Since February, the federal government has been hearing from experts and advocates on how they could improve health outcomes for LGBTQ2 Canadians.
The message: governments at every level need to step up and support queer people in meaningful ways, because they often lack social support networks due to being marginalized from friends, family, or their community.
“The help of family and friends, as well as social participation, seem to act as a buffer against health difficulties,” said Bill Ryan, a professor at McGill University, at the May 9 hearing.
“Lack of that social support or isolation is conversely considered a disease determinant… so social support networks are integral to a person's health.”
But that kind of social support is sometimes hard for LGBTQ2 people to come by, he says. People go further into the closet when a family member or friend reacts badly to the news.
And while queer people have successfully organized and created social support networks that are more inclusive, such as those during Pride celebrations, it’s can still be a challenge for some queer people to feel connected and included.
“Oftentimes in racialized communities, our queerness is erased, and in queer communities, our racialized identities are not welcomed,” said Darren Ho, founder of Our City of Colours.
Ho explained at the hearing that queer people of colour, or QPOC, face additional barriers coming out. This — compounded with other kinds of discrimination, racism and minority stress — makes QPOC even less likely to access information or treatment related to LGBTQ2 health.
“Race is a social determinant of health, as is being a sexual minority… so the federal government should ensure health care professionals receive comprehensive intersectional education and training to provide health care that accounts for the intricacies of patients from QPOC communities,” Ho continued, suggesting that queer-friendly services in other languages may also help people when their first language is neither English or French.
|Jeff Chalifoux, Brook Biggin, Don Davies MP, Darren Ho,
|Arthur Miller, Andrea Daley, and Bill Ryan.
A similar merger of queer-affirming services and language needs to happen within the Indigenous community, said Jeff Chalifoux — Harm Reduction Coordinator at the Edmonton Men’s Health Collective and another witness at the hearing.
“Being Two-Spirit was once culturally revered and honoured, and held traditional roles such as medicine keepers, caregivers and healers — but the language and oral history were almost forgotten, and some lost forever.”
This history of colonization makes it even more challenging for Indigenous people to trust the health system, including accessing services that may benefit them. For instance, when the HIV-prevention medication PrEP became free for First Nations people in 2013, only 13 people had signed up to receive it in British Columbia over the next five years.
This low uptake of PrEP among Indigenous and Two-Spirit people represents an important missed opportunity for the government and health promotion organizations, who need to do better in serving people who may be falling through the cracks.
“As young gay men, we’re often told a narrative that once we come out to others about our sexuality, a world of opportunity to live openly and happily will be available to us. This is true, but not for all of us and not all of the time,” said Ho.
To hear the testimony of all presenters at this meeting (No. 143 HESA - Standing Committee on Health), review the evidence or read the minutes, visit the links below to the HESA webpage:
• Andrea Daley, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Renison University College, University of Waterloo
• Bill Ryan, Adjunct Professor, School of Social Work, McGill University
Edmonton Men's Health Collective
• Brook Biggin, Founder
• Jeff Chalifoux, Coordinator, Harm Reduction Program
Healing Our Nations
• Arthur Miller, Community Health Educator
Our City of Colours
• Darren Ho, Founder