Imagine that someone in your family is hospitalized in critical condition. Now imagine being denied the right to confer with the doctors and nurses or even to see your loved one. Unthinkable? Yet in many parts of the country, it’s an all too common occurrence for gay and lesbian couples. According to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, a national advocacy group for gay civil rights, hospitals don’t always recognize same-sex partners as family because of homophobia, inadequate staff training or other policy flaws.

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Lambda Legal is suing a Maryland hospital on behalf of Bill Flanigan, a gay man who was denied the right to visit his partner of five years who was dying of AIDS. In response to this case, Lambda has joined forces with Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) to launch “Hospital Visitation: A Right for All Families,” a national education and advocacy campaign designed to help gay and lesbian health consumers work with their local hospitals to ensure that same-gender partners are recognized and respected as family.

Noting that JCAHO accreditation standards define “family” as “the person(s) who play a significant role in the individual’s life [which] may include a person(s) not legally related to the individual,” the coalition of gay rights groups is urging hospitals to:

  • Include same-sex partners in all hospital visitation policies.
  • Train staff about the diversity of families.
  • Adopt a non-discrimination statement in the patient bill of rights that includes “sexual orientation.”

To help hospitals implement these policies and train their staff, the campaign recommends such resources as A Provider’s Handbook on Culturally Competent Care: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Population, published by Kaiser Permanente. To order, call the Kaiser Permanente National Diversity Hotline, (510) 271-6663. In addition, GLMA has members across the country who can assist with implementation of training programs. For more information, contact them at (415) 255-4547 or [email protected].

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