Seattle activists report back from Gay Men's Health Summit
by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
On Monday, August 27, Project NEON (Needle Exchange and Sex Education Outreach Network), a harm-reduction program for Gay and Bisexual male users of crystal methamphetamine, presented its monthly health workshop at Seattle Counseling Service (SCS). While usually related to substance use - especially meth use and its correlation to mental health, sexuality, and HIV - this month's subject was a broad look at MSM health in general. Five panelists who represented Seattle at last month's Gay Men's Health Summit in Washington, D.C., gave a kind of 'report back.' For two hours, panelists and participants discussed multiple issues around the health of Gay and Bisexual men.
'We're just here to share that experience and have a wonderful, beautiful conversation,' said Aleks Martin of Project NEON, who led the discussion.
'I view it as a family gathering, a reunion of sorts,' said Sister Glo Euro N'Wei of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Abbey of St. Joan. Sister Glo has been attending the biannual summit for a decade.
HIV AND HOMOPHOBIA
'Gay men are more than just their HIV and STD status,' said Jeff Rinderle, wellness director at Gay City Health Project.
One of the issues raised was that when people think of Gay men's health, whether they're Gay or straight, HIV is often the first thing that comes to mind, but panelists and attendees all agreed and discussed why Gay men's health is so much more than that.
From drug use to body image, mental health to other STDs, tobacco use to stigmatization, there is a plethora of health issues Gay and Bisexual men face that are linked to their sexuality.
'Homophobia can actually help spread HIV,' said one attendee, 'because it forces people back into the closet.'
One of the many important things discussed was that there seems to be a very different stigmatization of Gay/Bisexual men who don't use condoms versus straight men who don't. Namely, if you're straight, you're thought likely to get someone pregnant. If you're Gay or Bi, regardless of your status, you're considered part of the HIV problem.
THE GONORRHEA MENACE
The new 'drug resistant' form of gonorrhea was also a hot topic. Panelists Aric Lane, of the University of Washington, and Brett Niessen, of Public Health - Seattle and King County, wanted to assure attendees that the CDC isn't yet ready to use those words about the new cases. While it's true that Gonorrhea has progressively developed resistance to the antibiotic drugs prescribed to treat it, the CDC says that currently the STD is still treatable.
However, this shouldn't suggest that gonorrhea isn't a problem for men who have sex with men (MSM) in Seattle. In fact, it may be a bigger problem than most of us think.
According to Rinderle, 10% of symptomless people who test for gonorrhea at Gay City test positive.
'If you're sexually active, get screened for STDs,' said Rinderle.
Both Rinderle and Sister Glo pointed out that when testing for gonorrhea, you need to be honest with your provider and yourself about your activity, because testing 'locally' for the STD further helps stop spread infection.
'Locally' means if you know you need to get your mouth checked, get it done; if you know you need to get your behind checked, you need to do that too. Getting checked for gonorrhea is more than just getting your 'bore punched,' because Seattle MSMs may be carrying without symptoms in places they didn't even know they could.
Sister Glo observed that it's hard to be honest with our health care providers about our sex practices, because we often can't be honest with each other and ourselves about them.
Whether it's because of self-imposed shame, or because unlike other minorities we have to find our way into our community, or something else entirely, there seems to be some truth behind Glo's words. Glo said that conversations about sex need to happen outside of the bedroom among friends, just as much as they need to happen inside the bedroom among sex partners.
WORKSHOPS ARE ONGOING
'Last month, we featured the documentary Meth by director Todd Ahlberg, which depicts the realities of active addiction to the challenges of recovery as told by Gay men affected by meth,' said Martin. 'It was followed by a panel discussion comprised of men in recovery and in active addiction, a drug and alcohol counselor, and a mental health therapist.'
The workshops are held on the fourth Monday of each month at SCS. To learn more, visit www.seattlecounseling.org or look them up on Facebook.
'Seattle is way ahead of some other places,' said Martin. 'We have a lot of talent here, a lot of resources.'
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