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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Healthy travel tips for the LGBT community

We thought we would break down some of the issues you might face while traveling, and give you some advice to ensure that you not only enjoy your trip away, but you also get home safe, sound, and in robust health. Let’s get started with some of the basics.

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While it’s clear that attitudes to the LGBT community in this country still have a long way to go, there are plenty of other parts of the world that make the US a shining light of equality and enlightenment. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are treated differently in pretty much every country, so traveling the world can often cause problems when it comes to keeping healthy and safe.

With this in mind, we thought we would break down some of the issues you might face while traveling, and give you some advice to ensure that you not only enjoy your trip away, but you also get home safe, sound, and in robust health. Let’s get started with some of the basics.

It all starts with research…

You could write several theses of material on the different attitudes towards the LGBT community, as they vary so significantly – not just from region to region, but also from country to country. But here are some of the stark facts: homosexuality is punishable by death in eight countries at the moment. And same-sex relationships are criminalized in a further 72 countries, 45 of which have outlawed sexual relationships between women, too.

But that’s not all you need to know. While there are plenty of countries that recognize the LGBT community and grant them a certain amount of rights, it’s not the whole story. In many countries around the world, we are still in the early days of progress, and social acceptance of the local population is not at the level you might expect. Just like in the US, there is a sense of intolerance in many areas of the world, and it’s important to do your research before booking a trip abroad.

There are a few places you can start looking, however. Plenty of guidebooks offer valuable information, many of which specialize in LGBT travel matters. And the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association website has a great interactive map where you can see the most dangerous parts of the world for LGBT travelers.

You should also check out discussion forums online, where you will find plenty of good advice from seasoned travelers who can give you a ground view of traveling in any given country. And finally, make sure that you check with your local tour operator, who might have a good idea of where you can go that will be safe for the duration of your trip.

Planning for your health

Once you have decided on your destination, make sure that you visit your doctor well in advance. Your physician will talk you through the health implications of any given country and can provide you with any immunizations that are necessary, or that you need to make you up-to-date. Feel free to take notes – some of the diseases in foreign countries can be complicated, and it’s a good idea to jot down any advice on preventing disease in a language you can understand.

Be sure to check out the CDC travel website, too. Not only will it confirm what your doctor is telling you and give you the opportunity to print off vital information, but you will also see if there are any particular flare-ups in a particular part of the world. It also gives you key info in general health and safety advice on diseases like malaria, water safety, and rabies – all of which can be an issue in many parts of the world. If you intend to travel to a developing region, it is vital that you educate yourself and get your immunizations at least a couple of months before you leave.

Insurance for LGBT travelers

Make sure you are properly covered for traveling by your health insurance. Read the small print – because many countries are still hostile towards the LGBT community, you may not be covered correctly if you travel there. You may have cover for standard travel – even Medicare Plan F covers that, for example – but you must make sure that you are covered for almost every event you can imagine. At the very least, you should have Evacuation and Repatriation Coverage, which will help you get home in the event you become ill or injured in a country that doesn’t offer adequate health care.

You have to understand that this isn’t medical coverage per se – it just gives you the necessary transportation to the nearest acceptable hospital that can treat your illness or injury. Let’s say you are enjoying yourself on a cruise ship, and get a case of something like appendicitis. You will need a Medivac to get you to a hospital – and short of people like Bill Gates, few could afford the tens of thousands of dollars it would cost to get you to safety without the right insurance coverage.

Restrictions

Another important point to remember about traveling is that there are still some countries that have HIV-related travel restrictions. This isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of such policies, but the simple truth is that there are a few places that ban anyone with HIV, and a larger number that restricts entry – even for short-term stays. The Middle East makes up the bulk of those countries, but you will also experience problems when traveling to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Sudan/South Sudan at the time of writing.

However, depending on when you travel, some of these restrictions may have changed, so always check with the relevant authorities. And also, bear in mind that if you plan on traveling to a certain place for a long-term stay, you will need to check what policies affect people living with HIV if you are your traveling companion is living with the condition.

