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A glimpse into Singapore’s rainbow community

Singapore may be a cultural melting pot, but – as Tamsin Wu notes after meeting key LGBTQ community leaders – “one thing that the country lags behind is its social attitude towards LGBTQ issues and rights.” Here’s Outrage Magazine’s glimpse of Singapore’s rainbow community.

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Singapore is a cultural melting pot as seen from its people, experienced from visiting its different districts and tasted from its myriad of food choices. It exudes a cosmopolitan city bursting with personality.

The first thing I noticed was how strikingly awesome the urban planning and public transportation system were in Singapore. It was definitely light years ahead from the rowdy metropolis environment, massive vehicular traffic and unkempt public transportation dealt with back home. Cleanliness and efficiency were definitely things that Singapore upheld.

One thing that the country lags behind though is its social attitude towards LGBTQ issues and rights. Although Section 377 in the Singapore Penal Code – which criminalizes sex between men – is not really enforced against the gay community, its impact trickles down to, among others, how Singapore’s media industry blatantly prohibits positive depictions of LGBTQ stories and characters, the damaging practice of conversion therapy pushed by some of the religious and conservatives, as well as discrimination in schools and workplaces.

LITERARY REPRESENTATIONS OF LGBTQ

Censorhsip is an issue faced by the Singaporean LGBTQ community. For example, the InfoComm Media Development Authority (IMDA) sets forth media guidelines or policies that make it mandatory for Singapore’s mainstream media to edit out parts of a show – fiction or otherwise – that show LGBTQ personalities in a positive light. At times, it even spreads beyond the periphery of mainstream media, as long as a complaint has been filed regarding homosexual depiction.

A few LGBTQ-related Singapore literature

Registered Singaporean social worker Yangfa Leow shared to me some instances wherein such censorship was enforced – On TV, there was a time when a portion of Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show was cut out simply because her guest, former US President Obama, complimented her. On live theater, a kissing scene played out by two actors was demanded to be omitted from subsequent running of the shows after an audience member complained that he was caught off-guard by the inclusion of homosexuality in the story. On print, “And Tango Makes Three”, a children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins that adopted and raised a baby penguin, was banned from the National Library Board simply because a parent filed a complaint about it.

The book cover on this anthology of Singaporean LGBTQ stories was inspired by the censorship incident on the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three”

Nonetheless, suppression of LGBTQ-related information and stories does not extend its fangs and claws to the Internet and publishing industry. I’ve been able to find out about Singapore’s LGBTQ-related books and organizations through social media and online research. Consequently, aside from reaching out to certain groups advocating for equality, I have scoured out the existence of quality Singaporean queer literature.

I wouldn’t fly out from the country without getting my hands on Cyril Wong’s book, “Let Me Tell You Something About That Night”. It magnificently interweaves fantasy into contemporary Singapore. Without loudly parading itself as an LGBTQ book, since the short stories therein are mainly about human experiences told through alternate worlds or realities, its collection of “strange tales” casually yet beautifully infuses LGBTQ characters here and there. Although simple in its storylines, it makes the reader feel and contemplate about the place of LGBTQ individuals and relationships in society, given the current socio-political landscape for and against the community.

While queer literature doesn’t necessarily fall under the category of activism, having LGBTQ representations in books is still a very useful tool in educating and spreading awareness, as well as empowering the community through words and stories.

COUNSELING AND SUPPORT

At Chinatown, leading to the Oogachaga center

One of the groups in Singapore that advocates for LGBTQ rights and helps the LGBTQ community rise up is Oogachaga (OC), a community-based organization that offers professional counseling and support services to LGBTQ individuals, couples and families via hotline, email and WhatsApp, or face-to-face counseling by appointment.

Stairway to a “safe space”

According to Yangfa Leow, executive director of OC, they have established a protocol in screening and training volunteers who would like to contribute their time in providing support services to the LGBTQ community. Applicants are required to go through an interview and a period of classroom and hands-on trainings.

