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Health experts to address high STI rates in gays

STI, gay news, Washington Blade

UK health officials report record high STI rates for gay men there.

LONDON — Health experts in the UK were slated to meet in London Friday to share evidence and devise new strategies to address what they say are record high STI rates for gay men there, the Independent reports.

Rates of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis in gay men have soared in recent years, official figures show, while new HIV infections have also reached record highs, the paper said.

Experts say that, paradoxically, the rise of successful drug treatments for HIV has contributed to increased infection rates for other sexually transmitted infections. More men are having unprotected sex in the assumption that they no longer need to wear a condom to protect themselves from the virus, once considered a death sentence before the advent of effective anti-retroviral drugs. Other men are lowering their risk by sero-sorting, or ensuring partners have the same HIV status as them, but then having unprotected sex, risking the transmission of other infections, the Independent said.

The problem has taken on a worrying new dimension in the past five years, with a minority of gay men, particularly in London and other major cities, taking up high risk sexual behavior associated with the injection club drugs such as crystal meth.

Infection rates for HIV itself are also on the rise, with 3,250 new diagnoses in men who have sex with men the UK in 2012, an all-time high, the paper reported.

There were 36,000 STI diagnoses in men who have sex with men in England alone in 2012, including 8,500 new cases of chlamydia, 10,800 for gonorrhoea and 2,100 cases of syphilis. Although improved testing and screening explains some of the rise, health experts agree that high risk behaviours have become much more common, the Independent reports.


U.K. group hopes to improve health of gay men

Pink Jack, United Kingdom, U.K., gay news, Washington Blade

Workers with Public Health England said gay and bi men in the U.K. are twice as likely to be depressed or anxious as straight men, that smoking rates are higher and the number of STDs has risen sharply.

LONDON — Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by poor sexual health, mental health challenges and use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco, Public Health England, a health agency, said in the first of several documents to be released, Pink News, a British gay news agency, reports.

The documents, which researchers there plan to use as a framework for action over the next six months, find that men who have sex with men account for about 5.5 percent of the male population in the United Kingdom. Public Health England workers hope that by targeting these areas, they will “help [men who have sex with men] to enjoy long, healthy lives, to have respectful and fulfilling social and sexual relationships and to significantly reduce the annul number of new HIV infections … by 2020.”

Workers with the agency said gay and bi men there are twice as likely to be depressed or anxious as straight men, that smoking rates are higher, gonorrhea rates are higher and the number of sexually transmitted diseases there has risen sharply in recent years. Some of that has been attributed to increased testing, but researchers are also concerned with “ongoing high levels of unsafe sex,” the Pink News article said.


Sex party kits distributed to London gays

vaccine, syringe, gay news, Washington Blade, chemsex

Sex party kits distributed to U.K. gay men engaging in ‘chemsex’ include color-coded syringes to reduce HIV infection via needles.

LONDON — Gay British men who go to sex parties where drugs are used are being given free kits to protect them from HIV, the Evening Standard reports.

The Burrell Street sexual health clinic in London’s Southwark Borough, is the first in the U.K. to provide packs of clean syringes, spoons and thermometers in response to the rise of “chemsex,” the Standard says.

So-called slamming parties can last for days and involve men often sharing partners and having unprotected sex while under the influence of illegal drugs such as crystal meth and GBL.

The clinic has distributed more than 120 kits since December after a report commissioned by three south London boroughs warned that men indulging in chemsex were placing themselves at significant risk, the Standard reports.

Robert Palmer, a psychotherapist at Burrell Street, said: “Our slamming kits are by no means designed to encourage men to take part in this trend. They’re to ensure that if men are choosing to inject, that they are doing it safely. The kits contain color-coded needles so each user can easily see which is theirs, lessening the chance of using someone else’s,” the Evening Standard quoted him as having said.

The report, by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, warned that chemsex could be to blame for rising rates of HIV and sexually transmitted infections among men who have sex with men. Lambeth and Southwark have the highest rates of HIV in the UK.

Researchers found that while chemsex was “uncommon,” vulnerable men were putting themselves and their partners at risk by engaging, the paper said.


Higher HIV rates in London draw controversy

London, gay news, Washington Blade

One blogger is calling a spate of articles about drugs and HIV in London’s gay community as ‘overwrought.’ (Photo by Massimo Catarinella via Wikimedia Commons)

LONDON — The latest numbers from Public Health England for HIV infections among gay men there have inspired a spate of articles in the British press about cavalier drug and sex parties there, especially in London. But others are saying the rates appear higher because more people are getting tested and that the reports are sensationalist and somewhat anti-gay.

The Independent and others reported in articles published last week that rates of infection in Great Britain are up 8 percent reflecting 3,240 new infections among men who have sex with men while London accounted for 1,720 of the infections, reflecting a 17 percent increase since 2011, the paper reported citing figures from Public Health England published in The Lancet.

An Information Daily article quoted David Stuart from LGBT charity London Friend on the figures and trends behind them.

“Some gay men are preferring to have sex without condoms for a variety of complicated reasons associated with a changing HIV health situation and using drug to manage a complex relationship to sex, intimacy and gay identity,” he was quoted as having said. “Mix this with an alarming increase in injecting use and a reluctance to access traditional drug services and the potential for a costly and culturally harmful epidemic of HIV and drug use is enormous.”

