In recent years, pediatricians have learned more about the diversity of gender identities and gender expressions that exist, but many think they have gaps in their knowledge that need to be filled in order to provide better care to these patients.
On April 3, Pediatric News hosted a Twitter question-and-answer session for the purpose of trying to help pediatricians close some of these gaps, including ones related to the medical and mental health issues particular to LGBT patients. During this session Pediatric News’ LGBT Youth Consult columnists,, and , responded to four questions about working with children and teens who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ). Dr. Montano is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and an adolescent medicine physician at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Dr. Chelvakumar, MD, MPH, is an attending physician in the division of adolescent medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics at the Ohio State University, both in Columbus.
The following is an edited version of the Q&A session.
Question 1: How do people become aware they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender?
Dr. Montano: For many adolescents, the teenage years are the time that these identities are forming and that questions around sexuality and gender identity may arise. Check out! It illustrates the spectrum of normal gender and sexual identities that are part of the human experience. Many LGBT people recall how they felt when they were younger but couldn’t find the right words until they were older (usually during adolescence).
Dr. Chelvakumar: Every person’s experience is unique. I have had patients tell me they knew who they were attracted to in kindergarten, and other patients who are still figuring it out in college. It is important to note that every experience is valid.
Question 2: How can we address some of the specific health concerns of LGBT youth?
Dr. Chelvakumar: We need to educate ourselves. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great resource for this, “Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender Diverse Children and Adolescents (Pediatrics. 2019 Oct.).
Dr. Chelvakumar: Some LGBTQ youth are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, and suicidality related to stigma and internal/external transphobia/homophobia, NOT their identities.
Dr. Montano: A lot of LGBT youth report that health care providers fixate on sexual activity, even though that was not the reason why they came to the clinic.
Dr. Chelvakumar: A lot of these youth feel that providers won’t understand their needs or may discriminate against them because of their LGBTQ identity. This is why it is important to make sure our health care spaces are welcoming to everyone.
Dr. Montano: The role of the psychiatrist is not to determine the person’s gender identity or sexual orientation; rather, they should focus on making others feel comfortable with themselves.