Could the medical community be overlooking 2.5 million people who have diabetes? Currently, 23.6 million children and adults in the United States, or 7.8 percent of the population, have diabetes. Although an estimated 17.9 million of them have been diagnosed, 5.7 million (nearly one quarter) are unaware that they have the disease. If lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people comprise 10 percent of the U.S. population, then 10 percent of people with diabetes are part of the LGBT community-about 2.5 million people.*
In June, the Diabetes And Gay Foundation of San Francisco was created to raise awareness of LGBT issues among diabetes healthcare professionals and to strengthen and support LGBT people with diabetes, their significant others, and their relationships. Although there is no science-based research about LGBT members with diabetes, many LGBT people have reported individual struggles with diabetes that they believe are directly related to their minority group status.
John Coman, who has type 1 diabetes, established the DANG Foundation to give gay and lesbian people with diabetes a safe and comfortable resource for diabetes-related information, to support them in quitting smoking (LGBT individuals smoke twice as much as straight smokers), to help them find alcohol and drug addiction services, and, most importantly, to give their partners, spouses, and families a welcoming source of support. Until the DANG Foundation, there was no diabetes-related organization that sought to address LGBT issues and concerns.
“Diabetes is a stress in any relationship,” says Coman. “And when you combine that with the added stresses of life as a lesbian or a gay man-whether you are open about it or not-there is a great need for LGBT people with diabetes and the partners who support them to receive services and information geared to their unique needs.”
Neither the diabetes community nor the general healthcare community has ever attempted to quantify the number of people with diabetes who identify as LGBT. Moreover, when an LGBT person with diabetes is taken to the hospital suffering from a life-threatening incident of hypoglycemia, there is often subtle discrimination and sometimes even a total disregard of the patient’s desire to have his or her significant other present.
The foundation sprang from the experience of Jim Castaneda, Coman’s legal spouse, when the couple went to a local emergency room. As he was being treated for kidney stones, Coman experienced an episode of hypoglycemia. While he was trying to get a nurse’s attention to explain what was happening, his blood sugar sank to a dangerous 19 mg/dL and he began to have a seizure. The emergency staff rushed to raise his blood sugar and admit him to the intensive care unit, but no one bothered to tell Castaneda, who was scared and confused, what was happening to his spouse. “After I learned what had happened to Jim,” says Coman, “I vowed that nobody else should ever suffer that silence and disregard.”
* Editor’s Note: Although the 10 percent figure is often cited, this Seattle Times article cites a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimate that there are 8.8 million gays, lesbians, and bisexuals nationwide – 2.5 to 3 percent of the total U.S. population.