SYPHILLIS STILL RISING
Vancouver’s syphilis outbreak is still making headlines, and now the numbers are beginning to trickle in. According to stats from the BC Centre for Disease Control, 26 percent of the 262 cases documented in the Lower Mainland last year came from the West End’s gay community. Though other communities, such as the Downtown Eastside, showed a higher concentration of cases, the numbers in the West End are still worrisome. Syphilis itself is treatable once detected, but the risks associated with carrying the disease don’t stop with the disease itself. That’s because people infected with syphilis, or other sexually transmitted diseases (STD), are more vulnerable to catching HIV, too, after the first STD weakens the body’s cells. Both syphilis and HIV are transmitted through unprotected sex. Symptoms of syphilis can include painless ulcers in the anal-genital area and a body rash on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Some people show no symptoms at all, though. Once detected, syphilis can be easily treated with a shot of antibiotics. If left untreated, it can eventually attack the central nervous system.
If you think you might have syphilis, go to the Bute St Clinic at the Centre, located at 1170 Bute St, and get tested immediately. For more information call the clinic at 604.660.7949.
Elderly and disabled pensioners will have to go back to court to fight the federal government again for the pension benefits denied them because they’re gay and lesbian.
The Martin government is appealing a December 2003 Ontario Court of Justice ruling that order the feds to pay same-sex widowers the retroactive pension benefits they would have received if they were in straight relationships. When the government included same-sex couples in the Canada Pension Plan in 1999, it shut out anyone who lost a spouse between 1985 and 1997. There are estimated to be thousands of people affected, with withheld benefits adding up to more than $100-million.
“We’re talking about a group of people who are dying and disabled,” says Douglas Elliott of the Toronto law firm McGowan Elliott And Kim which has led the class action suit. “We didn’t launch this to increase their estates, we did it so they’d have some money in their lives. As time goes on, it becomes a hollow victory.”
Though it can take more than six months for the federal Court of Appeal to hear a case, Elliott is asking that the appeal be accelerated because of the precarious health of some of the widowers.
Elliott says the appeal is par for the course when the government is dealing with gay and lesbian issues.
“If [new Prime Minister Paul] Martin was trying to endear himself to the gay and lesbian community, he’s not doing a very good job,” says Elliott.