Mental health issues

OK, so the world is an enormous place, and there are many places you might want to go to. But, as we mentioned above, it can be a dangerous place for members of the LGBT community. And while you can – technically – travel anywhere you like, as long as you are careful, of course, don’t underestimate the sheer weight of strain that can arise from being in an anti-LGBT country. Whether you are traveling, vacationing, or studying abroad, it’s important to be mindful of your mental health. In a country where your sexuality is actually illegal, you will have few people to turn to, and you have big decisions to make about how open you are.

According to research, pretty much 100 percent of LGBT couples state that they don’t show any affection at all while traveling abroad, and when you feel like you are hiding your true self from others, it can be an incredibly stressful experience. And, of course, stress is a lot more serious than a lot of people recognize. Not only can it have mental health implications, but it can also result in severe physical conditions like heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.

But what happens if you are carefree, and focus instead on reducing your stress levels and act in a way you normally would at home? Well, a lot of the same-sex couples from the report make it clear that they have suffered from threats of physical violence. Clearly, there is a delicate balance to strike, so a thorough knowledge of the local attitudes to the LGBT community is essential if you want to protect both your physical and mental health.

General health tips

As most people in the LGBT community understand, research suggests that LGBT individuals face large health disparities which are linked to all kinds of things. Social stigma, discrimination, denial of human and civil rights – all of it has an impact in this country, let alone where more archaic attitudes exist. It’s vital to understand that in many other countries in the world, it won’t be any easier, and is actually likely to be a whole lot more difficult to deal with.

Sexual health is also a big issue. No matter where you are in the world, you must ensure that you have the right protections easily at hand. Given that HIV is more prevalent in some groups within the LGBT community, you are dicing with enormous health problems if you don’t protect yourself. The reality is that STDs of all descriptions can be rife in this country, but the problems are far worse elsewhere.

Finally, don’t forget about your general health requirements before traveling. You may need to arrange a bulk purchase of prescription medicine, for example, to keep you going for the entire duration of your trip.

Conclusion

It is possible for members of the LGBT community to stay safe and healthy throughout their trip away, no matter where they go in the world. However, it is vital to remember that depending on your destination, it can be a lot more complicated than just turning up and having a good time being yourself. And also, that hiding your true instincts and sexuality can be difficult, especially if you are going abroad for a long-term experience. Avoiding the threat of violence can be difficult on the mind when you are at it for 24/7/365 – so make sure you are taking as much care of your mental state as you are your physical condition.

Health & Wellness

First case of sexually transmitted dengue confirmed in Spain

Health authorities confirmed a case of a man spreading dengue through sex. This is a world first for a virus which – until recently – was largely thought to be transmitted only by mosquitos.

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Photo by Егор Камелев from Unsplash.com

No, getting bitten by mosquitos isn’t the only way you can get dengue.

In Spain, health authorities confirmed a case of a man spreading dengue through sex. This is a world first for a virus which – until recently – was largely thought to be transmitted only by mosquitos.

The case involves a 41-year-old man from Madrid who contracted dengue after having sex with his male partner, who got the virus from a mosquito bite during a trip to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

When the man’s dengue infection was confirmed in September, it puzzled doctors because he had not traveled to a country where the disease is common. An analysis of the sperm of the two men was carried out and it revealed that not only did they have dengue, but that it was exactly the same virus which circulates in Cuba.

Dengue is transmitted mainly by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which grows in number in densely-populated tropical climates, such as the Philippines.

Though it kills 10,000 people a year and infects over 100 million, the disease is fatal only in extreme cases, though symptoms are extremely unpleasant, including high fever, severe headaches and vomiting. It is particularly serious – and deadly – in children.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health reported a total of 271,480 dengue cases from January to August 31 this year, prompting it to declare a national dengue epidemic. As of end-August, an estimated 1,107 people have died of dengue in the country.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Gay in space in Disney’s ‘Star Wars Resistance’ kids’ show

This isn’t the first time an animated series highlighted LGBTQIA people/relationships; arguably even more progressive than mainstream Hollywood fare.

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Viewers sort of knew it all along, and then Disney confirmed that two characters on its “Star War Resistance” animated series for children are indeed a “gay couple.” 

On the Coffee with Kenobi podcast, Disney executive producers Brandon Auman, Athena Portillo, and Justin Ridge said that they are “proud” that two characters, Orka and Flix, are a “gay couple.” 

