Lisa Keen | National News Correspondent
Important health-related risks identified
A report released March 27 by the Boston-based Fenway Institute has found important health-related risks within the LGB community that are not well documented or well known and not addressed by prevention and treatment programs.
Many studies have shown that gay men have a higher risk of HIV infection and that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied and considering suicide. But the new policy brief from Fenway found that the LGB community has a higher rate of tobacco use than the general public, that lesbians have an increased risk of being overweight, and that LGB elders have an increased risk of disability.
The Fenway report is based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys (BRFSS) in all 50 states, reaching 506,000 people. CDC provides the core questionnaire for each state to administer, asking questions about such health-related matters as diet, physical activity, smoking, immunization, and sleep, but does not ask about sexual orientation.
Only 27 states have, on their own initiative, begun asking questions about sexual orientation and/or same-sex sexual behavior, according to the Fenway report. Because sexual orientation data is not collected in all 50 states, “it is impossible to compare their health behaviors to those of other groups,” said the report. “Without this information, states may miss the opportunity to develop programs, policies, and services to address local health disparities.”
The Fenway report urges all states “to include, at a minimum, a sexual identity measure, and, whenever possible, to also include a sexual behavior measure.” Due to the “nuances and complexity of measuring gender identity, and the unique and understudied health disparities transgender people face,” said the Fenway report, “a comprehensive assessment of these issues” requires another report.
Some of the specific findings of Fenway’s analysis of data collected by the 27 states that do ask questions about sexual identity and/or same-sex sexual behavior include:
• Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to obtain mammograms and Pap tests;
• Gay men have higher rates of alcohol and drug use;
• LGB people have higher rates of tobacco use and are more likely to lack health insurance;
• LGB older adults have increased risk of disability, excessive drinking, and smoking;
• 18 percent of doctors in California are “sometimes” or “often” uncomfortable treating gay patients;
• 9.4 percent of men who identified themselves as “straight” in New York City had sex with another man during the past year; and
• 76 percent of self-identified lesbian sexually active adolescents reported having had sex with a male.
Of the 27 states, some have asked the question about sexual orientation in only one year; some every year. Those states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
The Fenway report urges all 50 states going forward to begin asking about sexual orientation.
“Collecting sexual orientation data at the state level can propel the federal initiative forward and enhance states’ ability to document and work toward eliminating health disparities experienced by their own populations,” the report said.
Gay Rhode Island Speaker resigns
Gordon Fox, the openly gay speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, abruptly resigned his leadership position March 22 following a police raid on his home March 21 for a criminal investigation.
The subjection of the investigation has yet to be disclosed. The Providence Journal reported Saturday night that federal and state police agents with search warrants entered Fox’s home and State House office Friday and took away “boxes of evidence.”
As of March 23, the State House website and Fox’s website as speaker contained no statements concerning the investigation, but the local NBC affiliate said Fox issued a statement, saying he was resigning the speaker position so that “yesterday’s events” would not “distract my colleagues from addressing the challenges facing Rhode Island.” He said he would serve out the remainder of his term as state representative, but would not seek another term.
“My personal focus going forward will be on my family and dealing with the investigation,” Fox stated. “Because of the nature of this matter, I will not be commenting further.”
According to various news reports, Fox has twice been ordered to pay civil fines to the state ethics commission. One involved a failure to disclose that his law firm would benefit from his vote for a lottery vendor seeking a state contract. The other, just this year, involved his failure to report that his law firm profited from work done for Providence’s economic development agency. He also suffered political backlash for supporting a $75 million state loan guarantee for a former Red Sox player’s video game company that went bankrupt.
Fox won a seat in the House of Representatives in 1992 and rose to become speaker in 2010. According to the Boston Globe, Fox came out as gay in 2004 “in an unplanned announcement, while addressing a gay marriage rally at the Statehouse.”
It angered many LGBT people in 2011 when he refused to let a marriage equality bill to the floor because he said there was “no realistic chance for passage of the bill in the Senate.” But two years later, he was seen as playing a critical role in passage of the bill in the House and persuading Senate President Teresa Weed to let the bill onto the Senate floor.
The marriage equality bill passed the House in January 2013, then the Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Lincoln Chafee on May 2, 2013.
—Lisa Keen is an award-winning journalist who spent 18 years as editor of the Washington Blade. See more news from Keen and other select veteran gay journalists at keennewsservice.com.