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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!

Health & Wellness

Sexual minority men who smoke report worse mental health, more frequent substance use

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.

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Photo by Dominik Kempf from Unsplash.com

Cigarette smoking is associated with frequent substance use and poor behavioral and physical health in sexual and gender minority populations, according to Rutgers researchers.

The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine, examined tobacco use by sexual minority men and transgender women to better understand the relationships between smoking, substance use and mental, psychosocial and general health.

The researchers, who are part of the Rutgers School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies, surveyed 665 racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse sexual minority men and transgender women, 70 percent of whom reported smoking cigarettes.

They found that smoking was associated with participants’ race/ethnicity, marijuana and alcohol use and mental health. Current smokers were more likely to be white and reported more days of marijuana use in the past month. The study also found that current smoking was associated with more severe anxiety symptoms and more frequent alcohol use.

“Evidence also tells us that smoking is associated with worse mental health and increased substance use, but we don’t know how these conditions are related to each other, exacerbating and mutually reinforcing their effects,” said Perry N. Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s senior author.

LGBTQ+ people are more likely to smoke than their cisgender and heterosexual peers to cope with an anti-LGBTQ+ society, inadequate health care access and decades of targeted tobacco marketing. Those social stressors drive the health disparities they face, which are compounded by a lack of LGBTQ-affirming healthcare providers, research shows.

“Our findings underscore the importance of holistic approaches to tobacco treatment that account for psychosocial drivers of substance use and that address the complex relationships between mental health and use of substances like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana,” said Caleb LoSchiavo, a doctoral student at the Rutgers School of Public Health and the study’s first author.

The study recommends further research examining the social determinants of disparities in substance use among marginalized populations and how interpersonal and systemic stressors contribute to poorer physical and mental health for minority populations.

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Technology

Why you should switch to IPTV

If you want to cut your bills in half, or more than in half, you need to switch to IPTV. For a fraction of the price of cable, you can access the same channels using your WiFi connection – the same as you would when watching on your computer.

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Your TV is an important part of your life – even if you wouldn’t like to admit it. More and more, we  use our TVs to watch movies, shows, news and even play video games.

IMAGE SOURCE: PEXELS.COM

During the COVID-19 pandemic, with movie theaters closed, we all snuggled down and watched Netflix to pass the time in quarantine. It’s pretty difficult to imagine our lives without TV. The downside, however, is that we spend an increasing amount on TV per month – with subscriptions, rentals and cable, it gets pretty pricey.

What Is IPTV?

IPTV stands for Internet Protocol Television and is a service which uses the internet, rather than satellite or cable, to access TV. IPTV is streamed through the Internet, but don’t be fooled, it does not just include TV which is usually online like Amazon Prime. IPTV includes all TV channels which you would be accessing through cable or satellite – it is simply a different way of accessing the same things. IPTV is accessible through WiFi and can be used by anyone with a strong broadband connection.

Why Choose IPTV?

IPTV has basically no cons – it’s all pros. This service is fast, simple, and crucially, cost-effective.

  • The Pricing

If you want to cut your bills in half, or more than in half, you need to switch to IPTV. For a fraction of the price of cable, you can access the same channels using your WiFi connection – the same as you would when watching on your computer. The pricing of IPTV is unparalleled next to the traditional modes of TV watching. 

  • The Convenience and Reliability

With a good WiFi provider,  you are all set. It really is as simple as that. Instead of paying for high speed internet and cable television, you can combine the two. Plus, there will be barely any glitching. It is smooth, simple and highly convenient.

  • The Expansive Channel Selection Perfect For Families

Unlike with cable, IPTV has thousands of channels available so it is perfect for the whole family. If you want a great selection of kids shows, adult series and movies, this is the perfect package.

How To Switch To IPTV

If you want to make the switch to IPTV, you need to notify your cable provider once you find the right IPTV package for you. You can shop for IPTV packages on comparison sites and find the right selection for you.

In addition, it’s important to make sure you have the Best Device for IPTV which can stream it in high definition. Also, you need to ensure your WiFi is high speed, to avoid any buffering when your IPTV is installed!

The decision has never been easier – switch to IPTV today and find an amazing selection of channels for the lowest price ever.

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Health & Wellness

Love hormone also forms important link between stress and digestive problems

Oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone, is released from the hypothalamus in the brain which acts to counteract the effects of stress. For a long time, the actions of oxytocin were believed to occur due to its release into the blood with only minor effects on the nerves within the brain that regulate gastrointestinal functions.

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IMAGE SOURCE: PIXABAY.COM

New research published in The Journal of Physiology shows that oxytocin, known as the love hormone, plays an important role in stress’ disruption of digestion such as bloating, discomfort, nausea and diarrhea.  

Stress disrupts gastrointestinal functions and causes a delay in gastric emptying (how quickly food leaves the stomach). This delay in gastric emptying causes bloating, discomfort, and nausea and accelerates colon transit, which causes diarrhea.  

Oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone, is released from the hypothalamus in the brain which acts to counteract the effects of stress. For a long time, the actions of oxytocin were believed to occur due to its release into the blood with only minor effects on the nerves within the brain that regulate gastrointestinal functions.  

The study used new ways to manipulate the neurons and nerves (neurocircuits) that oxytocin released from the hypothalamus acts upon and measured the effects on the response of gastric emptying to stress. They have shown that, contrary to previous assumptions, these oxytocin circuits play a major role in the response of the stomach to stress.  

Activation of these oxytocin circuits reversed the delay in gastric emptying that occurs normally in response to stress, by increasing muscle contractions (motility) of the stomach, while inhibition of these neurocircuits prevented adaptation to stress.  

The new research, conducted at Penn State University- College of Medicine and was sponsored by a grant from the National Institute of Health, USA, employed cutting-edge tools that allow selective manipulation of the circuits that receive hypothalamic oxytocin inputs together with simultaneous measurements of gastric emptying and motility in response to stress.  

The authors used a rat model of different types of stress – acute stress, appropriate adaptation to stress, and inappropriate adaptation to stress. The authors infected the neurons controlling the oxytocin nerves and neurocircuits with novel viruses that allowed them to be activated or inhibited and measured muscle activity in the stomach, as well as gastric emptying (the time for food to leave the stomach).  

The researchers have shown that these oxytocin neural circuits play a major role in the gastric response to stress loads. Indeed, their activation reversed the delayed gastric emptying observed following acute or chronic responses to stress, thus increasing both gastric tone and motility. Conversely, inhibition of these neurocircuits prevented adaptation to stress thus delaying gastric emptying and decreasing gastric tone.   

These data indicate that oxytocin influences directly the neural pathways involved in the stress response and plays a major role in the gastric response to stressors. ​ 

The ability to respond appropriately to stress is important for normal physiology functions. Inappropriate responses to stress, or the inability to adapt to stress, triggers and worsens the symptoms of many gastrointestinal disorders including delayed gastric emptying and accelerated colon transit.  

Previous studies have shown that the nerves and neurocircuits that regulate the function of gastric muscle and emptying respond to stress by changing their activity and responses.  

In order to identify targets for more effective treatments of disordered gastric responses to stress, it is important to first understand how stress normally affects the functions of the stomach. Their study provided new information about the role that oxytocin plays in controlling these nerves and circuits during stress and may identify new targets for drug development. 

Commenting on the study R Alberto Travagli said: “Women are more vulnerable to stress and stress-related pathologies, such as anxiety and depression, and report a higher prevalence in gastrointestinal disorders. Our previous studies showed that vagal neural circuits are organized differently in males versus females. We are now finalizing a series of studies that investigate the role and the mechanisms through which oxytocin modulates gastric functions in stressed females. This will help to develop targeted therapies to provide relief for women with gastrointestinal disorders.”

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Lifestyle & Culture

Bringing your employer to rights over workplace health and safety

As LGBTQIA people often find barriers to gainful employment and legal recourse, they will find workplace conditions even more unsafe than the average person. However, legal protections are changing, and workers can now bring their rights against their employers.

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Workplaces in the Philippines are often not safe to work in. A study conducted in 2016 by the British Medical Journal found that workplace injury was prevalent nationally in the Philippines, rather than just being outlying incidents and errors on a small scale.

As LGBTQIA people often find barriers to gainful employment and legal recourse, they will find workplace conditions even more unsafe than the average person. However, legal protections are changing, and workers can now bring their rights against their employers.

How the law has changed

A big turning point in workplace health and safety protections came up in 2018, and is now starting to be implemented. As highlighted by the WHO, the Occupational Safety And Health Standards Act brings with it a raft of protections to help the workplace be far safer. What comes hand in hand with this is an enriched legal environment.

American legal experts JJS Justice note that government protections are only as good as their enforcement, and it’s the job of national attorneys to ensure people are well represented. Increasingly, this is becoming a reality for Filipinos – even for the historically under-represented LGBTQIA community.

Improved legal environment

Legal representation is slowly becoming a good news story for LGBTQIA people in the Philippines. 2017 saw the meteoric rise of Geraldine Roman, and her trendsetting has seen a far greater level of protection afforded, legally speaking, to those who could not access legal help due to societal pressure.

Legal advocates and help are starting to take the issues presented by LGBTQIA people in the Philippines seriously, even if the government and administration do not. International trends are starting to indicate that the country is taking this, and workplace protections, seriously.

International recognition

It can sometimes be a good yardstick as to the quality of a country’s legal protections to see how the international community perceive them. The Philippines recently received the Safe Travels stamp from a major international tourism body in recognition of improved safety standards all over the country. With international bodies likely to only recognize international levels of good work being done, this is encouraging in the overall push for better workplace standards.

Keeping this push going is important to improving working lives for everyone. This includes LGBTQIA people, who have historically faced discrimination in employment. As one workplace improves, so do all – and that’s a good thing.

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Health & Wellness

Notable percentage of trans men who have sex with men never got tested for HIV, bacterial and viral STIs

When considering screening for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), transgender men who have sex with men (TMSM) represent an understudied population. A study found that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs.

