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When hookup apps can save lives

Technology has been blamed as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines. But what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.

IMAGE BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

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The first time Quezon City-based 22-year-old Xander* “met” a person openly living with HIV was through a gay geosocial networking app. “He ‘advertised’ in his profile that he lives with HIV,” Xander recalled, adding that “this surprised me because he didn’t hide his HIV status, as I expected people living with HIV (PLHIV) would.”

After a chat, it was this HIV-positive person who encouraged Xander to also get himself tested. “Not that I may have HIV,” Xander said sheepishly, “but as he said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather know?’”

As it turned out, that person Xander was chatting with was also a peer educator, who encourages other men who have sex with men (MSM) to get themselves tested for HIV. That same person eventually accompanied Xander to a nearby social hygiene clinic (SHC), “providing not just information about HIV, but – I suppose – a hand I knew I’d need whatever the test result may be,” Xander said.

Xander’s experience – i.e. “Chatting to pick up, getting laid… and getting tested for HIV,” he laughed – highlights the continuing evolution of the use of gay geosocial networking apps. And this is even if the latter (that is, with it serving as a tool for change) often overshadowed by the former (i.e. hooking up).

“HIV largely affects the gay and bi community, and I believe gay and bi men in the Philippines could immensely benefit from education and other necessary interventions to curb the rise of the epidemic,” Evan Tan said. And here, “a platform like Blued can be used as an effective tool.”
PHOTO BY PORAPAK APICHODILOK FROM PEXELS.COM

WORSENING SITUATION

In June 2017, the Department of Health’s (DOH) HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) reported 1,013 new HIV cases in the country, bringing the total reported cases from January 1984 (when the first HIV case was reported) until June 2017 to 45,023. Also in June, most (93%) of the newly infected were male. The median age was 27 years old (age range: one to 73 years). And half of the cases were from the 25-34 year age group while 32% were youth aged 15-24 years.

The number of people getting infected with HIV in the Philippines continues to grow. If, in 2008, the country only had one case reported to HARP every day, it now has 30 new HIV infections every day.

It therefore comes as no surprise that on August 1, the Department of Health (DOH) held a press conference to announce the undesirable news that the Philippines now has the “fastest growing” HIV epidemic in Asia Pacific. Citing data from the UNAIDS Report on global HIV epidemic, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that new HIV cases among Filipinos more than doubled from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016, so that the Philippines “has become one of eight countries that account for more than 85% of new HIV infections in the region.”

Most of these new infections occur in 117 “high burden areas”, including the National Capital Region (NCR), Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Cebu, Davao, Tagum, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos City, Koronadal, Butuan, Iloilo, Bacolod, Puerto Princesa, Tacloban, Naga, Lucena, Angeles, Mabalacat, Tarlac, San Fernando, Cabanatuan, Olongapo, and Baguio.

And most of these new infections involve the young, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), who start engaging in risky sexual behaviors at a tender age, with the first sexual encounter happening at 16 years old.

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The trickier part comes with the finger pointing on who (or what) to blame.

And here, a big chunk of the supposed culpability is pointed to access to Internet and social media, as well as use of new information technologies, often cited as among the most flagrant factors facilitating early sexual engagement among young people. This point has been stressed by, among others, the Commission on Population’s regional studies conducted through the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and Demographic Research and Development Foundation (DRDF), using the data from the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS 4).

But with the talk about – or even blaming of – technology as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines, what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.

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IT’S BUT A TOOL

Putting the blame on technology may not be surprising, even if very simplistic. After all, it may help facilitate having multiple sexual partners and other high risk behaviors, but it is not necessarily the catalyst for these behaviors.

Overseas, various studies have already looked at the effectiveness of dating and hookup apps and sites in distributing HIV prevention information to gay, bi and MSM. And – surprise! – the apps have been found effective.
PHOTO BY JESHOOTS FROM PIXABAY.COM

According to Evan Tan, country marketing manager for the Philippines of Blued, apps are among those that are dissed as “just for picking up”. But he thinks that this very notion needs to be reconsidered, with these technological innovations deserving a better look.

A study that looked at the acceptability of smartphone application-based HIV prevention among young MSM noted that over 90% of 12-29 year olds are online and utilize the Internet as a primary source of information gathering, communication, and social networking. More specifically, young MSM have been found to heavily use Internet search engines, gay-friendly chat rooms, and pornography websites for information on sex behavior, sexuality, and sexual health.

