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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Taiwan shows LGBTQ-friendliness doesn’t mean equality for all

In Taiwan, public attitude towards LGBTQ citizens are non-violent, at best. The rate of hate crimes is relatively low compared to other countries. Be that as it may, there are still a lot of tweaking to do when it comes to having a truly respectful and empowering environment for LGBTQ citizens.

Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

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Taiwanese society, in general, is pretty accepting of diversity. The country is known to have the largest Pride Parade in Asia and leads in LGBTQ rights in the region.  Some queer-centric hang-out spots can be seen around its capital, Taipei – from gay-friendly clubs and cafes, a weekly social activity for LGBTQ folks to the existence of a welcoming Christian church and, presently, being home to the only Taoist temple in the world that hears the prayers of LGBTQ individuals seeking romantic love.

Public attitude towards LGBTQ citizens are non-violent, at best. The rate of hate crimes is relatively low compared to other countries. Be that as it may, there are still a lot of tweaking to do when it comes to having a truly respectful and empowering environment for LGBTQ citizens.

Working on SOGIE (mis)education

At face value, the Taiwanese government endorses LGBTQ rights through its public announcements, bills and policies. But actual implementation is another story. In the same way that the Ministry of Interior fails for years to deliver on its promise to do away with discriminatory requirements on legal gender change, the Ministry of Education (MOE) also disappoints with its crude implementation of the Gender Equity Education Act, which supposedly should promote comprehensive SOGIE awareness and education in schools.

Wayne Lin, consultant for Taiwan Tongzhi (LGBT) Hotline Association, shared that, In year 2004, Taiwan passed a very advanced, pioneering Gender Equity Education Act. So conceptually, schools need to teach [gender equity education] 4 hours every semester, supposedly. But what’s ‘gender equity education’? That has been the battlefield for the past years… When the government or some professional teachers try to draft a guideline for the teachers… the opposition tries to manipulate fear with misleading information [about gender equity education], and the government doesn’t really take a strong and clear stance [on this policy]… But some teachers still want to do that [impart SOGIE education] so the hotline is [sometimes] invited to schools to talk about gender equity education.”

Wayne added, “I think the MOE doesn’t want to take any political risk… It’s always asking the two sides to fight each other, and the government doesn’t make any decision.”

Anti-LGBTQ groups continue to figure out ways to get into the school system in order to influence policies. For example, they run for the head positions in the parent groups/associations in schools while hiding their identity as anti-LGBTQ. There are organizations dubbed as “parent groups” but are actually an offshoot of conservative religious groups opposing LGBTQ equality. Moreover, anti-LGBTQ groups spread misinformation that schools are teaching students how to have sex and converting them into homosexuality. They would stop at nothing to get Gender Equity Education off of schools’ curricula.

“Several years ago, one Christian legislator asked MOE to let anti-LGBTQ people to get into the Gender Equity Education Committee. They said that anti-LGBTQ opinion is also part of the diversified opinion; therefore, they can get into the committee… So now the Gender Equity Education Committee has a few seats for anti-LGBTQ members, which is very ironic,” Wayne lamented.

Presbyterian Church in Taipei offering its support for LGBTQ+ rights
Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

Establishing an LGBTQ-inclusive environment isn’t only needed in educational institutions. Aside from empowering queer youth, Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline Association works on providing support to the elderly demographic as well. Wayne shared, “The other thing we also pay quite a lot of attention to is the Long-Term Care Policy Taiwan is forming at this moment… For example, in Taiwan, some long-term care institutions actually are religious, like Muslim or Christian, so we already know some people are so afraid of going into that institution because they don’t know how they will be treated.”

The indifference towards LGBTQ issues, which is also why their rights are not taken seriously enough to be prioritized, can also be felt in the workplace. For example, even though there are work regulations against discrimination, in reality, a lot of queer employees are still not that comfortable to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of it affecting their career development. Sexual harassment or discrimination cases are also not properly addressed. Basically, as Wayne put it, “You probably would not hear really harsh discrimination, but typically you are ignored. LGBTQ’s are kind of invisible.”

