LGBTQ Health Research-​to-​Action on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

May 12/2016

DLSPH Student Blog

By: Kinnon Ross MacKinnon

On May 17, 130 countries around the world will celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.  May 17 is significant for international lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ) and ally communities because it was on that date in 1990 that the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

Since 2004, this annual event has endeavoured to inform policymakers, opinion leaders and the general public on issues of human rights and justice for sexual and gender minority populations, highlighting the disproportionate violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ communities across the globe.

May 17 is not only about education but also about taking action toward social change.Despite the advancement of explicit legal protections for LGBTQ Canadians, there remains much action to be taken, especially in the context of health and well-being.

It is my observation that, as Canadians, we tend to think of ourselves as an advanced nation in terms of our acceptance for sexual and gender minority groups.  But with LGBTQ people faring so poorly in health outcomes, is this actually the case?

For instance, bisexual and trans people have high levels of poverty in Canada.  In fact, a study in Ontario found that about 50 per cent of trans people are earning less than $15,000 per year. A recent study by DLSPH Associate Professor Lori Ross found that over 25 per cent of bisexual people in Ontario are living below the low-income-cut-off.  At the DLSPH we know that poverty is linked to poor health, as described in a Toronto Star commentary co-written by Associate Professor Arjumand Siddiqi.

LGBTQ people also experience elevated rates of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and suicidality.

There is additional evidence that LGBTQ peoples’ use of substances may be two to four times higher than heterosexual and cisgender groups and in Toronto, 36 per cent of LGBTQ-identified adults reported being current smokers, with bisexual men and women reporting the highest smoking prevalence rate of 45 per cent.

These are some of the current health crises affecting the well-being of LGBTQ Canadians which require public attention and responsive public health interventions.

DLSPH is fortunate to have a number of faculty members and research trainees working on projects aimed to take action on improving the health and well-being for LGBTQ people.

For example, I decided to pursue doctoral studies at the DLSPH due to its proximity to the Re:Searching for LGBTQ Health research group, led by Professor Ross.  Dr. Ross and her team use community-based approaches to understand how LGBTQ individuals experience their health and access health services. Under the supervision of Dr. Ross, I am examining the relationship between mental health service providers and transgender service users, with the goal of improving mental health provision with trans populations.

Assistant Professor Daniel Grace is leading multiple national qualitative research studies funded by CIHR with a focus on HIV, STIs, and healthcare access among heterogeneous groups of gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.  He currently has an article examining gay men’s accounts of participating in HIV research in press with AIDS Care.

DLSPH is also home to the HIV Studies Unit, co-directed by Professors Ted Myers and Dan Allman.  The HIV Studies Unit was the first in Canada to investigate the social and behavioural aspects of HIV transmission, and it remains one of the only Canadian campus-based research programs focusing on HIV and AIDS.  This year, the Elton John AIDS Foundation awarded Dr. Dan Allman a $75,000 grant to support his research that uses Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infections among Canadian sex workers.

This important research, among other initiatives at the DLSPH, is aligned with the messaging behind the May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which is to uncover and communicate publicly the specific experiences and concerns of LGBTQ populations in our city, our province and beyond.  It is especially vital to remember that LGBTQ health disparities have been linked to traumatic, discriminatory, and violent events. This is why it remains crucial to make visible, and take action toward, eradicating homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, which DLSPH is well positioned to do.

For more information, visit the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia website.