“We know very well that technology can do so much more,” Tan said, adding that in Blued’s case, for example, “we stay true to our mission of building a better community by spearheading (CSR) efforts.”

In the Philippines, for instance, Blued works with The LoveYourself Inc. (TLY), a non-government organization promoting HIV awareness and testing. Tan himself personally spoke with TLY’s head, Vinn Pagtakhan, to help the NGO set up a Blued profile. And now – with the help of TLY’s head of community relations Paul Junio, the NGO has a team of counselors who provided answers to HIV-related queries gathered from TLY’s official Blued profile (TLY’s official Blued account: LoveYourselfPH).

“HIV largely affects the gay and bi community, and… I believe gay and bi men in the Philippines could immensely benefit from education and other necessary interventions to curb the rise of the epidemic,” Tan said. And here, “a platform like Blued can be used as an effective tool.”

EFFECTIVE APPARATUSES

Overseas, various studies have already looked at the effectiveness of dating and hookup apps and sites in distributing HIV prevention information to gay, bi and MSM.

Putting the blame on technology may not be surprising, even if very simplistic. After all, it may help facilitate having multiple sexual partners and other high risk behaviors, but it is not necessarily the catalyst for these behaviors.
PHOTO BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

In 2016, for instance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined paid ad analytics from gay-specific dating and entertainment apps (including Scruff and GAY FM), and it found that users on these apps were twice as likely to click on HIV prevention ads than they were on general apps (0.30% versus 0.15%).

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A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases supports CDC’s findings, claiming that over 63% of participants exposed to HIV prevention information through online dating sites reported getting tested 12 months later. In comparison, only 42% of participants who did not receive similar intervention messaging reported getting tested.

Sexual Health also published a study that found dating apps for gay men effective in giving give out HIV self-test kits to men at risk of HIV infection, thereby reducing the spread of HIV. In this study, the link of the service provider that advertised in a gay app received 4,389 unique hits in four weeks, with 333 HIV test kit requested.

Similar scientific studies continue to be deficient in the Philippines, though anecdotes abound particularly from service providers on how tech has helped make their jobs better.

Ronnel*, 32, Xander’s peer counselor, has accounts in “more apps than I can count,” he smiled. In his profile in these apps, “I provide information about HIV and AIDS, and how those who want to know their status can get tested for free. It’s very straightforward… I suppose no different from the candid approach to finding partners nowadays.”

Although Ronnel also goes to various locations (for instance, bars or “eye balls” of “clans”), he claimed getting most of his clients mainly through these apps. “Perhaps the anonymity (also) helps,” he said, though mostly “these MSM are part of hard-to-reach populations whose major mode of joining the PLU community (“People like us”, a colloquial term used by MSM to refer to themselves – Ed) is through these apps.” And so for Ronnel, “yes, nakakatulong talaga ang apps (the apps truly help).”

APPS BEYOND PICKING UP

This successful use of app in dealing with HIV also motivated Blued’s efforts in other countries.

In China, Blued closely partnered with UNAIDS, WHO, the Chinese Association of AIDS/STD, and the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association to deliver health information, promote HIV testing, and carry out HIV-related care programs through Blued. It also has live broadcasts on HIV and AIDS prevention through the Blued Live feature, with each Blued live broadcasting program reaching over 5,000 online audiences. It similarly utilized the platform to be an online HIV testing reservation system. In 2016, 22,857 people received intervention, 6,362 got tested (of which, 30% have never been tested before), and 311 were diagnosed to be HIV-positive and who were able to get access to life-saving HIV medication.

Already, Blued has collaborated with NGOs, universities and international agencies to conduct more than 40 online surveys to explore the changing trends of high risk behaviors over time. Nearly 30 papers and reports have been published from these collaborations.

In China, “our long-term goal in the country is to establish an app-based platform for comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention programs at national level, and to form national technical guideline by implementing scientific researches,” Tan said.

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Outside China, Blued also collaborated with organizations in Vietnam, including with the ICS Center in Ho Chi Minh and ISEE in Hanoi. Meanwhile, in Thailand, Blued is working with APCOM, a coalition of non-profits and various organizations in the Asia and the Pacific, to create HIV awareness campaigns for the gay community. APCOM is behind TESTBKK, an HIV testing campaign that was adopted in the Philippines also by TLY.

