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The new 'healthy'
It's not just about HIV any more

November 22, 2011 - Bullied for being gay, Ottawa teen James Hubley took his own life this fall. The 15-year-old's suicide brought to light the horrors of bullying and served as yet another reminder that homophobia, rejection experienced when coming out, and a lack of ready access to comforting and sustaining social networks, play a huge role in the health of many gay and bisexual men in Canada.

On World AIDS Day (December 1) and the thirtieth anniversary since the discovery of HIV/AIDS, it is worth noting that while great strides have been made in managing the HIV virus, our country is only beginning to address the various social challenges that jeopardize the health of gay/ bi men.

While many gay men have found resilient, life-affirming social networks, a number face feelings of loneliness, depression or isolation. The good news is that a broader, more social-based approach to gay and bi men's health is being adopted by some health and social agencies serving LGBTQ2S communities. These agencies may not be great in number, but the advance of such an approach is a welcome sign - one that fosters strength and resilience in gay/ bi men and promises to help turn around some disturbing statistics.

Research shows that gay and bisexual men, compared with their straight counterparts, often face higher rates of distress and higher rates of attempted suicide. Statistics Canada has reported that one in 10 hate crimes is motivated by sexual orientation, and that while 14 per cent of men who identify themselves as heterosexual report having experienced some form of discrimination, 44 per cent of gay men, and 41 per cent of bisexual men, report experiencing discrimination. In addition, an emerging area of research is showing that multiple epidemics - bullying, racial prejudice, depression, substance use, as well as HIV - reinforce each other and lower the overall health of gay and bisexual men more than one epidemic might do. Poorer health conditions, related to these stresses and social challenges, are sometimes linked to high-risk sex which, in turn, increases the chances of transmitting HIV, hepatitis C and other STIs.

More innovative programs adopted by health agencies encourage health-promoting behaviours: monitoring drug use; cultivating sexual creativity (investigating different activities that are fun, enjoyable but not risking HIV or STIs); and abandoning guilt around the sex that they enjoy (a kind of 'shamelessness").

Organizations showing leadership in fostering gay men's health from a broader, social perspective include Montreal-based RÉZO (www.rezosante.org), a community-based organization for gay and bisexual men whose focus is overall health promotion as well as the prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STIs; and HiM (Health Initiative for Men - www.checkhimout.ca), a Vancouver-based agency dedicated to strengthening the health and well-being of gay men and including their physical, sexual, social and mental health.

There is also the AIDS Committee of Toronto (www.actoronto.org), an organization that has grown and evolved since 1983, providing services that empower men, women and youth living with HIV to achieve self-determination, informed decision-making, independence and overall well-being, as well as the Poz Prevention program of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (www.pwatoronto.org).

CATIE (www.catie.ca), Canada's source for HIV and hepatitis C information, convened a national dialogue of gay men in Montréal in March, 2010. Speaking of one of the social get-togethers his local health agency puts on, one participant said: "Ostensibly, (the program) is HIV prevention, but none of the topics are related to HIV. So we talk about coming out, we talk about community, we talk about monogamy versus open relationships. And what's fascinating is that there's this huge untapped desire for men to come together and talk about these things."

It is that desire among gay/ bi men to talk - to acknowledge and discuss the social realities that at once challenge and bind them - that an increasing number of social and health agencies are tapping into. That talk, and that sense of community, is keeping loneliness and depression at bay, and helping to build personal strength and resilience

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From Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE). For more information visit CATIE's Information Network at http://www.catie.ca

Source: CATIE: CANADIAN AIDS TREATMENT INFORMATION EXCHANGE


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