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Much ado about marriage equality

Currently, Taiwan lets LGBTQ couples have civil unions, but which is evidenced only by a piece of paper that brings zero spousal protection or benefits. They are not granted medical visitation rights, joint property rights, parental rights, adoption rights or any of the hundred or so rights given to married couples under the law. Surprisingly, even their national ID cards would still state their status as being “single”, not married. However, according to Reese Li, Secretary of Taiwan LGBT Family Rights Advocacy, although such civil unions are only done symbolically without any substantial partnership rights, one goal of this is to let government realize that there is actually a mass of LGBTQ couples who yearn for the right to marry. Hence, they must be given this basic civil right as citizens of the country.

In the past year, Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has declared that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. It was ruled that marriage equality would be implemented after 2 years from May 2017. The options involve amending the Civil Code or, the less appealing route, by crafting a separate law for same-sex marriage. Despite the past media hype, Taiwan’s road to marriage equality is still actually stagnating in legislation. Without a clearly defined law protecting LGBTQ couples’ right to marry, as well as guaranteeing all their rights and benefits in marriage, the future for same-sex matrimony remains vague.

Taiwan’s prominent gay civil rights activist, Chi Chia Wei (祁家威), waves a rainbow flag atop a building.
Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

While the government is being lax on this issue, anti-LGBTQ groups are continuously devising ways to block the progress of marriage equality. Early this year, opposing groups have passed a referendum proposal diluting multifaceted LGBTQ issues into 3 questions: (1) Should homosexuality be taught to primary and high school students? (2) Should marriage be defined as solely between a man and a woman? (3) Should same-sex couples have a different kind of union from marriage?

“Same-sex marriage must be implemented since the Constitutional Court already proclaimed it. It should not be overruled by the referendum. But the main question is ‘How?’… The aim of the anti-gay groups is for legislation to make a ‘special’ law for same-sex marriage, instead of amending the Civil Code [for marriage] because they believe that the Civil Code is theirs”, said Reese Li. “Special laws are written for disadvantaged people in society- for example, indigenous people or children. The purpose is to provide special protection… But the purpose behind anti-gay groups wanting a special law [for same-sex marriage] is from blatant discrimination, not to protect a minority group.”

Anti-LGBTQ protestors in Taiwan join hands as they stand menacingly.
Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

In response to this, a pro-LGBTQ referendum was initiated by Social Democratic Party member Miao Po Ya. They are fighting against well-funded, threatening attempts to trash both the Gender Equity Education Act and marriage equality ruling. Reese shared that the coalition of opposing groups are quite strong since, aside from getting financial and mobilization support from local political and religious organizations, they are also backed by conservative groups in the US and Hong Kong.

At the end of August, the opposing groups’ referendum proposals have been submitted to election authorities. The last stage would involve placing the referendum on ballot in the coming local elections in November 2018. If anti-LGBTQ sentiments were to succeed, government might take this as a sign that Taiwanese society is not yet ready for the progress of LGBTQ rights; and thus, such atmosphere of discrimination could lead to the continuation of curtailing their civil rights.

The sign reads, “In Canada, we are a married couple. Under Taiwanese law, we are mere strangers.”
Photo courtesy of Andrea Toerien

Indeed, same-sex marriage stirs a lot of discussions not just in Taiwan but also in different parts of the world, which can be a good thing for advocating less discrimination for a minority group. However, it’s also getting slammed as a bourgeoisie movement that has strayed away from its roots, furthers inequality and ignores the struggles in structural intersectionality (the same goes for exorbitant celebrations of Pride parades) especially when, at times, it takes a huge slice of attention and funding at the expense of other important socio-politico-economic struggles experienced by LGBTQ’s (e.g. poverty, disability issues, homelessness, HIV-related issues). All this mainstream focus on marriage rights as the helm of LGBTQ advocacy can be rather dismissive and shortsighted.

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In a nutshell, critics assert that since the flawed neoliberal institution of marriage tends to emphasize the gap between the privileged and less privileged, between those with a family and those without a family, not to mention its historical subjugation of women, “marriage equality” then comes off as a misnomer that is not really pushing for equality in its truest sense.