“Some people have observed that this process is quite rigorous, and we see that as a positive thing. There will be applicants who are not selected, or voluntarily withdraw or do not return at various stages of this process. It is only expected that not everyone who wishes to be a volunteer would be a good fit. We want to protect the integrity of the counseling services. One of the key requirements for our hotline, email and WhatsApp counseling volunteers is the need to maintain confidentiality of information and identity. It is also to protect the clients themselves, many of whom may be in vulnerable situations and turn to OC for safety and emotional support. It is also to protect the safety and identities of our volunteers, who give their spare time to support others,” Yangfa said.

Yangfa Leow courteously showed me around the center and shared about the current struggles faced by LGBTQ’s in Singapore

On the other hand, volunteers with professional qualifications in social work, counseling or psychology are selected to provide face-to-face support, intervention and follow-up on issues.

A hotline call, WhatsApp chat, an email or a counseling session is each counted as a service unit. According to Yangfa, back in 2013, OC served 974 service units. In 2016, the volume of service units reached 1,663 – a 71% increase in 4 years.

“Also, in terms of gender profile, we’re seeing an increase in proportion of service-users who identify as women, transgender or gender diverse – from 31.8% back in 2013 to 40.4% in 2016,” Yangfa added.

Other LGBTQ-friendly groups

When asked about the usual issues tackled, Yangfa said, “In no particular order, the top three presenting issues are sexuality or identity, relationships with partner, family, friends and psychological or mental health – diagnosed or undiagnosed.”

Aside from counseling services, OC also schedules support group sessions and offers training sessions to social service organizations, schools, healthcare institutions and private companies or corporations to talk about LGBTQ issues and how to handle conversations surrounding such matters.

OC’s top floor for group sessions, meetings or counseling

The main struggle that OC encounters is funding. “In August 2016, we were informed by our main, long-term funder that they would cease their support for us. They had been responsible for 80% of our funds for the past 8 years, and it came to a stop. So since then, we have embarked on an ongoing fund-raising drive,” Yangfa said.

Yangfa added that other challenges faced by OC include continuing to stay relevant and reaching out to those segments of the LGBTQ community that may need support, but are not yet being reached.

“For example, those who may not speak English, who may not be able to access our online publicity information, and those who may not be able to access our counseling services for whatever reasons – disability, language ability, stigma, social isolation.”

Brochures and booklets at OC

Yangfa also shared that, despite Christians being a non-dominant religious group in Singapore, they remain to be very vocal and influential in going against equality. There was even an event held called “White Dot” – an anti-LGBTQ offshoot of Singapore’s annual Pride event “Pink Dot” – that was originally headed by an Islamic religious teacher and eventually replicated by a Christian pastor.

Basically, the false notion that “if someone is pro-equality, then s/he cannot be pro-family or pro-society” is at times ridiculously drilled into the conscience of society.

EMBRACING LGBTQ CHRISTIANS

With that being said, however, all is not lost for LGBTQ’s who seek to attend a nonjudgmental, inclusive church environment.

Welcoming entrance to Free Community Church

In a country that still breeds animosity towards the LGBTQ’s, the Free Community Church (FCC) in Singapore is a breath of fresh air, especially for those who don’t want to let go of their Christian faith, albeit the off-putting religious bigotry preached by some.

Pastor Pauline Ong and Rev. Miak Siew speaking to the FCC congregation

FCC has a weekly cozy Sunday service that is open to everyone who want to join in a religious community feel, sans the abhorrence typically put by fundamentalists against LGBTQ’s and those of other faiths or beliefs. The atmosphere in FCC was light and accommodating. There were the usual leading of worship songs, sharing about the scripture and personal testimonies, as well as the ceremony of bread and wine. Afterwards, everyone was encouraged to spend more time together through lunch already prepared by FCC members.