Beyond HIV-related efforts, Blued supports LGBT-related endeavors. In Vietnam, for instance, it is a major supporter of the upcoming Vietpride 2017, which will be held this 22nd to 24th of September.

“We continue to look for more ways to strengthen our existing initiatives,” Tan said. “We believe that LGBT empowerment and the HIV advocacy are causes that are very important to champion for us, especially as members of our community are highly affected by HIV and LGBT stigma and discrimination.”

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MORE THAN JUST A MEAT MARKET

Tan said that the impetus for the establishment of Blued is helping define its current direction.

Blued was launched in 2012 by Geng Le (a.k.a. Ma Baoli), a married former police officer in northern China. He secretly managed Danlan.org, a website for gay people, for 12 years. But his superiors eventually discovered the website, leading to Geng Le losing not only his job but also his family. It was this that drove him to create Blued

Blued now counts 27 million users (majority of them in its country of origin, China), making it the largest gay social network in the world. Every day, Blued sees active use from 11 million pax.

In the Philippines, Blued has about half a million users, with most between 19-32 years old. A big bulk of the current members come from Quezon City, San Juan City, Makati City, Banugao, Bacoor and Bacolod.

“Blued’s existence has been pivotal in shattering barriers for the gay community in China. Our vision to create a more inclusive community has led us to other spaces where we can offer our help,” Tan said. This is why “we are working with various organizations (to benefit) the gay and bi community. The seed to help was there from the very start, and not just grafted into our other efforts as an afterthought.”

Barriers continue to exist not just for gay and bi men, as well as other MSM (and even the other members of the LGBT community. In fact, over 70 countries still have laws that make same-sex relations a punishable offense.

For being LGBT, you can be sent to jail for 14 years or more in 66 countries (including Chad and India); and at least in 12 countries (including Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen), one can be punished by death for homosexual acts. A hundred countries (including Australia, Indonesia, Northern Cyprus and Russia) legalized homosexual acts; but other anti-LGBT restrictions continue to exist (e.g. ban on adoption and same-sex marriage/civil union).

For Tan, technology should be seen as a tool that can link instead of divide.

With the talk about – or even blaming of – technology as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines, what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.
PHOTO BY RELEXAHOTELS FROM PIXABAY.COM

And at least in the case of 22-year-old Quezon City native Xander, this proved to be the case.

His (latest) HIV test was non-reactive; but he was encouraged by the peer counselor to get himself tested again at least after three months, “just to be sure,” Xander said.

He stays in touch with that same counselor, “not just if I need information – such as where to get (free) condoms and lube, or about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – but also to recommend friends who want to get tested.” In this sense, Xander said that he’s glad “na gumagamit ako ng (that I use) apps in the first place,” he said. “Sabi nga (As they say): ‘Technology can be your friend, not an enemy’.”

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*NAMES CHANGED FOR THE INTERVIEWEES’ PRIVACY

MAIN IMAGE BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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Relevance of public & private sectors’ support highlighted in Quezon City’s 2018 Pride parade

Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held the last Pride parade in the Philippines for 2018.

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Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public (including government) and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

Hanz Defensor, who helms Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), the organizer of the annual gathering, told Outrage Magazine in an exclusive interview that Quezon City is “quite fortunate” that it now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

Signed by mayor Herbert Bautista (whose term ends in May 2019), City Ordinance 2357-2014, otherwise known as The Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, eyes to “to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, and The Yogyakarta Principles; and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the right of all people; regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

But Defensor said that, “admittedly, kulang pa rin (this is still lacking).” This is because – even if they already have the ADO and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), the actual implementation continues to be challenging.

Quezon City, Defensor noted as an example, has “a lot of business establishments, and while they know that discriminating against LGBTQIA people in the city is prohibited by law, not all of them actually have a copy of the ADO and the IRR to know the small details.”

READ:  City of Iloilo holds its first LGBT Pride march

As he encouraged particularly those affected by the ADO to “download (the same) from Quezon City’s official website”, he is also encouraging other local government units to already take steps to also protect their LGBTQIA constituents, perhaps learning from Quezon City’s example.

The same sentiment was expressed in a letter sent to QCPC by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who remarked that Quezon City’s ADO – which also mandates the annual holding of the Pride parade – “has become a source of inspiration for advocates of gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world” because “it has institutionalized the city’s progressive and inclusive policy that eliminates discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.”

Though criticized for pinkwashing, Duterte still expressed hope that Pride further strengthens “the solidarity of (the) community so you may inspire the entire nation with the diversity and dynamism of your talents and skills.”