Reese Li gave her two-cents on this particular critique.  “I think we have to look at the situation of each country. First, do the poor in Taiwan not think about marriage? Actually they still look for marriage, and this might be passed down from the conservative thinking in the past of need to marry to have children for manpower. I think many Asian country are like this… advancing marriage equality is not to oppress people or pressure gay people to marry. It only offer an option, a choice…When our organization supported marriage equality, it’s not because a lot of us want to have a wedding, but because a lot of same-sex couples already have kids…. A lot of protection, benefits, rights in society can be obtained through being registered as family. When it comes to single parent, there are less resources provided… Right now, we can only at least make baby steps to deal with the current situation. Personally, I, myself, don’t have any desire for marriage. But marriage can change our legal status and this can guarantee relevant rights and provide more resources. This is our reality now. We can’t just make a gigantic jump and demand government to provide subsidy on an individual citizen basis. That is impossible at this time.”

Wayne Lin is of the same tune with Reese. “Actually even within Hotline we have this kind of debate as well before we decide to work with other groups and the legislators to propose our bill. Yes, we all know that marriage cannot solve all the issues for LGBTQ. Of course, it’s better for everyone to enjoy the rights without getting married under certain circumstances… In the short-term, there’s no way for us to break the current marriage system in Taiwan… So for me it’s [marriage equality advocacy] more practical, just step-by-step… As long as this policy-making can benefit someone in our community, we should do that.”

According to Wayne, marriage equality can be a good talking point for society to start thinking about LGBTQ rights, as well as the concept of marriage and family. “I think majority of society probably doesn’t know LGBTQ that much, especially for the elder group. But this is an opportunity, you can talk to them, you can come out and showcase some story, so that they can better understand… I still believe the movement is really about how you make others understand our situation, and marriage equality is one easy way to open a dialogue. [If] They understand what’s the meaning, benefit or drawback of marriage,…as a beginning, then get a feeling of LGBTQ issues… it’s a methodology or way of doing public education… not everyone can still get married even if [same-sex marriage is] legalized due to economic status or not coming-out to family. So there are still so much work to be done.”

Anti-LGBTQ groups protest against amending Civil Code 972 on marriage.
Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

What makes a family

Another human rights organization known as Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR) is working on advocating a multi-family system that aims to provide, not only a legal option for marriage for the LGBTQ community, but also the proper rights and protections for different family structures in Taiwan.

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TAPCPR has 3 different proposals which include marriage equality. The second proposal pertains to a partnership system whereby two individuals can enter into a civil contract that customizes the obligations and rights that they would mutually agree on, such as those relating to inheritance, property and so forth. The third one proposes a multi-member family system that allows individuals to have a contractual option to live and be registered as a family with friends.

However, opposing groups argue that the multi-family system proposal would be dangerous to society as it would destroy traditional relationships and families. It is too radical of an idea to be discussed as of now.

Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

Just with same-sex marriage alone, the voice of opposition can be virulent. While marriage equality advocates are merely fighting for LGBTQ’s right to enter into a monogamous married life and to build a family, anti-LGBTQ groups stretch the imagination beyond ridiculousness. Now, rather than posturing as messengers of God and using battlecries based on subjective interpretations of Bible verses, opposing groups – in an attempt to extend their influence – have rebranded themselves to be ordinary parents or citizens concerned about the future of families in Taiwan.

Aside from the usual conservative religious rhetoric, opponents are also operating out of misguided fear that marriage equality’s agenda is to erode monogamous relationships and family values, as well as to cause people into marrying animals or inanimate objects. They also posit that marriage equality would only worsen the country’s declining birth rate. Another extremist view is that same-sex marriage will lead to the eventual extinction of the human race. Unfortunately, the power of fear-mongering and misinformation over human emotions can never be underestimated.

Such antagonistic perspectives against same-sex marriage cannot be further from the truth. On the contrary, Reese explained that one crucial aspect of the legalization of same-sex marriage is for the protection of children under the care of same-sex parents.

“In legal papers, a kid raised by same-sex couples is indicated as being raised by a single parent only even though the kid is raised by a couple. This can lead to a lot of issues and insecurity when it comes to raising the child as a couple because the other ‘parent’ is considered a stranger under the eyes of law… Even with artificial reproduction done in other countries, when the gay couple comes back to Taiwan, they are not recognized as both parents.”, said Reese.