When Ridge was asked about the link between the two characters, he said: “I think it’s safe to say they’re an item… They’re absolutely a gay couple and we’re proud of that.” 

Orka is voiced by Jim Rash, while Flix is voiced by Bobby Moynihan.

Moynihan said later on the same podcast that he was glad to speak openly about Orka’s tendencies. 

“I have had a sentence prepared for a year and a half,” he said. “If someone would finally ask me, I would say, ‘All I can say is that when Flix says I love you, Orka says I know.’ … They’re the cutest.”

Orka and Flix are non-human, but fans assumed that they are homosexual. In an episode titled Dangerous Business, in the first season of “Star Wars Resistance“, there was a moment perceived to reveal the pair’s proclivities. 

The show is now in its second and final season on October 6, after getting nominated for an Emmy last year for outstanding children’s program.

This isn’t the first time an animated series highlighted LGBTQIA people/relationships; arguably even more progressive than mainstream Hollywood fare.

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In August, the new Aquaman, Kaldur, in the animated “Young Justice: Outsiders”, DC Universe’s animated show about teenage superheroes, was revealed to be LGBTQIA.

And in 2018, “Steven Universe”, a series from Cartoon Network, showcased a lesbian marriage proposal between two out queer characters in a special July 4 episode.

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Travel

Surrounded by art

Heading to Niagara Falls in NY in the US? The waterfalls may be the main attraction;buut there’s more to see in Niagara Falls than the body of water. Go IG crazy with a quick visit at Art Alley NF.

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When heading to Niagara Falls in the state of New York in the US, the three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge (between the Ontario, Canada and, yes, the US state of New York) may be the main attraction. This isn’t exactly surprising; heck, everyone who saw 1980’s Superman (before he got grumpy and too dark – even if he stayed yummy – with DC’s re-imagining of the alien boy scout) will want to see the… grandeur of the location. For that matter, Hollywood has repeatedly “told” us (via the likes of 2003’s Bruce Almighty, 2014’s Tammy, 2016’s After the Sun Fell, and 2016’s The American Side) that it’s a must-visit.

When you get there, though, it is but… a body of water.

Sure, it is grand. Perhaps made even grander by the power of illumination, with the waterfalls enveloped in various colors when the sun sets. But truth be told, there’s more to see in Niagara Falls than just the body of water.

Case in point: Art Alley NF.

Located a few minutes from Niagara Falls State Park, Art Alley NF is a public mural project located at 425 Third Street in Niagara Falls, NY.

Credit for its development goes to Seth Piccirillo, the city’s community development director, and Rob Lynch, one of Niagara Falls High School’s art teachers. The two established the roadside inlet in 2016 to house 19 murals from local artists.

Think of San Francisco’s Clarion Alley, and you’d get the idea of what this is. Sans the angst, political activism, et cetera…

The location used to be a vacant lot blocked by a wall. It was blasted down by the city’s Department of Community Development to make way for a walkway lined with the murals.

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Street art enthusiasts ought to like this; or at least IG aficionados.

Though I say that again, when in Niagara Falls, NY in the US, don’t just stick to the body of water (you can check this in a just a day); instead, be surrounded by art with a quick visit to Art Alley NF.

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Health & Wellness

Improved support after self-harm needed to reduce suicide risk

To reduce the high risk of suicide after hospital attendance for self-harm, improved clinical management is needed for all patients – including comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks, as well as implementation of risk reduction strategies, including safety planning.

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Photo by Sasha Freemind from Unsplash.com

Risk of suicide following hospital presentation for self-harm is very high immediately following hospital discharge, emphasising the need for provision of early follow-up care and attention to risk reduction strategies

To reduce the high risk of suicide after hospital attendance for self-harm, improved clinical management is needed for all patients – including comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks, as well as implementation of risk reduction strategies, including safety planning.

