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Sexuality added to massive health study

Ontario green-lights gay, trans questions

The Ontario Health Study (OHS), launched in September 2010, is the biggest community-based health study ever conducted in Ontario.  It will also be one of the first long-term studies of any magnitude that includes questions about sexuality, gender identity and intersexuality. The long-term study will follow participants for life in order to create a database of health-related information.

Kelly McDonald, a science officer with OHS, worked with Greta Bauer, from the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at University of Western Ontario, to compile the queer questions.

“In total there are 10 questions that were drafted, but not every participant will receive all 10 of the questions,” says McDonald.

For instance, some questions will be asked only if a participant first identifies as transgender.

The items will be inserted into the baseline questionnaire after the French translation has been approved at the end of January or early February.

McDonald says that the new questions are not comprehensive and that the OHS had originally intended to contact participants with follow-up questions dealing more specifically with sexual orientation and gender identity.

“[The new insert] collects additional information that is relevant to health service, access to care and a whole host of other things that impact health and wellness that we had intended to ask later on, but have decided to insert into our baseline,” says McDonald.

The OHS decided to insert questions on sexuality and gender identity in the baseline questionnaire after being contacted by Bruce Bursey in late September.

Bursey is a former chair of a queer health project in Ottawa. The project included a community-based survey that assessed the health and wellness needs of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities in Ottawa.

After finding that the original questionnaire did not include any questions relating to sexual orientation, Bursey contacted the OHS.

“I assumed that in this day and age there would be lesbian, gay, bi and trans elements. I went online the very day it was launched, and lo and behold the questions I expected weren’t there. I saw it as a missed opportunity of a major scale for Ontario and for Canada,” says Bursey.

Bursey spoke with members of the OHS about the importance of an inclusive questionnaire.

“He sent us a report from a survey that was done almost 10 years ago with the rationale and justification for including questions on sexual orientation and gender identity,” says McDonald.

By mid-December, the OHS had received approval for the new questions from its ethics board.

The OHS study will be conducted in several stages with the first phase open now to all residents of Ontario aged 18 years and older.

For more information, visit ontariohealthstudy.ca