that all charting and paperwork allows individuals to self-report sexuality and/or gender if they want. However, healthcare systems should not force patients to “come out” unless it is absolutely medically necessary.

Quiz Questions

Self Quiz

Ask yourself...

  1. What information from this course can you take to your facility to encourage a positive change of LGBTQ patients, and create an environment for LGBTQ cultural competence?


LGBTQ cultural competence must be ingrained in our healthcare systems in order to foster excellent relationships between members of the LGBTQ community and medical staff.  Hospitals and healthcare systems have a great deal of work to do in becoming LGBTQ-friendly.  The efforts must continue until LGBTQ patients and families do not feel disadvantaged, anxious, or frustrated when interacting with healthcare systems.  As the patient’s ultimate advocate, nurses are at the front-line and should advocate for patients both individually and from a policy perspective. Nurses should work with and spearhead efforts to ensure that healthcare policies reflect best-practice and do not discriminate against LGBTQ patients in any way.


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