When it comes to LGBT health, Vancouver has been and continues to be at the forefront of medical developments, socially progressive initiatives, and humane responses in the face of discrimination.
A prime example is when the HIV/AIDS crisis hit Vancouver in the 1980s. As the epidemic ravaged the city’s queer male community during an era still entrenched in widespread homophobia, among the first to respond were local health-industry professionals, organizations, researchers, and volunteers from all walks of life. Their efforts initiated a B.C. medical movement that continues to be built upon to this day.
Among the forerunners was Dr. Peter Jepson-Young, a local doctor who was diagnosed with advanced AIDS in 1986. With the CBC TV series The Dr. Peter Diaries, he provided audiences with a much-needed intimate view of the then little understood and highly stigmatized condition. Before he died in 1992, he launched the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation, which, in turn, opened the Dr. Peter Centre in 2003.
The notable number of locally based HIV organizations includes the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, AIDS Vancouver, YouthCO, Positive Living B.C., A Loving Spoonful, the Pacific AIDS Network, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, and the Positive Women’s Network (which is closing after 25 years).
Meanwhile, Positive Living B.C.’s biannual AccolAIDS awards gala brings together provincial HIV-movement members to celebrate and honour the community’s outstanding people and organizations. Although there are too many to list, one celebrated individual is Dr. Julio Montaner, who received the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada, was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, and received the $100,000 Killam Prize in May for his lifetime devotion to the care and treatment of people with HIV/AIDS.
The Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men’s Health has contributed to the research on queer male health by conducting a gay men’s health survey (which it started in 2002) and holding its annual Gay Men’s Health Summit at SFU Harbour Centre to bring together medical researchers.
Although the severity of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and sexual-health issues have consumed the majority of the LGBT community’s focus and funding during the past few decades, medical advances in HIV treatment have allowed attention to expand to other health issues.
For instance, Health Initiative for Men (which opened in 2009) addresses health by viewing sexual, physical, social, and emotional health as interrelated. While they operate testing clinics, they also run diverse programs, including counselling, fitness groups, cooking and financial workshops, art classes, discussions groups, and more. And while men have traditionally neglected their own health issues, UBC Men’s Health Research is countering that, including exploring depression and suicide among queer men and women.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Saewyc, the executive director of the Stigma and Resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre, has been producing a body of research on youth, schools, and policies that reveals that all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, benefit from policies and initiatives that counter homophobia, transphobia, and bullying.
While awareness of and education about transgender issues in the medical profession remain ongoing, the Catherine White Holman Wellness Centre (named after the late groundbreaking, local social worker) provides services to gender-diverse individuals. Services range from pre- and post-op support to nutrition and counselling.
Also notable is UBC Sexual Health Laboratory head and professor Lori Brotto, who is breaking new ground with her research on the little-understood realm of asexuality.
Although there are far too many individuals and organizations to mention, this brief snapshot shows that Vancouver’s contribution to LGBT health is something that we can all take pride in.