There are already a huge number of same-sex couples in Taiwan who encounter several issues when it comes to raising their child. A task as simple as taking their children to the doctor or fetching them from school already proves to be such a hassle if the not-legally-recognized parent is the one doing the job. How much more when heavier parental responsibilities must be done for the children’s well-being?

Reese continued on to explain, “Worse comes to worst, if the legally recognized parent dies, the surviving partner can’t continue to take care of the kid. The kid will be separated from the surviving parent because s/he is not recognized by law as parent. By law, the child has to go with blood-related relatives of the deceased parent. But we have to consider that not everyone can still be in good terms with relatives… It will be a bigger problem for the child.”

Photo courtesy of Ketty W. Chen

LGBTQ rights are universal rights 

While Taiwan is an LGBTQ-friendly destination, there are still undoubtedly a lot of obstacles to hurdle through and conflicts to sort out on the ground. Neighboring and distant countries need to keep a close watch and offer an intimate support to the Taiwanese LGBTQ+ community’s clamor for widespread equality – not just for the sake of marrying the person they love, but also to advance SOGIE awareness and education, to foster legal protection for diverse families that exist beyond the outdated concept of a traditional family, as well as to address the myriad of less talked about yet similarly important issues that affect LGBTQ+ folks. After all, their fight is also the fight of every LGBTQ+ and human rights movement around the globe. Even as a small Asian island, its wins could still pack a punch and contribute to putting an end to discrimination and hate crimes against people of different SOGIE.

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!

LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

It’s 2020, time to teach teens ‘safe’ sexting

This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex. It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.

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Photo by Cristofer Jeschke from Unsplash.com

Preaching sexual abstinence to youth was popular for a number of decades, but research repeatedly found that such educational messages fell short in their intended goals. Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Since the advent of photo- and video-sharing via phones, children have received similar fear-based messages to discourage sexting – the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images (photos or video) usually via mobile devices. Unfortunately, messages of sexting abstinence don’t seem to be reducing the prevalence of adolescents sharing nudes.

Consequently, in a new paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, say that it is time to teach youth “safe” sexting.

“The truth is that adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality, and some are now doing so via sexting,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., co-author and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We need to move beyond abstinence-only, fear-based sexting education or, worse yet, no education at all. Instead, we should give students the knowledge they need to make informed decisions when being intimate with others, something even they acknowledge is needed.”

Hinduja and co-author Justin Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, acknowledge that although participating in sexting is never 100 percent “safe” (just like engaging in sex), empowering youth with strategies to reduce possible resultant harm seems prudent.

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Hinduja and Patchin collected (unpublished) data in April 2019 from a national sample of nearly 5,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17, and found that 14 percent had sent and 23 percent had received sexually explicit images. These figures represent an increase of 13 percent for sending and 22 percent for receiving from what they previously found in 2016.

The authors do want youth to understand that those who sext open themselves up to possible significant and long-term consequences, such as humiliation, extortion, victimization, school sanction, reputational damage, and even criminal charges. But they also want youth who are going to do it anyway to exercise wisdom and discretion to prevent avoidable fallout.

“This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex,” said Hinduja. “It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.”

Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
Photo by Jack Sharp from Unsplash.com

Hinduja and Patchin provide suggested themes encapsulated in 10 specific, actionable messages that adults can share with adolescents in certain formal or informal contexts after weighing their developmental and sexual maturity.

  1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to — or show — anyone else. This could be considered nonconsensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it and which outline serious penalties (especially if the image portrays a minor).
  2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them. “Catfishing”– where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts) — happens more often than you think. You can, of course, never really know if they will share it with others or post it online, but do not send photos or video to people you do not know well.
  3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it (make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.
  4. Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble.
  5. Never include your face. Of course, this is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.
  6. Make sure the images do not include tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features that could connect them to you. In addition, remove all jewelry before sharing. Also, consider your surroundings. Bedroom pictures could, for example, include wall art or furniture that others recognize.
  7. Turn your device’s location services off for all of your social media apps, make sure your photos are not automatically tagged with your location or username, and delete any meta-data digitally attached to the image.
  8. If you are being pressured or threatened to send nude photos, collect evidence when possible. Having digital evidence (such as screenshots of text messages) of any maliciousness or threats of sextortion will help law enforcement in their investigation and prosecution (if necessary) and social media sites in their flagging and deletion of accounts.
  9. Use apps that provide the capability for sent images to be automatically and securely deleted after a certain amount of time. You can never guarantee that a screenshot was not taken, nor that another device was not used to capture the image without you being notified, but using specialized apps can decrease the chance of distribution.
  10. Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device. This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else. Having images stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone — a parent, the police, a hacker — will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, although the image on his phone was of himself.
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Health & Wellness

