Self-care is an important, yet understated part of our community. As we strive to do away with the stigma around mental and physical health, it’s important that healthcare evolves to meet our needs. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case with queer people and their wellness professionals.
Nick Fager seeks to fix that problem. A therapist in New York, he specializes in LGBTQ issues. With a unique professional perspective on the queer community, he understands their needs more than anyone.
His and Sahir Iqbal’s new startup, Lighthouse, is a network of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers. The listing is made up of providers that have been vetted for LGBTQ competency by a team of healthcare professionals. It will match you with doctors, therapists, dentists, surgeons, personal trainers, massage therapists, and other health/wellness professionals in your area.
We recently spoke with Fager about the app, his professional experience, and his personal experience with queer healthcare.
How would you explain your personal experience as a queer person seeking healthcare?
Growing up and even up until recently, I had a lot of experiences with doctors and therapists who didn’t affirm or normalize my experience. Often it was very subtle messages, though sometimes it was overt. One doctor stopped shaking my hand when he learned that I was gay. One therapist told me I was going through a phase. These kinds of experiences were extremely significant in my life. I went through a long period of enormous suffering and anxiety which could have been avoided if I got the right care. When I finally did get to see the right person, everything changed. My experience has made me passionate about making sure that everyone in our community gets the right care.
What kind of therapy do you specialize in?
As a therapist, I specialize in LGBTQ issues. My whole career has been focused on understanding the specific issues of our community, where they originate, and how to work through them. In terms of my theoretical approach to therapy, I’m an emotion focused therapist trained in AEDP.
Why do you find it important for other health/wellness professionals to become more knowledgeable about the queer community?
It’s important for health professionals to become more knowledgeable about the queer community because we have specific healthcare needs and healthcare is not a one-size-fits-all industry. We need providers who are informed, understanding, and nonjudgmental when it comes to PEP and PrEP, hormone therapy, being undetectable, internalized homophobia and transphobia, open relationships, etc. Without proper knowledge, a doctor can discriminate against an LGBTQ person without even realizing it. The smallest of gestures can make someone feel unsafe, and when LGBTQ people experience discrimination in a healthcare setting, we are three times more likely to delay follow up care.
You should never have to walk into your doctor or therapist’s office and think to yourself, “Okay, what parts of myself am I going to share?” If nowhere else, these are the spaces where you need to be your full self so that you can receive the appropriate treatment. If you don’t feel safe enough to express the problem, how are you going to get better?
Do you think that need has gotten worse since the election?
This project really became a reality on the day after the election. We knew at that moment that things weren’t going to get any easier for a long time and so we wanted to make sure that at the very least, the community had safe spaces and quality care. There’s nothing more important than self-care during turbulent times.
How did the Lighthouse as a network come about?
The Lighthouse network was started by a group of LGBTQ doctors and therapists in NYC who came together to solve one glaring problem, which was that quality, LGBTQ affirming care was really hard to find. We live in this city where there are so many resources for the community, and such a huge LGBTQ population, but the link between the two wasn’t really there. We all started calling our friends and colleagues to pitch the idea and the response was almost always the same, “Yes, we need this, why hasn’t this happened already, sign me up.”
How much has it grown since then?
The network is growing pretty rapidly. We have more applications from professionals on a weekly basis than we ever expected, but not everyone is accepted. The most important thing to us is that our network remains safe and intimate so that when you find a provider on our site, you know that you are being connected to someone who is passionate about LGBTQ care and can meet your specific needs.
What’s the vetting process like for professional members?
Our vetting process starts with the application on our site, where we gather information about your LGBTQ training, education, and experience. That information is reviewed by a team of healthcare professionals, and if qualified, we follow that up with a phone call where we go over specific questions for each profession (i.e. if you’re a primary care provider, do you prescribe PEP and PrEP?), and ensure that intake forms are inclusive of all gender identities and sexual orientation. From there, we feel informed enough either to accept the provider or refer to additional LGBTQ training.
What are your goals for the future of the app and the network?
We are developing the app now to go along with the website, and our goal is to expand nationwide in the near term. In urban areas, we want to be the go-to resource for the community when searching for anything health and wellness related, and in parts of the country that have no access to affirming care, we want to be building out our own resources. We also want to create a real sense of community for our users and our providers when they join, so we are putting together regular wellness-based events, lectures, and eventually conferences and retreats. We’d like to create something that doesn’t really exist – an LGBTQ wellness community.