The highly trafficked U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Women’s Health website no longer contains the pages specific to lesbian and bisexual women’s health.
A report released this week from government watchdog agency the Sunlight Foundation found that the pages no longer exist; additionally, other pages have been rerouted in ways that make them nearly impossible to access. The removal of this information has not been publicly communicated on the website, as is required by federal guidelines.
When asked about this newly deleted material, a spokesperson for HHS tells Yahoo Lifestyle in a statement, “The Office on Women’s Health strives to provide the most accurate health information on the womenshealth.gov website. As OWH updates its site, the outdated lesbian and bisexual health pages were removed and the health content was integrated into the relevant health topics pages across the website. This aligns with how people search for content.”
Those within the administration say the deletion of these pages was part of a larger initiative to make the Women’s Health website more mobile-friendly.
But this erasure is significant and part of a well-documented pattern of erasure by the Trump administration, says Diana Thu-Thao Rhodes, director of public policy for Advocates for Youth, a nonpartisan group that champions programs that recognize young people’s rights to honest sexual health information and services.
Thu-Thao Rhodes notes that lesbian and bisexual women of all ages have unique and specific health care and information needs, on topics from sexual education and mental health to pregnancy and parenting, and that those who identify as lesbian or bisexual often face added stigma that serves as a significant barrier to care and to accessing the health information they need. Erasing a government page with that health care information, she says, only makes it harder for these young people to get the information they require to stay healthy and safe. This holds true even if the information is integrated elsewhere throughout the site.
According to analysis done by the Centers for Disease Control on sexual identity and health behaviors among high school-age students, LGBT teens are much more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors; for instance, 26.9 percent of such teens reported attempting suicide. LGBT women also have a higher lifetime prevalence of cervical cancer as compared with heterosexual women — and much lower screening rates for cancer. In essence, to be young, female, and lesbian or bi already puts young people at risk — and in need of resources.
“Younger lesbians and bisexual women who may not have had access to a wide range of sexual health classes — and classes that address their needs specifically — are in special need of fact-based information,” Thu-Thao Rhodes says. “And for these younger women in particular, they are often dealing with bullying in school that further restricts their access to information. The fact that HHS has removed this information is troubling. The federal government should be more inclusive, not less inclusive. It should be supplying more information about populations that have special needs, not less. And yet that’s exactly what we’re seeing from the Trump administration.”
Thu-Thao Rhodes says this surreptitious removal of information is consistent with other actions taken by the Trump administration when it comes to sexual and reproductive health and the marginalization of the LGBTQ community.
“We know that young people access information online from a wide range of sources — this could include legitimate sources, but not always. The government’s role should be in providing a wide range of fact-based research and statistics that would be helpful for those seeking information about their reproductive health online and looking for credible information,” she stresses.
She continues, “When the government is excluding, removing, and silencing particular communities and prioritizing particular communities’ health and well-being, they are promoting stigmatization of certain communities from those who take direction from and look towards the federal government as a model. Controlling what people can even Google and look up by limiting the information available through federal resources is this kind of behavior writ large. When people look to the federal government as the highest resource of leadership to provide those resources, young people will be hit the hardest.”
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