In the fall of last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) discreetly removed an entire webpage about lesbian and bisexual health from its women's health website.
According to a new report from the Sunlight Foundation, the HHS-controlled Office of Women's Health (OWH) "removed a webpage with extensive information about lesbian and bisexual health, and links that correspond to that webpage."
The OWH website is an indispensable health resource for women in the US, and in the past month, it has been visited approximately 700,000 times.
But now, answers to questions like "What factors put lesbians' and bisexual women's health at risk?" and "What challenges do lesbian and bisexual women face in the health care system" have been replaced with a 404 error.
A hyperlink that used to take users to a "Lesbian and bisexual health" fact sheet has also been removed. This fact sheet used to provide answers to questions such as "What can lesbian and bisexual women do to protect their health?".
But according to the HHS, no information has been suppressed on the OWH website.
An HHS spokesperson said that the LGBTQ health content, which was updated in 2012, was simply removed in an effort to "provide the most accurate health information."
"As OWH updates its site, the outdated lesbian and bisexual health pages were removed and the health content was integrated into the relevant health topics pages across the website," the spokesperson said.
"This aligns with how people search for content. You can now find lesbian and bisexual health content by searching for relevant health topics on the womenshealth.gov website."
Now, for instance, the chlamydia page also includes answers to questions like "Can women who have sex with women get chlamydia?"
Still, LGBTQ health advocates are not buying it. They believe the changes were implemented to marginilize LGBTQ women.
"The erasure of lesbian and bisexual health content from WomensHealth.gov is tantamount to discrimination against a vulnerable population that already suffers significant health disparities and discrimination in healthcare," said the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) President Dr. Gal Mayer.
Mayer added that the removal is "yet another step HHS has taken to dismantle LGBTQ health initiatives over the past year under the Trump administration."
Since taking office in 2017, the Trump administration has frozen several LGBTQ-friendly rules, and they have proposed other rules that would allow health providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
A new HHS proposal, for instance, would allow health care providers to "refuse to perform, accommodate or assist with certain health care services on religious or moral grounds."
It certainly seems as though the OWH has followed the Trump administration's lead in softening, deemphasizing or eliminating LGBTQ-friendly policies.
The OWH Twitter account, for instance, has made no mention of LGBT since November 2016 when it was run by the Obama administration. Last year, the OWH didn't even bother to tweet about lesbian and bisexual health during LGBT History Month.
Even when the HHS released a version of its Draft Strategic Plan in 2016, the department never bothered to mention LGBTQ health. During the Obama-era, however, the plan mentioned LGBTQ health "in at least four different places," according to Politico.
In the same month that the HHS released this new plan, it also withdrew a 2014 proposal that would have ensured Medicare- and Medicaid-participating health facilities to treat same-sex married couples in the same way.
All of these changes and eliminations make it that much harder for LGBTQ women to find important and life-saving health information - especially when the LGBTQ population already suffer from inordinate prejudice and discrimination when seeking health services.
"There's a lack of training of clinicians in this area, and both patients and clinicians are desperate for resources to be able to ensure that lesbian and bisexual women receive [adequate] care," said Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, director of the National LGBT Health Education Center and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.
"I'm of the opinion the more readily available and visible we make these resources, the better our public health strategy is for sexual minority women."
But for now it seems as though important health resources for LGBTQ women will remain shrouded in politics.
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