To contextualize, past administrations did not openly support Pride-related events.

Also, even if Akbayan partylist – which is aligned with Liberal Party that helmed the country under Pres. Benigno Aquino III prior to Duterte’s term – has been sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill for almost 20 years now, it still fails to gain traction, including during Aquino’s administration when it was largely ignored.

As an FYI, Quezon City actually hosted the largely accepted first Pride March in Asia.

On June 26, 1994, ProGay Philippines and Metropolitan Community Church helmed a march in Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or as “Pride Revolution”, it was held in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots and coincided with a bigger march against the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

READ:  A need to be ‘out’?

Defensor stressed the need to be pro-active when confronting LGBTQIA-related discrimination. While the ADO is there, he said that should LGBTQIA people from Quezon City experience discrimination, “seek help” and know that “QCPC is here, and the LGU will back you.”

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San Juan hosts 2nd Pride parade to stress city’s support for ‘equality in diversity’

The City of San Juan held its second LGBTQIA Pride parade. According to San Juan City Vice Mayor Janella Ejercito Estrada: “San Juan Pride is about people recognizing individuality, diversity and equality. We are all equal…”

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Rainbow explosion in the City of San Juan.

Just as the year is about to close, the City of San Juan held its second LGBTQIA Pride parade. This is part of the mandate of City Ordinance No. 55, or the anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) of the City of San Juan, which was passed in the third quarter of 2017 to protect the human rights of its LGBTQIA constituents.

Exclusively interviewed by Outrage Magazine, San Juan City Vice Mayor Janella Ejercito Estrada – who backed the ADO when it was still being proposed by Councilor Mary Joy Ibuna-Leoy – said that “San Juan Pride is about people recognizing individuality, diversity and equality. Lahat naman tayo ay pantay-pantay (we are all equal)… and (so) I’m an advocate for equality.”

Estrada added: “We acknowledge that LGBT rights are human rights; and we protect (those) rights here in San Juan.”

Pride – including Metro Manila’s – is admittedly fast be becoming a commercial endeavor. But Faustino “Bubsie” L. Sabarez III, national chairman of LGBT Pilipinas, said that “we still need Pride because it highlights individuality and the celebration of diversity.” He added that “safe spaces are still needed to celebrate being LGBTQIA, and (Pride) is one such space.”

Dindi Tan, Secretary-General of LGBT Pilipinas, added that Pride – such as San Juan’s – shows “where we are now.”

The city, for instance, has its ADO. This ADO, by the way, is not exclusive to LGBTQI people, but is also for those who may experience discrimination based on: race, disability, ethnicity and religious affiliation.

City of San Juan passes LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance

San Juan’s ADO prohibits, among others: employment-related discrimination; discrimination in education; discrimination in delivery of goods and services; discrimination in accommodation; verbal/non-verbal ridicule and vilification; harassment, unjust detention and involuntary confinement; disallowance from entry or refusal to serve; and the promotion of LGBT discrimination. Any person held liable under the ordinance may be penalized with imprisonment for 60 days to a year or fined up to P3,000, or both, depending on the discretion of a court.

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Tan is also realistic in saying that the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) being pushed in the Senate by Sen. Rosa Hontiveros of Akbayan is basically dead. Its counterpart in the House of Representatives was passed with the big help of trans Rep. Geraldine Roman of the First District of Bataan; but the version in the Upper House failed to gain traction not only because of the opposition of select senators particularly Tito Sotto, Manny Pacquiao and Joel Villanueva, but also because of the exclusivist approach in the pushing for the ADB.

“Until an ADB is passed, we need ADOs,” Tan said. And local government units with ADOs “should be commended.”

Tan is also pushing for the election (in the 2019 May elections) of “politicians who will deliver,” she said, particularly “the promise for an ADB.”

Moving forward, Vice Mayor Estrada said that they are already eyeing other LGBTQIA-related efforts – e.g. broadening the city’s anti-HIV efforts to “ensure that testing, and then treatment, care and support are widely rendered in the city.”

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People now embrace different forms of intimate relationships that flout cultural norms

Social media and the internet empowered individuals with diverse identities and relationship practices to find each other, raising awareness of connections that challenge traditional ideas about the meaning of intimacy. 

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Photo by Dani Vivanco from Unsplash.com

The 21st century ushered in a “quiet revolution” in the diversity of intimate relationships. With the scale and pace of this social transformation, what is needed is a “reboot” of relationship studies.