Having less sex linked to earlier menopause

Women who reported engaging in sexual activity weekly were 28% less likely to have experienced menopause at any given age than women who engaged in sexual activity less than monthly.

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Photo by Joe deSousa from Unsplash.com

Women who engage in sexual activity weekly or monthly have a lower risk of entering menopause early relative to those who report having some form of sex less than monthly, according to a new UCL study.

The researchers observed that women, who reported engaging in sexual activity weekly, were 28% less likely to have experienced menopause at any given age than women who engaged in sexual activity less than monthly. Sexual activity includes sexual intercourse, oral sex, sexual touching and caressing or self-stimulation.

The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, is based on data from the USA’s Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). It’s the largest, most diverse and most representative longitudinal cohort study available to research aspects of the menopause transition.

First author on the study, PhD candidate Megan Arnot (UCL Anthropology), said: “The findings of our study suggest that if a woman is not having sex, and there is no chance of pregnancy, then the body ‘chooses’ not to invest in ovulation, as it would be pointless. There may be a biological energetic trade-off between investing energy into ovulation and investing elsewhere, such as keeping active by looking after grandchildren.

“The idea that women cease fertility in order to invest more time in their family is known as the Grandmother Hypothesis, which predicts that the menopause originally evolved in humans to reduce reproductive conflict between different generations of females, and allow women to increase their inclusive fitness through investing in their grandchildren.”

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During ovulation, the woman’s immune function is impaired, making the body more susceptible to disease. Given a pregnancy is unlikely due to a lack of sexual activity, then it would not be beneficial to allocate energy to a costly process, especially if there is the option to invest resources into existing kin.

The research is based on data collected from 2,936 women, recruited as the baseline cohort for the SWAN study in 1996/1997.

The mean age at first interview was 45 years old. Non-Hispanic Caucasian women were most represented in the sample (48%), and the majority of women were educated to above a high school level. On average they had two children, were mostly married or in a relationship (78%), and living with their partner (68%).

The women were asked to respond to several questions, including whether they had engaged in sex with their partner in the past six months, the frequency of sex including whether they engaged in sexual intercourse, oral sex, sexual touching or caressing in the last six months and whether they had engaged in self-stimulation in the past six months. The most frequent pattern of sexual activity was weekly (64%).

None of the women had yet entered menopause, but 46% were in early peri-menopause (starting to experience menopause symptoms, such as changes in period cycle and hot flashes) and 54% were pre-menopausal (having regular cycles and showing no symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause).

Interviews were carried out over a ten-year follow-up period, during which 1,324 (45%) of the 2,936 women experienced a natural menopause at an average age of 52.

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By modelling the relationship between sexual frequency and the age of natural menopause, women of any age who had sex weekly had a hazard ratio of 0.72, whereas women of any age who had sex monthly had a hazard ratio of 0.81.

This provided a likelihood whereby women of any age who had sex weekly were 28% less likely to experience the menopause compared to those who had sex less than monthly. Likewise, those who had sex monthly were 19% less likely to experience menopause at any given age compared to those who had sex less than monthly.

The researchers controlled for characteristics including oestrogen level, education, BMI, race, smoking habits, age at first occurrence of menstruation, age at first interview and overall health.

The study also tested whether living with a male partner affected menopause as a proxy to test whether exposure to male pheromones delayed menopause. The researchers found no correlation, regardless of whether the male was present in the household or not. Last author, Professor Ruth Mace (UCL Anthropology), added: “The menopause is, of course, an inevitability for women, and there is no behavioural intervention that will prevent reproductive cessation. Nonetheless, these results are an initial indication that menopause timing may be adaptive in response to the likelihood of becoming pregnant.”