EMPOWERING THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY

But even with the existence of organizations that offer a “safe space” to LGBTQ people, some of them still find themselves alone in battling the painful pangs of discrimination. One example is the dilemma of transgender folks who work in the sex industry to make money. In this case, they face both the stigma society imposes on transgender people and on sex workers. On top of having to deal with discrimination in school and even before entering the workforce, some get disowned by their families. With no one to turn to and no degree or work experience under their belt, they turn to the sex industry just to survive. Even though sex work is legal and regulated in Singapore, transgender sex workers still face the possibility of violence done to them either by a police personnel or the clients.

Nonetheless, June Chua, co-founder of The T Project, has seen positive developments in the attitude of Singapore towards the transgender community. “Society have evolved and being transgender is no longer seen as taboo or a big deal. I do admit educating and raising awareness of the transgender community must still be ongoing but I do see more options and opportunities opening up for the transgender person in terms of employment and acceptance in Singapore.”

June Chua winning the AWARE Champion award for Gender Equality & Justice Award

The T Project offers shelter to homeless transgender people and enables them to create a better life for themselves. Apart from that, it also coordinates with other social service organizations and does workshops for government institutions, companies and schools to educate them about the transgender community.

“The first thing of how residents come in is by themselves or, alternatively, by referral from other social workers. So the moment they come in we will have to do an admissions interview, tell the residents the do’s and don’ts of living in the shelter, the requirements we expect from them, and to actually manage the expectations of what the shelter can provide. Basically, we don’t provide financial aid, we can connect you to some government agencies who can provide you with that,” explains Eztelle Kaye, shelter manager at The T Project.

“The T Project is not just about giving our residents a roof over their heads – it’s about empowering them to be independent and finding a way to have a sustainable life. We wish to educate them and give them the power once they leave the shelter.”

Chanced upon university students interviewing Eztelle

Eztelle met June in the course of volunteering at the Women Care Center, “I was closer to her late sister then, the co-founder of T Project. I met June about 3 years ago when I was working as a volunteer at Women Care Center advocating about more on HIV prevention, STI prevention, how you can actually help and do regular testing. So that’s where I met June. She was the Volunteer Supervisor. From there I’ve connected with June… I believe she saw something in me that’s why she draaaagged~ me here… as the shelter manager,” Eztelle said jokingly.

After deciding to leave her corporate life, she took on the role as shelter manager of The T Project in order to give back to society. “Of course I do miss my days whereby every payday is actually a ‘boutique day’ when I just shop at LV, Prada and such,” Eztelle said with a laugh. “But yeah, I feel I have much more of a sense of job satisfaction and fulfilment because I get the chance to empower the residents here, that they can be more than what they can be if they set their minds to it.”

Bulletin at the T Project shelter

Asked about the issues faced and rights held by transgender people vis-à-vis sex reassignment surgery (SRS), June said, “To me, the issues and challenges that will arise are not from whether you have underwent SRS or not but how you represent yourself to the public. However, in Singapore after we underwent SRS, we are allowed to legally change our gender marker and are accorded legal rights as a woman under the Woman Chapter Act.”

She shared that they are currently developing a work plan with various programs that would roll out in the later part of the year. “As part of our work plan 2017, we are doing a volunteer recruitment drive on Pink Dot event day itself. Yes, we will start to welcome non-transgender or cis-gender volunteers,” June said smilingly.

June Chua at Pink Dot 2016

“The T project will try to link up the transgender community with employment opportunities. We are also doing a series of TTP (Transgender Talking Point) workshop to empower the transgender and to see what are their needs and wants so that we can support them, hopefully. We are also recruiting 4 The T Project ambassadors to help us in our outreach effort.”