This is according to Phillip Hammack, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz; and lead author of “Queer Intimacies: A New Paradigm for the Study of Relationship Diversity,” an article that appeared in the online edition of The Journal of Sex Research. Hammack’s co-authors include David Frost, associate professor of social psychology at University College London, and Sam Hughes, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz.

For the authors, social media and the internet empowered individuals with diverse identities and relationship practices to find each other, raising awareness of connections that challenge traditional ideas about the meaning of intimacy.

“I’ve been calling it a quiet revolution, because it’s very different than the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s, which were so visible,” said Hammack.

Hammack said the “quiet revolution” is affected by “queer intimacies”, meaning “any and all intimate relationships that challenge norms.” “It’s a use of ‘queer’ that actually originated at UC Santa Cruz with the phrase ‘queer theory’ in 1990,” Hammack said.

Particularly in countries like the US, Hammack said that marriage equality (same-sex marriage was legalized in the US in 2015) is the backdrop for the explosion of relationship diversity that has occurred since the early 2000s.

“Marriage equality opens up the lens to think about diversity beyond just the gender of the people in a relationship,” said Hammack, noting that asexuality, polyamory, and kink/fetish all challenge dominant notions of intimacy.

Will you open up?

These people are thriving in intimate relationships far from the cultural norms of monogamy and heterosexuality, including asexual, polyamorous, transgender and gender nonbinary, pansexual, and kink/fetish relationships.

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He also said that “it’s a myth that asexual people aren’t in relationships just because they experience little or no sexual desire,” said Hammack. “The assumption is that they are suffering, lonely, and without partners, but that’s not true. They do have intimate relationships, but we don’t know much about them.”

People who identify as asexual “violate the fundamental assumption that intimate relationships are inherently characterized by sex,” said Hammack. They started to organize in the early 2000s, thanks to the internet.

Asexuality was removed from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013.

In a similar challenge to cultural norms, those who choose polyamorous relationships violate conventions of monogamy by allowing partners to love more than one person. Although gay men have a long tradition of open relationships, and ‘swinging’ was favored by some straight couples in the 1970s, polyamory now appears in the Oxford English Dictionary, following what Hammack referred to as a “simmering movement that challenged heteronormative conventions about what an ideal relationship is supposed to look like.”

Mainstream representations are also affecting concepts and/or relationship practices. For instance, the success of the 2011 novel Fifty Shades of Grey is said to have helped propel mainstream discussion of kink/fetish relationships, which highlight consensual asymmetrical power dynamics in intimate relationships.

Hammack, nonetheless, admitted that even if it made people curious, “the novel was problematic because it didn’t accurately represent the consensual way relationships are configured in the kink community… Kink relationships have been stigmatized because the expectation is that relationships are supposed to be ‘equal’.”

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Unfortunately, Hammack said that researchers still know little about what happens within kink/fetish relationships. “To what extent is the power asymmetry just during sex? We don’t know,” said Hammack. “Most of this science doesn’t talk about the relationships. It just talks about specific kinky practices… There’s almost no recognition of relationships – it’s all about sexual gratification, which is only part of the picture.”

Yet other concepts that have emerged are: “queer heterosexuality”, as well as changes in ideas about “chosen families.”

“Heterosexuality is opening up like never before,” said Hammack. “More people who identify as straight will have some same-sex experience – they even refer to ‘heteroflexibility.’ They are not opposed to same-sex encounters.”

Younger gay men moving away from non-monogamous relationships, study says

This trend is long-established among women, but it’s new among men – and it’s distinct from bisexuality because these men don’t feel equally attracted to men and women. “It’s fascinating to see masculinity opening up this way,” he said.

Hammack noted that still “very, very little” is known about the phenomenon of chosen families as distinct from biological families. This is a phenomenon that has been historically associated with gays and lesbians who “create their own families” after being rejected by biological relatives; however, its prevalence remains a mystery.

This is why Hammack said that more research initiatives should be done to focus on diversity in intimate relationships to “document the diversity of what’s happening out there,” Hammack ended.

READ:  A need to be ‘out’?

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1 percent of children aged 9-10 self-identify as gay, bi or trans

While 1% of youth aged 9 and 10 self-identified as LGBT, their parents reported they believed their children were gay, bisexual or transgender at a higher rate.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

About 1% of 9 and 10-year old children surveyed self-identified as gay, bisexual or transgender. 