The results are from an observational study spanning 16 years and including almost 50,000 people from five English hospitals, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

“The peak in risk of suicide which follows immediately after discharge from hospital underscores the need for provision of early and effective follow-up care. Presentation to hospital for self-harm offers an opportunity for intervention, yet people in are often discharged from hospital having not received a formal assessment of their problems and needs, and without specific aftercare arrangements. As specified in national guidance, a comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks is essential to devise an effective plan for their follow-up care,” says study author Dr. Galit Geulayov, Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.

It has been estimated that every year there are approximately 200,000 presentations to emergency departments in hospitals across England following acts of non-fatal self-harm. Self-harm is associated with increased mortality, especially by suicide. Approximately 50% of individuals who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, with hospital presentation for self-harm often occurring shortly before suicide.

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The new study compared the risk of suicide following hospital presentation for self-harm according to patient characteristics, method of self-harm, and socioeconomic deprivation. It also estimated the incidence of suicide by time after hospital attendance, adjusting for gender, age, previous self-harm, and psychiatric treatment.

The study included 49,783 people aged over 15 years who presented to hospital after non-fatal self-harm a total of 90,614 times between 2000-2013. The authors followed these patients for 16 years (until the end of 2015), and the study included five hospitals (one in Oxford, three in Manchester and one in Derby).

Within the 16 year follow up, 703 out of 49,783 people died by suicide – with the incidence of suicide being 163 per 100,000 people per year.

Around a third of these deaths occurred within a year of the patient attending hospital for non-fatal self-harm (36%, 252/703 deaths), and the study confirmed the high risk of suicide in the first year after presentation to hospital for self-harm (the incidence of suicide in the year following discharge from hospital was 511 suicides per 100,000 people per year – 55.5 times higher than that of the general population).

The authors found that risk was particularly elevated in the first month (the incidence of suicide in the month following discharge from hospital was 1,787 per 100,000 people per year – close to 200 times higher than in the general population) – with 74 out of 703 people in the study dying by suicide within a month.

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The authors note that men were more likely to die by suicide following hospital presentation of self-harm than women, people who attended hospital more than once for non-fatal self-harm were more likely to die by suicide than those with a single presentation, and age was associated with risk (with risk increasing 3% with each year of age).

In addition, those who lived in less deprived areas had a higher risk of death by suicide than those who lived in the most deprived areas, but this contrasts with a large body of evidence and might be explained by higher rates of psychiatric disorders in this group in this study – more research is needed. The authors also note that some forms of self-harm were more strongly linked to subsequent suicide, but advise against including detail of this kind in media reporting.

Suicide is a big issue in the LGBTQIA community. In 2018, for instance, a study found that a total of 37% of trans respondents reported having seriously considered suicide during the past 12 months and 32% had ever attempted a suicide. Offensive treatment during the past three months and lifetime exposure to trans-related violence were significantly associated with suicidality.

A study published in LGBT Health in 2016, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of strengthening family support and acceptance as part of a positive intervention.

The authors of this newer study note that holistic assessment of risk factors is required, and warn that no single characteristic will help predict later suicide.

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“While awareness of characteristics which increase the risk of subsequent suicide can assist as part of this assessment, previous studies indicate that individual factors related to self-harm are a poor means to evaluate the risk of future suicide. These factors need to be considered together, followed by risk reduction strategies, including safety planning, for all patients,” says Professor Hawton, Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.

The authors note that their study focuses on three cities in England and the findings may not necessarily apply to the whole of the country.

Writing in a linked comment, Dr. Annette Erlangsen, Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention, Denmark, notes that there is a range of treatment options available following presentation of self-harm in emergency departments (including referrals to psychiatric wards after psychosocial assessments, outpatient treatment for patients not under immediate risk of self-harming, and – in some countries – specialized suicide prevention clinics) but many countries send patients home with a referral to their GP or do not refer at all.

She says: “The bottom line is–while the body of evidence of effective intervention is growing, we need to help people who present with self-harm. Operating in such a scenario is challenging but the numbers are clear; we need to ensure that patients receive support immediately when presenting and implement a continuation of care after discharge.”

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Is Lara Croft an LGBTQ+ icon?

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are.