NAVIGATING LGBTQ ACTIVISM IN UNIVERSITIES

“My bubble seems to be one that is generally privileged to some extent, with respect to some other trans people. The trans people I am in contact with have not dropped out of school,” shared Cassandra Thng from the Communications and Media Relations team of the Inter-University LGBT Network – an amazing pool of student bodies that fight together in upholding the well-being of the LGBTQ community in Singapore’s educational institutions, their efforts of which would hopefully reverberate throughout the country.

“Generally, the trans people around me have all been closeted throughout earlier school lives such as primary and secondary school. The earliest I’ve heard of people transitioning within my friends is during Junior College or Poly. Naturally, the gender non-conforming nature of a trans person – such as the increased femininity in a trans girl, or the increased masculinity in a trans guy, or the general lack of non-conformity in a non-binary person – has been something of a sticking point for certain people. For those of us who did not blend as well with our assigned gender roles as others, bullying and mockery definitely were issues that were faced.”

With the intention of fighting LGBTQ discrimination, at least at the level of colleges or universities, 5 student organizations – namely Gender Collective, Kaleidoscope, Out To Care, tFreedom and The G Spot – from different educational institutions came together and founded the Inter-University LGBT Network.

“The Network was born after the leaders from the five founding groups met at a social event organized by Out To Care from Singapore Management University. We found that each group faced similar challenges as the others, and decided to set up the Network so that we can share resources and facilitate collaboration,” shared Daryl Yang, executive director and co-founder of the Network.

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

 

 

Cassandra has observed that the younger generation nowadays cares less about gender identities and sexual orientations that fall outside the “cis-heteronormative patriarchal standards”, and that at times, “it is teachers… who are perpetrators of harsh words and disqualifying beliefs themselves that create less protected and safe-feeling environments for at-risk students”.

She added that, “School environments are also very much shaped by education policy, and one of these policies would include sexuality education. To this day, Focus On The Family (FOTF), a Singaporean splinter from the American-based FOTF anti-LGBT Christian lobby, conducts sexuality education in certain schools. Sexuality education in Singapore in general, and with FOTF in particular, tends to gloss over different sexualities and gender identities in favor of teaching about safe sex, and in FOTF’s case, gender roles and abstinence. While safe sex is an important topic, gender identity and sexualities are also important topics that should be addressed. Many students who are part of those minorities have felt that they were excluded from the conversation and that it would be better to not speak about what they experience to anyone else.”

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

Aside from student social events, the Network provides support by initiating studies and projects that aim to study LGBTQ-related issues faced by the student community, in order to raise awareness and recommend necessary revisions to existing university policies and frameworks, as well as to create an environment wherein LGBTQ students feel safe and empowered.

According to Xin Yee Teo, the Network’s Social Media Manager, Singapore universities have anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that cover gender and sexual orientation. “However, procedure for seeking recourse via these policies remains unclear, and we are currently conducting a research project on this.”

Xin Yee further shared about the current projects of the Network, “For instance, the Harassment & Non-Discrimination Policy Research Project aims to find out how harassment is experienced by LGBTQ+ undergraduates in Singapore’s universities. It also seeks to find out if universities are equipped with the necessary resources like counsellors and student support groups to serve individuals who have been targeted for their gender or sexual orientation. Another ongoing project is the S377A Commemorative Project, which aims to analyze how the rhetoric surrounding S377A has evolved over the past 10 years since the repeal campaign in 2007, as well as its impact on LGBT discourse in Singapore. The end result of this project would be a moving exhibition across universities in the month of October, so as to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the parliamentary debate. We also have various support projects – such as Youth Resource Development Project and Campus Support Project – which aims to provide help and support to LGBTQ+ youth in Singapore, as well as outreach projects which aims to provide inclusive platforms for networking and community-building.”

Photo courtesy of The G Spot from Yale-NUS College

One challenge faced by some LGBTQ student orgs is being officially recognized by the university, including the difficulty in setting up a group and organizing events, due to the stigma that may still be lingering “usually from more religiously conservative corners of the university”, as Daryl puts it.

