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Gay summit discusses links between health and sexual rights

Marginalization has increased as gay rights debate has heated up: Ferlatte

More gay kids than before come out at a very young age, which is great on one hand, said keynote speaker Ilan Meyer of the University of California. "On another hand, it's a very dangerous thing, because they are subject to more harassment." Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

“My nephew is a soft, shy, smart type,” said Terry Trussler, of the Community Based Research Centre (CBRC). “Who knows what his sexual orientation is, but he’s called a faggot.”

Trussler shared this story in a presentation about anti-gay bullying at the seventh annual Gay Men’s Health Summit, held Nov 3 to 4 at the SFU Harbour Centre in Vancouver. About 175 people attended the summit. 

“I was talking to my mother on the phone in September and she’d been doing some back-to-school shopping for my 17-year-old nephew,” he said. “She was looking for a sturdy backpack. She told me that he doesn’t have a locker, doesn’t take a locker, which surprised me. “The bullies would know where to find him,” she told Trussler when he asked why. She bought a new backpack last year because bullies threw his previous one down the stairwell and it burst open.

At the end of his talk, Trussler showed Rick Mercer’s now-viral video, in which Mercer said, “It’s no longer good enough for us to tell kids who are different that it’s gonna get better. We have to make it better now.”

In his talk about youth in the 2010 Sex Now study, CBRC’s Olivier Ferlatte said that in some ways it’s not getting better for youth. “Men 25 and under face the same levels of marginalization, or more than adults, in their lifetime experience. This is a bit troubling to me to look at this,” said Ferlatte, who has attended every summit to date.

The study, which draws on a national survey of almost 8,000 men who have sex with men, showed that verbal anti-gay discrimination and suicide idealization are much higher among younger gay men. Ferlatte noted that marginalization has increased as the debate about gay rights has heated up, and youth today are more affected than ever.

In his keynote presentation, Minority Stress and the Health of Sexual Minorities, Ilan Meyer, of the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, discussed his research, which reveals a link between homophobia and the physical and mental health of queers. “There are changes in the way gay kids experience homophobia,” he said. “Many gay kids, more than before, come out at a very young age, which on one hand is a wonderful thing to see, and on another hand it’s a very dangerous thing, because they are subject to more harassment.”

Meyer said numerous studies show that gay people have higher rates of most major disorders: depression, anxiety and substance-abuse disorders. He found that queer people who had experienced a prejudice-related stressful life event, such as assault or being fired from a job, were about three times more likely than those who did not have such an experience to have suffered a serious physical health problem over a one-year period.

Len Tooley, of Toronto’s Hassle Free Clinic, argued that without good research, the situation regarding gay men’s health is unlikely to get better. Having reviewed 1,605 abstracts representing all poster and oral presentations from five years of Canadian Association of HIV Research (CAHR) conferences, Tooley found that only 119 exclusively addressed men who have sex with men, who make up more than 55 percent of people in Canada living with HIV, according to national estimates. “Underrepresentation can perpetuate and exacerbate injustices.”

Chris Boodram, of the Public Health Agency of Canada, noted a lack of comprehensive demographic data on gay men and other men who have sex with men due to the fact that there is currently no question about sexual orientation on the census, which he described as the “gold standard” of data. As a result, a majority of demographic data in a federal population-specific report on HIV/AIDS status came from the 2007 and 2008 Canadian Community Health Surveys collected from about 65,000 people across Canada, including just under 1,000 respondents who identified as gay and bisexual men. The surveys revealed that gay men report the same overall health but more chronic conditions and mood anxiety disorders.

“Homophobia, external and internalized, and heterosexism are overarching factors contributing to HIV vulnerability,” Boodram said. “The ability to come out in a safe, supportive environment has a significant impact on vulnerability and resilience.”