GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There is a new position at Spectrum Health that aims to help a specific population of those seeking medical care.  

“My job is to ensure that members of the LGTBQIA+ have access to safe and affirming care,” said Zoey O’Brien, the newly appointed LGTBQIA+ navigator.  

The issue is people in the LGBTQIA+ community sometimes do not feel safe or welcomed by some in the health care industry.  

“It is not an issue that is happening with one bad player. This is something we need to address on a systemic level. This is something that Spectrum Health is doing by creating this position,” O’Brien said. 

Sometimes not feeling safe or welcomed by the medical community leads to those in the LGBTQIA+ population not seeking medical care. 

“This discrimination can be as simple as a microaggression, which would be comments like asking a lesbian how they know they can’t be pregnant ranging to straight up abuse and neglect of patients,” said O’Brien. 

A 2015 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality found of the transgender people who saw a health care provider in the year prior, a third of them reported being verbally harassed or had treatment refused.

A 2014 report by advocacy group Lamda Legal found more than half of lesbian, gay or bisexual people surveyed had experienced discrimination while seeking health care. 

“Just last week, I had a nonbinary individual start crying on the phone with me because I was affirming their identity for the first time in their life. These are experiences that should not be happening when someone is 26 years old. These are experiences that should be happening throughout an individual’s life and that is what we hope to change with this position,” O’Brien said. 

The hope of the new position is for anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community to be able to have a good and safe medical visit. O’Brien said achieving that goal can be done through education of providers or helping patients who reach out to help them get whatever care they need. 

“I wish this would have been done a lot sooner as that would have avoided some grief in my life. That being, it makes me feel in absolute awe sometimes. I cannot believe that I am in this position. Being able to be the advocate is absolutely needed for these patients who have nowhere else to turn. They do not know where to go and they are scared and to be able to be that calm voice that reaffirms their identity is truly rewarding to me,” said O’Brien. 

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