This finding was detailed in “Child Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Cohort Study,” co-authored by Jerel P. Calzo and Aaron J. Blashill, and which appeared in JAMA Pediatrics.

Majority of studies indicate that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) self-identification generally occurs during the mid-adolescent years. So “this is such an important stage, biologically and socially,”said lead author Calzo, an associate professor in the SDSU School of Public Health.

At 9 and 10, youth – whether through their peers, media or parents – are beginning to be exposed to more information about relationships and interacting in the world. Also, they may not see any of this as sexual, but they are beginning to experience strong feelings, said Calzo.

Calzo and Blashill utilized the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study dataset, a multisite, longitudinal study exploring brain development and health among children aged 9 and 10 over a 10-year period, leading to the 1 percent finding for self-identification.

“One percent is sizable, given that they are so young,” Blashill said. “For so long, social scientists have assumed that there is no point in asking kids at this age about their sexual orientation, believing they do not have the cognitive ability to understand.” But “it is important to have a baseline to understand how sexuality develops and how it may change over time.”

Blashill and Calzo also sought to understand how parents perceived their children’s sexual and gender identities. Surprisingly, nearly 7% of parents, when asked about the sexual identity of their children, reported their child might be gay; and 1.2% reported that their child might be transgender.

READ:  Study finds transgender youth at higher risk for negative mental health outcomes

Another finding was that children overwhelmingly reported no problems at home or school related to their minority sexual orientation or gender identity while 7% of parents reported gender identity-based problems.

As sexual and gender minorities experience higher rates of physical and mental health issues than do their heterosexual counterparts, the research “may provide crucial insights into resiliency development within the LGBT community”, said the authors, adding that “it could also help lead to improved programs and policies to better serve the community.”

Yet another key finding is the need for researchers to identify better ways to explore identity issues among younger populations, with about 24% of those surveyed indicating that they did not understand questions about sexual orientation.

“If we can understand identity development earlier and can track development using large datasets, we can begin improving research and prevention around risk and protective factors,” Calzo said,.

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Bullying ‘follows’ LGB people from school to work

35.2% of gay/bisexual men who had experienced frequent school-age bullying experience frequent workplace bullying. Among lesbian women, the figure was 29%.

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IMAGE USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSE ONLY; PHOTO DETAIL BY CHRISTIAN STERK FROM UNSPLASH.COM

Around one in three lesbian, gay and bi individuals who are bullied at school will have similar experiences in the workplace later in life.

This is according to “School-Age Bullying, Workplace Bullying and Job Satisfaction: Experiences of LGB People in Britain”, a research done by Nick Drydakis from The Manchester School.

For this research, Drydakis approached 400 LGB individuals to ask them about their experiences at school, and also asked them about bullying at their current workplace. He found that 35.2% of gay/bisexual men who had experienced frequent school-age bullying experience frequent workplace bullying. Among lesbian women, the figure was 29%.

When describing their experiences at school, 73% of gay men said they were either constantly, frequently or sometimes bullied. Just 9.9% said they were never bullied. Among lesbian women, 59% experienced constant, frequent, or occasional bullying. The mean age of participants was 37, meaning their school years would have been approximately between 1985 and 1997.

The research also examined job satisfaction. Most gay men said they were “dissatisfied” with their job (56%), while this was also the most common answer for lesbian women (47%).

“This study suggests that bullying may be a chronic problem for LGB individuals, which continues from school to the workplace,” Drydakis said.

This could be for a number of reasons – school-age bullying could be more likely to lead to low self-esteem, a difficulty in forming trusting relationships, or a greater risk of poor mental health. Factors like these may make it more likely they will experience bullying in the workplace later in life.

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“Post school-age bullying victims might exhibit characteristics of vulnerability, such as sub-assertive behaviors, which make them attractive targets for unfavorable treatments and evaluations from colleagues and employers in the workplace. “In turn, individuals, firms and society as a whole face long-lasting negative effects which appear to begin in the playground,” Drydakis said.

There is also a negative association between bullying of LGB individuals, and job satisfaction.

Interestingly, the research found that the existence of a workplace group for LGB individuals appeared to result in better job satisfaction, perhaps a lesson for employers wanting a more satisfied and motivated workforce.

“The outcomes of this study suggest… that bullying, when it is experienced by sexual orientation minorities tends to persist over time,” the research concludes. And so “anti‐bullying strategies and affirmative actions in school and the workplace might be of consideration.”

