Written by David Le & Olivier Ferlatte
On September 14, 2012, four hundred kilometers and a half hour flight from Vancouver brought Olivier, CBRC research education director, and David, CBRC youth team leader, to the city of Kelowna. The vineyards, parks, and Okanagan Lake provided a picturesque backdrop for the CBRC's participation in a community forum hosted by the Living Positive Resource Centre (LPRC).
The community forum was held at the Clarance House bed and breakfast, a charming inn just outside of the city. Community members and public health professionals found their place amongst the sofas and chairs. The concentration of passion and community involvement in the room was awe-inspiring.
Olivier began the community forum with an overview of the CBRC and the first presentation of results from the Sex Now Survey 2011. He then described the observed trends in the Interior.
1) Men in the interior and the lower mainland face similar health problems: Same rates of unprotected anal intercourse, suicidality, depression, anxiety, and party drugs.
2) Men in the interior are less likely to be connected with community as expressed in time spent with gay friends, involvement in the gay community, and reports of social support networks.
3) Men in the interior are less likely to be engaging in health seeking behaviors as expressed in openness with primary health provider and adoption of routine HIV and STI testing.
4) Minority stress seems higher in men in the interior (compared to Vancouver) and among bi men as expressed in belief that people are accepting of gay men, concern about being gay bashed, and openness about sexuality. Minority stress is the stress that results from being a part of a minority group. Meyer's (2007) minority stress model describes how gay men's health is shaped by the experience and perception of homophobia.
5) Sexual orientation and partnership status are important determinants gay and bisexual men's health. Bisexual men who were partnered with women were less likely to experience various health problems than gay men or bisexual men partnered with men.
Critical discussions followed bringing together observed trends with lived experiences and identifying the challenges and potential solutions to issues facing gay men in Kelowna.
The trend showing a lower likelihood of being connected to the community resonated with the experiences and realities of the community members. They acknowledged the positive impact that the latest Okanagan Pride Festival has had on the community (i.e., in increasing visibility and garnering both public and corporate support), while at the same time recognizing the need to build more connections beyond Pride. Two main ideas were proposed to facilitate a stronger community: identifying reasons that prevent gay men from accessing the community and surveying the interests of the community to better serve it.
Another discussion focused on the lack of support regarding STIs and HIV. There are limited places for testing in Kelowna and among those testing sites, finding a service provider that is gay-friendly is even more challenging. The lack of support for testing from Interior Health was reported to have inundated clinics, such as Outreach Urban Health, with populations that they were not prepared to serve. Also discussed was the assumption from other health organizations that issues affecting gay men should be dealt with within their own communities--an assumption that further reduces support. In response to these challenges, pressure in the form of media and letter writing campaigns were proposed. Additionally, having open discussions in the community about HIV status and transmission was also presented.
The community forum highlighted the great value in connecting with the communities around us. The similarities, the differences and the trends observed provide valuable insight into issues that we face collectively and also into the subtle nuances of how health interacts with each community.