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Health & Wellness

Transgender students face higher levels of substance abuse

This misuse of drugs by transgender individuals is thought not to be anything to do with their non-gender conformity but with the discrimination that they, as transgender individuals, face on a daily basis.

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Photo by Maurício Eugênio from Pexels.com

A study by The Journal of School Health has found transgender students to be 2.5 times more likely to try and use drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine than their non-transgender peers. Transgender students were also found to be twice as likely to misuse prescription medication than other students their age. 

This misuse of drugs by transgender individuals is thought not to be anything to do with their non-gender conformity but with the discrimination that they, as transgender individuals, face on a daily basis, with stigma being one of the primary drivers of transgender mental health issues across the world. 

In the US more than 50% of transgender individuals report suffering from depression or anxiety and LGBTQ individuals are also 7 times more likely to consider death by suicide than heterosexual gender-conforming individuals. 

At home, 19% of transgender individuals have experienced domestic violence as a result of their gender nonconformity and at work, more than 50% of transgender individuals have experienced discrimination. 

With so much stigma at home, on the street and in the workplace it’s no wonder that some transgender individuals are turning to narcotics as a way to numb the pain and escape their realities. 

Dr. Pedro, a scientist who helped conduct the drug use study has said “When it comes to transgender teens, it’s the transphobia that impacts [their use of drugs], not being transgender. In order to reduce the likelihood of a kid to resort to drugs as a means to cope, there has to be some sort of social support mechanism,” 

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Evidence from initiatives in the US supports the idea that better support systems and less stigmatizing communities can have a positive impact on the mental health of transgender individuals. Simply providing transgender individuals with appropriate toilet facilities was found to reduce the likelihood of transgender teens committing suicide by a staggering 45% and the introduction of same-sex marriage saw a huge drop in suicide attempts by 134,000.

So what else can be done to help support transgender individuals and reduce their need to rely on narcotics?

The evidence provided by initiatives in the US proves that removing the stigma surrounding being transgender is key to reducing suicide rates and improving transgender mental health but this won’t happen overnight. We need to see an introduction of more support systems for transgender people in the form of support groups and access to counseling and we need to provide transgender people with access to inpatient drug rehab centers if they have already fallen too far. 

To remove stigma in the community, schools and governors need to focus on transgender awareness and education, helping friends, families, and co-workers to understand what it means to be transgender and how they can help to ease the weight that their loved one, friend or colleague is carrying. Education also needs to start far earlier and be taught in schools to help students grow up into compassionate individuals with a wider understanding of the LGBTQ community and the challenges it faces. 

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Health & Wellness

Hidden sexual-arousal disorder can compromise mental health

It’s important that people know of this medical condition and that it is primarily a neurological problem, not a psychiatric one.

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Persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD)–which is almost exclusively experienced by females and characterized by spontaneous and unwanted sexual arousal unrelated to desire–can compromise individuals’ mental health and well-being and severely damage relationships with partners. Results from a new study by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) indicate that PGAD can be caused by altered firing of nerves that carry sensations from the genitalia or by damage to the lowest parts of the spinal cord. The study also found that neurological treatments benefit many patients.

“It’s important that people know of this medical condition and that it is primarily a neurological problem, not a psychiatric one,” said senior author Bruce Price, MD, an MGH Department of Neurology investigator who is also chief of Neurology at McLean Hospital. “Many affected women are silent and undercover–it’s in no way a fun condition, and it is difficult for patients to address their symptoms with their doctors, who have typically never heard of PGAD.” The problem can be especially troubling for adolescents, causing confusion, shame, and fear.

The study, published in PAIN Reports, included 10 females whose PGAD symptoms began between ages 11 to 70 years. Although the study involved only a small number of patients, it’s still one of the first to carefully examine PGAD in a thorough and scientific manner.

Spinal nerve-root cysts were detected in four patients and generalized sensory nerve damage (neuropathy) in two. One patient with symptoms since childhood was born with a small defect in her lowest spinal cord, one had a lumbosacral herniated disc in the lower back, and another developed short-lived PGAD when she abruptly stopped a prescribed antidepressant medication.