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When considering screening for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), transgender men who have sex with men (TMSM) represent an understudied population. A study found that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs.

In “Sociodemographic and behavioural factors associated with testing for HIV and STIs in a US nationwide sample of transgender men who have sex with men” – done by Nadav Antebi-Gruszka, Ali J. Talan, Sari L. Reisner and Jonathon Rendina, and published in BMJ Journals – researchers tried to examine HIV and STI testing prevalence among TMSM along with the factors associated with testing in a diverse sample of TMSM. They used data from a cross-sectional online convenience sample of 192 TMSM, analyzed using multivariable binary logistic regression models to examine the association between sociodemographic and behavioral factors and lifetime testing for HIV, bacterial STIs and viral STIs, as well as past year testing for HIV.

The researchers found that more than two-thirds of TMSM reported lifetime testing for HIV (71.4%), bacterial STIs (66.7%), and viral STIs (70.8%), and 60.9% had received HIV testing in the past year. Engaging in condomless anal sex with a casual partner whose HIV status is different or unknown and having fewer than two casual partners in the past six months were related to lower odds of lifetime HIV, bacterial STI, viral STI and past year HIV testing.

Being younger in age was related to lower probability of testing for HIV, bacterial STIs and viral STIs.

The domiciles of the TMSM also affected their health-seeking behaviors. In this study, those residing in the South of the US were less likely to be tested for HIV and viral STIs in their lifetime, and for HIV in the past year.

Finally, lower odds of lifetime testing for viral STIs was found among TMSM who reported no drug use in the past six months.

According to the researchers, these findings indicate that a notable percentage of TMSM had never tested for HIV and bacterial and viral STIs, though at rates only somewhat lower than among cisgender MSM despite similar patterns of risk behavior.

They recommend for “efforts to increase HIV/STI testing among TMSM, especially among those who engage in condomless anal sex.”

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Health & Wellness

People with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder show brain similarities, differences

Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are more than simply choosing to eat or not eat or not liking how you look. These are brain abnormalities, and how we treat those brain abnormalities could be with psychotherapy, or psychiatric medications, but brain changes need to happen in order to address these disorders.

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Photo by Joe deSousa from Unsplash.com

A new UCLA study shows partially overlapping patterns of brain function in people with anorexia nervosa and those with body dysmorphic disorder, a related psychiatric condition characterized by misperception that particular physical characteristics are defective.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain Imaging and Behavior, found that abnormalities in brain function are related to severity of symptoms in both disorders, and may be useful in developing new treatment methods.

The results reinforce the understanding that eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are more than simply choosing to eat or not eat or not liking how you look. “These are brain abnormalities, and how we treat those brain abnormalities could be with psychotherapy, or psychiatric medications, but brain changes need to happen in order to address these disorders,” says Dr. Wesley Kerr, neurology resident and biostatistics researcher at UCLA.

For the study, the researchers recruited 64 female participants: 20 with anorexia nervosa, 23 with body dysmorphic disorder, and 21 healthy controls. Patients with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image and an intense fear of gaining weight, leading them to eat very little. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is characterized by obsessions with a particular body part or a perceived flaw rather than with weight.

Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are more than simply choosing to eat or not eat or not liking how you look.

Participants were shown images of male and female bodies while researchers observed their brain activity via MRI. Three types of images were used: normal photos, “low spatial frequency” (LSF) images, which had details blurred out, and “high spatial frequency” (HSF) images, in which the edges and details were accentuated.

Functional MRI is a brain imaging technique that detects the blood flow within the brain, allowing researchers to see which parts of the brain are active while a person is doing various tasks. It can also be used to understand what brain regions’ activities are in sync with each other; that is, “connected.”

Each of the women performed a “matching” task while inside the MRI scanner. On the top of the screen, the person would see an image of a body, and would have to choose the matching body from two images shown on the bottom of the screen.

While viewing the images that differed from those of healthy individuals, people with anorexia nervosa and those with BDD showed patterns of activity and connectivity in visual and parietal brain networks. These abnormalities in activity were different in BDD and anorexia nervosa, whereas the connectivity abnormalities were largely similar. The more severe the symptoms, the more pronounced the pattern of brain activity and connectivity when the images were viewed, particularly for the LSF images. Further, connectivity and activity abnormalities were associated with how the participants judged the appearance and body weight of the individuals in the photos.

What the researchers saw indicated that while the brains of patients with anorexia nervosa and those with BDD abnormally process images with high, low, or normal levels of detail, the abnormalities for low level of detail, that is “low spatial frequency” images, have the most direct relationships to symptom severity and body perception. The results may help researchers understand the underlying neurobiology that leads to the characteristic body image distortions in both cases.

“This gives us a clearer picture of neurological basis for what is one disorder, what is the other, and what characteristics they share,” said Dr. Jamie Feusner, senior author and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA.

A next step for the research will be to see whether, with existing psychotherapy and medication treatments, the brain activity in patients begins to normalize, or else changes in a different way to compensate for underlying abnormalities.

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