“Nonetheless, people are generally respectful and it is rare to find cases of serious verbal, physical or emotional bullying based on someone’s sexual or gender identity. We have noticed encouraging shifts in attitudes towards LGBT issues in our universities since our Network was established. For instance, there are now talks at other universities or colleges to set up similar support groups, initiated by both students and faculty. There is also greater visibility of LGBT identities in the arts scene at our universities as well, most recently with groups from both NUS and Yale-NUS staging theatre performances featuring gay and transgender narratives.”

CARRYING ON THE FIGHT

Despite all the bad news concerning discrimination, it is good to know that the LGBTQ movement is still roaring proudly in Asia’s Lion City.

Heartening indeed to see that the progressive Singaporean youth is currently being active in the advocacy alongside LGBTQ-related organizations in order to raise and strengthen equality. It is hoped that the fight would continue on and fortify until Singapore reaches a place in time wherein its strength of diversity and multiculturalism includes that of human sexuality and gender expression.

A sure-footed wanderer. A shy, but strong personality. Hot-headed but cool. A critic of this propaganda-filled, often brainwashed society. A lover of nature, creativity and intellectual pursuits. Femme in all the right places. Breaking down stereotypical perspectives and narrow-mindedness. A writer with a pen name and no face. I'm a private person, but not closeted. Stay true!

NEWSMAKERS

Tech-related jealousy is real… including LGBTQIAs

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of LGB partnered adults whose significant other uses social media report that they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media (versus 22% of straight people who say this).

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Photo by @nordwood from Unsplash.com

Social media can be a source of jealousy and uncertainty in relationships – especially for younger adults.

This is according to a Pew Research Center study (with the survey conducted in October 2019, though the study was only released recently) that found that, indeed, many people encounter tech-related struggles with their significant others.

In “Dating and Relationships in the Digital Age”, Pew Research Center noted that “younger people value social media as a place to share how much they care about their partner or to keep up with what’s going on in their partner’s life.” However, “they also acknowledge some of the downsides that these sites can have on relationships.”

Twenty-three percent (23%) of adults with partners who use social media say they have felt jealous or unsure about their relationship because of the way their current spouse or partner interacts with other people on social media.

Now get this: the number is higher among those in younger age groups.

Among partnered adults whose significant other uses social media, 34% of 18- to 29-year-olds and 26% of those ages 30 to 49 say they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media. This is definitely higher than the 19% of those aged 50 to 64 who say this, and 4% of those ages 65 and up.

The insecurity is also common among those not married – i.e. 37% of unmarried adults with partners who are social media users say they have felt this way about their current partner, while only 17% of married people say the same.

Women are reportedly more likely to express displeasure with how their significant other interacts with others on social media (29% vs. 17% for men).

Meanwhile, college graduates are less likely to report having felt this way than those with some college experience or a high school degree or less.

And yes, LGBTQIA community members are no different.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one-third of LGB partnered adults whose significant other uses social media report that they have felt jealous or unsure in their current relationship because of how their partner interacted with others on social media (versus 22% of straight people who say this).

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Lifestyle & Culture

4 Signs you suffer from anxiety and how to treat it

Here is a list of the symptoms to watch out for and how to get relief.

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Did you know that anxiety disorders are the most common types of mental illnesses in the United States of America? In fact, it is estimated that approximately two in every ten adults are affected. If you think that you might be one of them, you are probably wondering what your treatment options are.

Here is a list of the symptoms to watch out for and how to get relief. 

You struggle with insomnia 

Anxiety and stress lead to the release of strong stress hormones that can drastically impact your ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep. This insomnia often sets off a vicious cycle of fatigue throughout the day combined with dreading going to bed at night, which only exacerbates your worries. 

You constantly feel nervous 

Most people diagnosed with anxiety report feeling consistently nervous, ‘on edge,’ or restless. These feelings are not always associated with events but become a part of daily life regardless of what they are doing or where they are going. 