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All psychiatric and gynecological treatments were ineffective, and injecting local anesthetics had no lasting benefit. In contrast, neurological treatments–such as cyst removal and treating nerve damage–were effective in 80% of patients.

“Physicians need to be aware of PGAD and inquire about it when patients experience other pelvic pain or urological symptoms that often accompany PGAD,” said first author Anne Louise Oaklander, MD, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Neurology at MGH. “It’s treatable, but the treatment depends on the cause. By identifying some common causes–and localizing them to specific regions of the sacral nervous system–our study provides direction on how to help patients and to guide future research.”

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Travel

4 Ways to get around while vacationing in Washington D.C.

Getting around the city is made easy with an abundance of different options available from public transport to bus tours.

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Washington D.C. is the capital of the U.S and a truly amazing place to visit. With its wealth of museums, exhibits, and history, it is a vacation spot that should not be missed. Getting around the city is made easy with an abundance of different options available from public transport to bus tours.

Here are four ways to get around while visiting this beautiful city. 

Car service

Booking a chauffeured car service is a great alternative to hiring a car. Whether it’s a Dulles car service straight from the airport to your accommodation or a trip from your hotel for a night at the theatre, it is an extremely comfortable and luxurious way to get there.

Metrorail

With 91 stations dotted around the city, the Metrorail is D.C.’s underground service. It is open from 5 am and closes at midnight every weekday making it a great way to travel. Although you can buy individual tickets, purchasing a SmarTrip card is a good idea. It’s a travel money card that credit can be added to at any time. It can also be used on the Metrobus, another means of public transport in D.C. Underground maps are available online and at each station. They are easy to follow so you won’t have any trouble finding your way around.

Metrobus

The Metrobus is Washington’s public bus service. There are around 11,500 bus stops within the districts of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Metrobus carries out around 400,000 trips every day making it extremely easy to get from A to B. Boarding with bicycles is permitted and each bus has wheelchair access. As previously mentioned, you can use your SmarTrip card on this service too. You can also use the card to pay for the parking of cars or bikes. Washington has a fabulous public transport system. Using it could save you time as well as money.

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Bicycle hire

If you enjoy cycling, hiring a bike is a great way to get around the city. Whether it be for a whole day or just a few hours, several companies offer this service. Rates can vary, so make some inquiries when you get there and shop around if needs be. Traditional or electric bikes can be rented and if you have young children trailers are also available. This will allow you to easily get around without little feet becoming tired.  Many companies do bike tours which is a brilliant way to explore and find out a bit more from those in the know. Whilst the city hosts many bus tours which is also a great way to see the sights, a bike tour can allow you to get closer to each attraction. If you prefer the idea of a Segway tour then many companies can arrange those too.

Washington D.C. is an amazing city with a host of different attractions for all ages and interests so, regardless of how you choose to get around, you will not be disappointed. 

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Marriage equality, trans rights upheld in Costa Rica

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a landmark ruling to recognize marriage equality and transgender rights in Costa Rica. The decision came after the Costa Rican government asked for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples.

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Photo by Ashly Araya from Unsplash.com

Rainbow celebration in Costa Rica.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) issued a landmark ruling to recognize marriage equality and transgender rights in Costa Rica. The decision came after the Costa Rican government asked for an advisory opinion on whether it has an obligation to extend property rights to same-sex couples.

In the ruling issued by seven judges, it was stated that the government “must recognize and guarantee all the rights that are derived from a family bond between people of the same sex.”

Six of the seven judges also ruled that it is necessary for governments “to guarantee access to all existing forms of domestic legal systems, including the right to marriage, in order to ensure the protection of all the rights of families formed by same-sex couples without discrimination.”

The Costa Rican government similarly asked for advisory opinion from the courts on the issue of allowing transgender people to change their name and gender marker on identity documents.

On this, the ruling says that the Costa Rican government must allow transgender people to legally change their name and gender marker on official documents.

In the region, Mexico City, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay are among the jurisdictions where transgender people can legally change their name and gender without undergoing surgery. For its part, Cuba has been providing since 2008 for free gender affirmation surgeries through its national health care system.

IACHR’s ruling is legally binding in Costa Rica and 19 other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere that currently recognize the convention. IACHR oversees Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala. It also rules over Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Suriname and Uruguay.

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