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Conversion ‘therapy’ begins at home

Study shows pivotal role of parents in “conversion” efforts to change LGBT adolescents’ sexual orientation.

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LGBT hate – like love – begins at home.

Parents – not just therapists and religious leaders – play a big role in attempts to change the sexual orientation (often called “conversion therapy”) of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people who experience sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence.

This is according to a study from the Family Acceptance Project (FAP), dubbed “Parent-Initiated Sexual Orientation Change Efforts with LGBT Adolescents: Implications for Young Adult Mental Health and Adjustment“, which examined the sexual orientation change experiences for LGBT youth across several domains and asked about conversion experiences with both parents/caregivers and with practitioners and religious leaders. This study builds on an earlier FAP project study on family rejection and health risks that identified and measured more than 50 specific family rejecting behaviors that include parental and caregiver efforts and external interventions to change their LGBT child’s sexual orientation.

In the study published online in the Journal of Homosexuality, more than half (53%) of LGBT non-Latino white and Latino young adults, ages 21-25, reported experiencing sexual orientation change efforts during adolescence. Of these, 21% reported specific experiences by parents and caregivers to change their sexual orientation at home; and 32% reported sexual orientation change efforts by both parents and by therapists and religious leaders.

Notably, according to the researchers, “any sexual orientation change efforts – whether by parents alone or by parents, therapists and religious leaders contribute to higher risk for LGBT young people. However, those who experience both parental and external conversion efforts by therapists or religious leaders had the highest levels of risk.”

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The role of parental support is worth highlighting, because – whether change efforts are carried out at home by parents and caregivers or by practitioners and religious leaders – parents serve as gatekeepers to both engage in and take their LGBT children for external conversion interventions. Both home-based parent and external sexual orientation conversion interventions by therapists and religious leaders, coupled with parent conversion efforts, contribute to multiple health and adjustment problems in young adulthood. These include higher levels of depression and suicidal behavior, as well as lower levels of self-esteem, social support and life satisfaction, and lower levels of education and income in young adulthood, compared with LGBT young people who did not experience conversion efforts.

Other study findings include:

  • Rates of attempted suicide by LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation were more than double (48%) the rate of LGBT young adults who reported no conversion experiences (22%). Suicide attempts nearly tripled for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and intervention efforts by therapists and religious leaders (63%).
  • High levels of depression more than doubled (33%) for LGBT young people whose parents tried to change their sexual orientation compared with those who reported no conversion experiences (16%) and more than tripled (52%) for LGBT young people who reported both home-based efforts to change their sexual orientation by parents and external sexual orientation change efforts by therapists and religious leaders.
  • Sexual orientation change experiences during adolescence by both parents / caregivers and externally by therapists and religious leaders were associated with lower young adult socioeconomic status: less educational attainment and lower weekly income.
  • LGBT adolescents from highly religious families and those from families with lower socioeconomic status were most likely to experience both home-based and external conversion efforts, while those who were gender nonconforming and who were from immigrant families were more likely to experience external conversion efforts initiated by parents and caregivers.
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“Although parents and religious leaders who try to change a child’s LGBT identity may be motivated by attempts to ‘protect’ their children, these rejecting behaviors instead undermine an LGBT child’s sense of self-worth, contribute to self-destructive behaviors that significantly increase risk and inhibit self-care which includes constricting their ability to make a living,” said Dr. Caitlin Ryan, director of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University and lead author noted.

“We now have even more dramatic evidence of the lasting personal and social cost of subjecting young people to so-called ‘change’ or ‘conversion’ therapies. Prior studies with adults have shown how harmful these practices are. Our study shows the role central role that parents play. It is clear that there are public health costs of ‘change’ efforts for LGBT adolescents over the long-term. The kind of change we really need is family education and intervention” added study co-author, Stephen T. Russell, Ph.D., Regents Professor, University of Texas at Austin.

Although responses to prevent conversion efforts particularly overseas have focused on adopting laws to curtail licensed practitioners from engaging in sexual orientation change interventions (deemed unethical and harmful by mainstream professional associations), this study nonetheless underscores “the urgent need for culturally appropriate education and guidance for families and religious leaders to provide accurate information on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, on the harmful effects of family rejecting behaviors which include sexual orientation conversion efforts, and on the need for supporting LGBT young people to reduce risk and increase well-being.”

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