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Studies show that sexual and gender minorities have unique health care needs and encounter complicated problems to access health services. Drawing on the intersectionality approach, this paper examines the intersecting factors that determine health care seeking behaviour and utilization of health care services among Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals (LGB) in Ethiopia including the diversity in experiences of these determinants and differences in the coping mechanisms to navigate these challenges within the LGB group. Despite the importance, there remains a paucity of evidence on the topic in Ethiopia.
A concurrent mixed method design was used including survey of 100 LGB, and in-depth interviews and an FGD with 10 and 8 participants, each respectively. The quantitative data was analysed using descriptive statistics. Qualitative data was analysed thematically and triangulated with quantitative data.
The results show that heteronormativity intersects with LGB’s social position (sexual identity, social network and class) to influence health care need, health seeking behaviour or access to health services. Sexual health and mental health problems are main concerns of LGB, who reported to live under acute anxiety and fear of being exposed, or bringing shame and humiliation to themselves or their families. One of the main emerging themes from the research is the link between mental health and risky sexual practices. Risk perception to HIV was high among LGB, with two-thirds reporting high risk. Only 37.5% (33/88) stated being always motivated to seek care when sick and the rest cited the following barriers that stifled their health seeking behaviour and utilization of health care services: Stigma and discrimination (83%), shame and embarrassment (83%), fear of being discovered (78%), lack of LGB friendly services (45%), affordability (18%), distance (17%), and health care professional refusal (10%).
Homophobia and criminalization of homosexuality, and heteronormativity of health care services intersect with LGB’s social position resulting in heterogeneity of risk, diversity of sexual and mental health needs, and difference in coping mechanisms (disadvantages and privilege). The main implication of the study is the need to recognize the existence of LGB and their diverse sexual and mental health needs, and link them to appropriate health care and pyscho-social services including HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.