You notice a wide array of physical symptoms 

Along with feeling jittery and nervous, you might also notice a few physical manifestations of anxiety. For example, many anxiety sufferers will experience an increased heart rate, shortness of breath, profuse sweating, shaking hands, weakness, and certain stomach problems. 

You cannot rationalize with yourself 

Have you noticed that no matter how much you try to tell yourself that you are overreacting or to remind yourself that everything is going to be fine, your symptoms still do not dissipate? This is a sure-fire sign that anxiety is present. Anxiety is not rational, and it can be challenging to control it without outside help.

Treatment options for anxiety 

There is no doubt that one of the most effective solutions for the treatment of anxiety is CBD or hemp oil. The relief brought about through the ingestion or inhalation of CBD or hemp oil is due to the powerful natural agents working wonders on re-balancing your brain chemistry. There are both animal and human studies that corroborate these benefits, so it is definitely worth giving it a try to see if it helps you. Luckily, it is very easy to buy ready-made CBD/hemp oil (although costly) or to buy bulk hemp seeds and start growing the plants yourself at home. 

Other treatment options to consider for anxiety relief include meditation, finding a proper outlet for stress, cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and hypnosis. Many of these therapies are about trial and error, so be sure to try them all to find out which one works best for you. 

In some cases, simply talking to a therapist or a psychologist can help you to learn productive coping strategies for getting your feelings of anxiety under control. 

Once you are aware that your anxiety is playing a key role in your life and influencing you negatively, you can proceed to take action. Here’s hoping that you will find a worthwhile source of relief sooner rather than later.

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Health & Wellness

Binge drinkers beware, ‘Drunkorexia’ is calling

Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits.

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Photo by andrew jay from Unsplash.com

Mojito, appletini or a simple glass of fizz – they may take the edge off a busy day, but if you find yourself bingeing on more than a few, you could be putting your physical and mental health at risk according new research at the University of South Australia.

Examining the drinking patterns of 479 female Australian university students aged 18-24 years, the world-first empirical study explored the underlying belief patterns than can contribute to “Drunkorexia” – a damaging and dangerous behavior where disordered patterns of eating are used to offset negative effects of consuming excess alcohol, such as gaining weight.

Concerningly, researchers found that a staggering 82.7 per cent of female university students surveyed had engaged in “Drunkorexic” behaviors over the past three months. And, more than 28 per cent were regularly and purposely skipping meals, consuming low-calorie or sugar-free alcoholic beverages, purging or exercising after drinking to help reduce ingested calories from alcohol, at least 25 per cent of the time.

Clinical psychologist and lead UniSA researcher Alycia Powell-Jones says the prevalence of Drunkorexic behaviours among Australian female university students is concerning.

“Due to their age and stage of development, young adults are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, which can include drinking excess alcohol,” Powell-Jones says. “Excess alcohol consumption combined with restrictive and disordered eating patterns is extremely dangerous and can dramatically increase the risk of developing serious physical and psychological consequences, including hypoglycaemia, liver cirrhosis, nutritional deficits, brain and heart damage, memory lapses, blackouts, depression and cognitive deficits.”

She added that “certainly, many of us have drunk too much alcohol at some point in time, and we know just by how we feel the next day, that this is not good for us, but when nearly a third of young female uni students are intentionally cutting back on food purely to offset alcohol calories; it’s a serious health concern.”

The harmful use of alcohol is a global issue, with excess consumption causing millions of deaths, including many thousands of young lives.

In Australia for instance, one in six people consume alcohol at dangerous levels, placing them at lifetime risk of an alcohol-related disease or injury. The combination of excessive alcohol intake with restrictive eating behaviors to offset calories can result in a highly toxic cocktail for this population.

The study was undertaken in two stages. The first measured the prevalence of self-reported, compensative and restrictive activities in relation to their alcohol consumption.

