“Undoing Stigma” at the Gay Men’s Health Summit

The summit drew many young people and had a large focus on gay and bisexual youth issues. - Photo by Jessica Whitesel

The 11th Gay Men’s Health Summit welcomed guests to learn about how sexual minorities cope with stigma. The theme of the event, which washosted at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, was “Undoing Stigma.”

Over two days, the summit hosted numerous panels, workshops, and keynotes that addressed issues specific to the gay, bisexual, trans, and queer men’s community and their health, which encompassed mental, social, and physical health.

Each part of the program provided insight into how the health of LGBTQ+ men faces three different kinds of stigma: personal, which is psychological; interpersonal, which encompasses micro aggressions and hate crimes; and structural, which is created by broad social norms at the societal level.

One initiative that was presented was Totally Outright, which was created to reduce stigma and create strong youth leaders within the community. The goal of Totally Outright is to educate “young guys who like guys” in all aspects of gay men’s health.

There was a panel discussion that focused both on issues pertaining especially to young gay men, as well as initiatives launched as a result of Totally Outright. One such initiative is “Think Before You Type,” which addresses sexualized racism common in dating apps such as Grindr.

Panelist Vincent Francoeur spoke of the creation of a space for young gay men as a possible initiative: “a place that would be sexy and cool enough to attract all the guys, not just the ones who are living through difficult time. A place that would put education and communication at the top list of its priorities. A place where there [is] no judgement, and that is inclusive.”

The Resist Stigma project, which will launch towards the end of the year,  focuses on “[engaging] gay, bi, queer, and trans men from all across the country to work towards resilience, community, and empowerment — a challenge for many queer guys,” according to Francoeur.

“We’re creating space and conversation about race, colonialism, sexuality, health, and bodies — topics that a lot of queer guys might not feel safe to talk about,” said Brent Saccucci, Education & Research Coordinator for the Gender-Based Violence Prevention Project started by the University of Alberta Students’ Union, on the Resist Stigma project.

The summit also featured the work of numerous SFU-affiliated researchers, such as Ben Klassen and Patrick Aubert. Klassen’s research focused on the effect that Angles — a Vancouver based gay men’s publication — had during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s in reducing the stigma surrounding people who were HIV positive or living with AIDS.

Aubert’s research focused on end-of-life planning for older gay men, and the negative effects of stigma on their lives. For these men, stigma could represent health care providers neglecting the importance of their partners, or lacking strong familial connections.

Throughout the summit, it became clear that speaking out and sharing your own story — as well as listening to others’ — is a key step they wanted to share for reducing stigma. Sizwe Inkingni, committee member on the Resist Stigma, remarked, “Our stories have power.”