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Screencap from "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001)

Lara Croft is one of the most recognizable and popular characters to ever be created. Whether fans know her from the classic PlayStation games, from the Angelina Jolie films, or even from the remake with Alicia Vikander, Lara Croft is an icon. While female gamers are more aplenty today, back in the early days of gaming, every corner was nearly entirely male-dominated. So Lara Croft was created to appeal to every gamer. As such, she fell between the two demographics and became a broad church to many, but a very niche fandom for some.

While the tomb raiding heroine offers some much-needed female representation in the action genre, is she also an LGBTQ+ icon?

Who becomes and who doesn’t become a queer icon is unpredictable, but since her debut in 1996, Lara Croft has proven she has the mettle to do more than just raid tombs. Action games are coded with high masculinity, so offering a female counterpart helps to take some of the testosterone out of the equation and offer a different kind of character. It has been well documented that LGBTQ+ identifying people are more likely to choose the female character in games – from Princess Peach to Coco Bandicoot and Eevee.

Women in games are often underappreciated, which helps the LGBTQ+ community identify with them. The disregarding of traditional femininity to be an adventurer also bridges the gap towards androgyny. Lara Croft eschews what is expected of her to do what she really wants to do – a trait that is both admirable and holds a deeper meaning for a lot of LGBTQ+ members of society.

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But, while there has been wider representation as of late and a more welcoming eye on all communities since 1996, Lara Croft and the strength she embodies still pervades in all forms of gaming today. As the Lara Croft Tomb Raider slot game at LeoVegas Casino shows, that utilises popular themes, artwork, and motifs from the franchise, the theme is still a popular one, still succeeding in offering something different for players. The fact that so long after her debut, and with so many more options available, Lara Croft is still the go-to franchise for many people, helps to prove her appeal.

While some of the marketing may look at Lara Croft through a male lens and focus on her physicality, for queer people, the adventurous nature that contrasts with this image helped cement her as a heroine. The 2013 reboot, written by Rhianna Pratchett, strands Lara on an island with nobody else except Samantha. Her mission becomes to keep Samantha safe and illustrates the true power in their sisterhood.

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are. There wouldn’t be as much representation across gaming had it not being for Lara Croft and the temples she raided, and the doors she unlocked.

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Health & Wellness

Trouble sleeping? Insomnia symptoms linked to increased risk of stroke, heart attack

The results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line.

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Photo by Matheus Vinicius from Unsplash.com

People who have trouble sleeping may be more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or other cerebrovascular or cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in the November 6, 2019, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line,” said study author Liming Li, MD, of Peking University in Beijing, China.

The study involved 487,200 people in China with an average age of 51. Participants had no history of stroke or heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Participants were asked if they had any of three symptoms of insomnia at least three days per week: trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; waking up too early in the morning; or trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. A total of 11 percent of the people had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; 10 percent reported waking up too early; and 2 percent had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. The researchers did not determine if the people met the full definition of insomnia.

The people were then followed for an average of about 10 years. During that time, there were 130,032 cases of stroke, heart attack and other similar diseases.

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People who had all three symptoms of insomnia were 18 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have any symptoms. The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of stroke or heart disease including alcohol use, smoking, and level of physical activity.

People who had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep were 9 percent more likely to develop stroke or heart disease than people who did not have this trouble. Of the 55,127 people who had this symptom, 17,650, or 32 percent, had a stroke or heart disease, compared to 112,382, or 26 percent, of the 432,073 people who did not have this symptom of insomnia.

People who woke up too early in the morning and could not get back to sleep were 7 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that problem. And people who reported that they had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep were 13 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that symptom.

“The link between insomnia symptoms and these diseases was even stronger in younger adults and people who did not have high blood pressure at the start of the study, so future research should look especially at early detection and interventions aimed at these groups,” Li said.

Li noted that the study does not show cause and effect between the insomnia symptoms and stroke and heart disease. It only shows an association.

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A limitation of the study was that people reported their own symptoms of insomnia, so the information may not have been accurate.

Also, the researchers did not ask participants about having sleep that was not refreshing; this is another common symptom of insomnia.

The question that needs to be asked: How is this relevant particularly to the LGBTQIA community?

Sleep may be fundamental to health, but a study found that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults reported more sleep problems than their heterosexual counterparts. This suggests that sleep difficulties may underlie a number of mental and physical health problems experienced by sexual minorities.

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