The second stage identified participants’ Early Maladaptive Schemes (EMS) – or thought patterns – finding that that the subset of schemas most predictive of Drunkorexia were ‘insufficient self-control’, ’emotional deprivation’ and ‘social isolation’.

Powell-Jones says identifying the early maladaptive schemas linked to Drunkorexia is key to understanding the harmful condition.

These are deeply held and pervasive themes regarding oneself and one’s relationship with others, that can develop in childhood and then can influence all areas of life, often in dysfunctional ways. Early maladaptive schemas can also be influenced by cultural and social norms.

Drunkorexic behaviour appears to be motivated by two key social norms for young adults – consuming alcohol and thinness.

“This study has provided preliminary insight into better understanding why young female adults make these decisions to engage in ‘Drunkorexic’ behaviors,” Powell-Jones says. “Not only may it be a coping strategy to manage social anxieties through becoming accepted and fitting in with peer group or cultural expectations, but it also shows a reliance on avoidant coping strategies.”

It is recommended for clinicians, educators, parents and friends to be aware of the factors that motivate young women to engage in this harmful and dangerous behavior, including cultural norms, beliefs that drive self-worth, a sense of belonging, and interpersonal connectedness.

“By being connected, researchers and clinicians can develop appropriate clinical interventions and support for vulnerable young people within the youth mental health sector,” Powell-Jones says.

Worth highlighting: Alcoholism is a big issue in the LGBTQIA community.

A 2017 study found that bisexual people had higher odds of engaging in alcohol use behaviors when compared with people from the sexual majority. This study also found that bullying mediated sexual minority status and alcohol use more particularly among bisexual females.

Still in 2017, another study noted higher levels of alcohol use among men who have sex with men (MSM), which is closely associated with intimate partner violence (IPV). The same study found that over half of MSM experienced IPV, and just under half of MSM perpetrating IPV themselves, including physical, sexual, emotional or HIV-related IPV.

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Travel

A first for Central America, Costa Rica legalizes marriage equality

Costa Rica is now the 28th UN member state to recognize marriage equality.

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Photo by Jose Pablo Garcia from Unsplash.com

#Loveislove

Costa Rica has formally – and finally – legalized marriage equality, after a landmark court ruling came into effect.

In 2018, Costa Rica’s constitutional court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and discriminatory. The country’s parliament was given 18 months to legislate on this, or else the ban will be automatically overruled.

May 25, Monday, marked that deadline.

In a tweet following this, Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada said: “Empathy and love should from now on be the guiding principles which will allow us to move forward.”

Quesada took office in May 2018, and his campaign promised to legalize marriage equality.

https://twitter.com/CarlosAlvQ/status/1265160738936631296?s=20

Costa Rica is now the 28th UN member state to recognize marriage equality.

Also in a tweet, Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N. Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity — who is also from Costa Rica — said that this is “an extraordinary moment of celebration and gratitude to the work of so many activists, and of quiet reflection of the loves of those who lived without seeing this moment.”

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Health & Wellness

Greater availability of non-alcoholic drinks may reduce alcohol consumption

The findings suggest that interventions to encourage healthier food and drink choices may be most effective when changing the relative availability of healthier and less-healthy options.

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Photo by Joyce McCown from Unsplash.com

People are more likely to opt for non-alcoholic drinks if there are more of them available than alcoholic drinks, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

A team of researchers at the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre, and the Universities of Bristol and Cambridge, UK found that when presented with eight drink options, participants were 48% more likely to choose a non-alcoholic drink when the proportion of non-alcoholic drink options increased from four (50%) to six (75%). When the proportion of non-alcoholic drink options decreased from four to two (25%), participants were 46% less likely to choose a non-alcoholic drink.

Dr Anna Blackwell, the corresponding author said: “Alcohol consumption is among the top five risk factors for disease globally. Previous research has shown that increasing the availability of healthier food options can increase their selection and consumption relative to less healthy food. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that increasing the availability of non-alcoholic drinks, relative to alcoholic drinks in an online scenario, can increase their selection.”

