2 min

An apple a day

…won't ensure a good relationship with your doctor

DEAR DOCTOR. Queer health care was the focus of a May 19 community forum with (left to right) youth counsellor Ernie Gibbs and doctors Mary Gordon, Paul MacPherson, Cathy Risdon and Allan Peterkin. Credit: Rob Thomas

So your doctor isn’t comfortable talking about gay sex. It might not be homophobia, but a general discomfort around sex, says Dr Allan Peterkin.

That idea was one of many to emerge from the Queer Friendly Health Care Forum. Caregivers and clients alike discussed the barriers they’ve seen or encountered throughout the May 19 event at First United Church.

Peterkin and Dr Cathy Risdon are the authors of Caring for Lesbians and Gay People: A Clinical Guide. Published in 2003, the book aims to be an accessible clinical guide for busy practicing physicians.

“Being an excellent physician for GLBT persons means being good providers for people generally,” says Risdon, discussing the institutional approach to overcoming barriers to healthcare. “The key is to say that this means effective care.”

In a presentation to the forum, Risdon and Peterkin identified obstacles to access as well as practical solutions for patients. Some of these included:

• Doing your homework, including making use of local resources and word of mouth;

• Obtaining records from your previous MD if you transfer;

• Preventative care: building a relationship of trust before you have a crisis; and,

• Being concerned about your own health and educating yourself regarding risks.

Highlighted was the risk of being closeted with your doctor, which could potentially delay care, leave your medical history incomplete and exclude patient supports. Ultimately, disclosing relevant information is the patient’s responsibility, the authors note.

Of course, sometimes a doctor will make orientation an issue when it shouldn’t be – Peterkin relates his personal experience of being counselled on HIV by an ophthalmologist following an eye exam referral.

The forum was presented by the Gay Men’s Wellness Initiative with help from Pink Triangle Services (PTS) and the Centretown Community Health Centre.

“Access to appropriate health services is one of the key issues for the GLBT community and we see health as a broad category including many aspects,” says PTS executive director Maura Volante. “Many things contribute, such as social interaction, housing or supports of various kinds. The determinants of health are what we call it. On a broad level I would say that PTS is all about health because we are encouraging people to get what they need to be active and healthy people.”

Volante adds that access to primary healthcare – the principal focus of Risdon and Peterkin’s presentation as well as panel and participant discussion – makes a key contribution to overall health.

“This is very important as well, because GLBT people have some different issues with regards to their physical health, their emotional health and their psychological health than people who are heterosexual do,” says Volante.

As an organizer, Volante was also pleased with the attendance and participation. The forum faced the obstacle of a beautiful May evening.

“It felt like there was a good exchange and it felt that there were a number of people there to respect the skills and talents of the presenters,” she says. “In terms of its effect in the community, certainly it is a small event but I believe that all of the people there are people who will continue the conversation in other parts of the community.”

The panel of local practitioners included Dr Paul MacPherson from the HIV/AIDS unit at Ottawa General Hospital, Dr Mary Gordon, medical director of the Ottawa Sexual Health Centre and GLBT youth counsellor Ernie Gibbs. Gibbs is also the coordinator of the GLBT cultural competency project currently being implemented at community health centres across the city.


Dr Allan Peterkin & Dr Cathy Risdon.

University of Toronto Press.

378 pages.