Garden State Equality, an Asbury Park-based nonprofit has launched an interactive Affirming Healthcare Map aimed at making the lifesaving care search easier for New Jersey’s LGBTQ+ residents.
The Affirming Healthcare Map allows users to filter their provider search by selecting from a list of specialties and entering their address along with a distance radius. Providers may opt in for placement on the map, or patients can nominate them. Already, about 140 providers across the state appear on the interactive map, ranging from therapists to optometrists.
Providers can sign up to place their practices on the Affirming Healthcare Map by filling out a brief form. Smith said the Garden State Equality team researches applicants and verifies that caregivers’ websites make it known they offer LGBTQ-friendly services. Patients can also nominate and provide feedback about caregivers.
Providers who affirm LGBTQ+ identities “understand the complexities of being an LGBTQ person or the experiences that we face,” Smith said. They include everyone at a practice, starting with knowledgeable front desk staffs who address people by their correct names and pronouns. Some providers on the map underwent training from Garden State Equality staff. Smith and the team are considering requiring providers on their map to engage in training
Smith noticed early in the map-making process a lack of LGBTQ+ cultural competency among providers, as well as little medical training offered that focuses on these communities. Smith said it’s crucial to continually learn about cultural competency and LGBTQ-affirming care. Providers can learn more about Garden State Equality’s training on the map’s webpage.
A record 7.1% of adults in U.S. identified as LGBT last year, and reporting shows many people discovered new aspects of their identities during the pandemic. As many people come to terms with their LGBTQ+ identity, mental health access in particular “is a starting point for folks to be able to feel comfortable with and be free to express themselves,” Smith said.
Smith wants to see more providers knowledgeable about caring for transgender and nonbinary people, specifically young patients and places that offer gender-affirming surgeries, featured on the map. She also hopes to expand listings for mental health services and providers who support LGBTQ+ older adults.
“We all deserve quality health care and experiences with providers,” says trainer and project manager Jamiliah Smith. “Health is already scary enough — it shouldn’t be a complex process” to find affirming providers. Indeed, Smit believes that connecting LGBTQ people to affirming health care providers could save lives.
“The more information out there, the more services we can promote on the site, the better, because we don’t know who it’s going to help.”