Participants in the study completed an online task in which they were presented with a selection of alcoholic beer, non-alcoholic beer and soft-drinks. The drink selections included four alcoholic and four non-alcoholic drinks, six alcoholic and two non-alcoholic drinks or two alcoholic and six non-alcoholic drinks. 808 UK residents with an average age of 38 years who regularly consumed alcohol participated in the study.

When presented with mostly non-alcoholic drinks, 49% of participants selected a non-alcoholic drink, compared to 26% of participants who selected a non-alcoholic drink when presented with mostly alcoholic drinks. These results were consistent regardless of the time participants had to make their decision, indicating that the findings were not dependent on the amount of time and attention participants were able to devote to their drink choice. The findings suggest that interventions to encourage healthier food and drink choices may be most effective when changing the relative availability of healthier and less-healthy options.

Anna Blackwell said: “Many licensed venues already offer several non-alcoholic options but these are often stored out of direct sight, for example in low-level fridges behind the bar. Our results indicate that making these non-alcoholic products more visible to customers may influence them to make healthier choices. The market for alcohol-free beer, wine and spirit alternatives is small but growing and improving the selection and promotion of non-alcoholic drinks in this way could provide an opportunity for licensed venues to reduce alcohol consumption without losing revenue.”

The authors caution that as the study measured hypothetical drink selection online, results may differ in real-world settings. Further studies are needed to determine how the relative availability of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks impacts the purchasing and consumption of alcohol in real life.

Alcoholism is a big issue in the LGBTQIA community.

In 2017, a study found that bisexual people had higher odds of engaging in alcohol use behaviors when compared with people from the sexual majority. This study also found that bullying mediated sexual minority status and alcohol use more particularly among bisexual females.

Still in 2017, another study noted higher levels of alcohol use among men who have sex with men (MSM), which is closely associated with intimate partner violence (IPV). The same study found that over half of MSM experienced IPV, and just under half of MSM perpetrating IPV themselves, including physical, sexual, emotional or HIV-related IPV.

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Travel

Calgary officially bans ‘conversion therapy’

The so-called “conversion therapy” is now illegal in Calgary in Canada, with the city council voting 14-1 to approve a bylaw that bans the practice. Businesses that break the law by offering the practice for a fee will face fines up to $10,000.

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Photo by Blake Guidry from Unsplash.com

Rainbow rising in Canada.

The so-called “conversion therapy” is now illegal in Calgary in Canada, with the city council voting 14-1 to approve a bylaw that bans the practice. Businesses that break the law by offering the practice for a fee will face fines up to $10,000.

“Conversion therapy” is the most widely-used term used to describe practices attempting to change, suppress or divert one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. It is also called reorientation therapy, reparative therapy, reintegrative therapy, or, more recently, support for unwanted same-sex attraction or transgender identities.

Medical associations are critical of this practice – e.g. the World Psychiatric Association criticized these as “wholly unethical,” and the Pan American Health Organization warned that they pose “a serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.” The Canadian Psychological Association and the World Health Organization also oppose the same, stating that it poses a “severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons.”

Other countries already deal with this, including Malta, Ecuador, Germany, Brazil and Taiwan. Still other countries are in the process of banning the practice, including Australia, Canada, Chile, France, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the US.

With this development, Mayor Naheed Nenshi was quoted as saying: “There are forces of anger and hatred that our gender and sexually diverse brothers and sisters have to deal with every single day. Sometimes in this job, sometimes we get to just do what’s right.”

Approximately 47,000 LGBTQIA Canadians underwent some form of “conversion therapy”, according to a Community Based Research Centre study.

To date, five Canadian provinces and eight other Alberta municipalities have taken steps to ban the practice. A federal ban is also in the works.

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