Although the Independent article made passing reference to “some” of the increase being “attributed to more widespread HIV testing,” it cited only “anecdotal” evidence for the “growing issue.” The Information article referenced a “high-risk sex party and drug taking subculture within London’s gay community.”

Some observers say the articles are “overwrought.”

“This makes a good story in the press because it puts gay men right where they want them: sweating, wide-eyed in dark, cavernous clubs, their hands all over each other’s bodies — super-toned, because we all live in the gym, remember,” writes a Huffington Post blogger known as “The Guyliner.” “It’s easier to be frightened and place the blame on a part of society when you imagine their activities to be on the fringes of the law and decency.”

The blogger attributes the spike largely to less stigma around getting tested and budgets being “slashed” on HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns since anti-retroviral therapy became widely accessible.


Glenn Greenwald’s partner detained in London

Glenn Greenwald via wikimedia

Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for the Guardian, criticized British officials for detaining his partner in London.

The partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote about classified U.S. surveillance information leaked by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, was detained in London on Sunday by British authorities under a controversial anti-terrorism law.

The Guardian newspaper, for which Greenwald is a reporter and columnist, disclosed that British law enforcement officials invoked the British Terrorism Act of 2000 to detain David Miranda, 28, at London’s Heathrow Airport for nine hours.

Miranda and Greenwald live together in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Greenwald, an American citizen, has said he and Miranda, a Brazilian national, set up a household in Rio prior to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented Miranda from obtaining U.S. residency as Greenwald’s spouse.

The British-based Guardian reported on Sunday afternoon that airport authorities refused to disclose why they detained Miranda when he arrived on a flight from Berlin, where he was helping an American filmmaker who has been collaborating with Greenwald on a project related to the documents leaked by Snowden.

The Guardian reported that the authorities released Miranda after holding him for nine hours, the maximum time allowed for detaining someone under the anti-terrorism law without placing the person being detained under arrest.

A spokesperson for Scotland Yard, the London police agency, told the Guardian that a “28-year-old man was detained at Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act of 2000” and was later released but provided no further details. According to the Guardian, the authorities confiscated Miranda’s laptop computer, cell phone, camera, memory sticks, DVDs, and games consoles.

“This is a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process,” Greenwald said in a posting Sunday on the Guardian website. “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation to those of us who have been reporting on the NSA and GCHQ,” he said.

“But the last thing it will do is intimidate or deter us in any way from doing our job as journalists,” Greenwald said in is posting. “Quite the contrary: it will only embolden us to continue to report aggressively.”

The GCHQ is a British intelligence agency.

In June, U.S. federal prosecutors charged Snowden with violating the U.S. Espionage Act and theft of government property for the leaking of classified information in his role as an NSA contractor while employed by the contracting company Booz Allen Hamilton.

Snowden left the U.S. prior to the Guardian’s publication of the information he leaked. He surfaced first in Hong Kong, where he agreed to news media interviews, before fleeing to Russia, where he has been given temporary political asylum.

U.S. prosecutors working on the Snowden case couldn’t immediately be reached to determine whether British authorities consulted them about their detaining and questioning of Miranda.


UK study tracks LGB smoking, alcohol use

smoking, youth, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are more likely to smoke than their straight peers, a study found. (Photo by Velentin Ottone)

NEW YORK — LGB young people are twice as likely to have smoked as their straight peers, according to a new UK study published in the BMJ Open (an online medical journal) and reported by Health Canal.

Researchers from five UK universities along with a doctor and consultant from Public Health England looked at data from about 7,600 participants from a study dubbed “Young People in England,” which followed teens from the ages of 13 or 14 through the next five years. At the end of the period, when participants were either 18 or 19, they were asked their sexual orientation. LGBs were 3.5 percent of the sample group. Lesbian and gay participants were more likely to say they drank frequently (more than weekly) and report frequent intoxication. Bi participants were more likely to have smoked but had similar alcohol use to straight participants, Health Canal reported.

“From a public health perspective, we need to understand why young gay, lesbian and bisexual people are more likely to engage in risky health behaviors than their heterosexual peers,” said Dr. Gareth Hagger-Johnson, one of the researchers, in the Health Canal article. “This will need to involve longitudinal research, following a large sample of lesbian, gay and bisexual young people over time. We are concerned that ‘minority stress,’ resulting from homophobia and heterosexism, might lead people to self medicate symptoms of anxiety and depression with cigarettes and alcohol.”


Queen Elizabeth posthumously pardons Alan Turing

Alan Turing, gay news, Washington Blade

Alan Turing (Photo courtesy of King’s College Library)

Queen Elizabeth II on Dec. 23 posthumously pardoned pioneering mathematician Alan Turing more than six decades after British authorities convicted him of homosexuality.

Turing, whom the New York Times described as the “father of modern computing,” broke Germany’s secret Engima code during World War II.

British authorities in 1952 charged Turing with gross indecency for having a relationship with another man. He underwent chemical castration as an alternative to serving a prison sentence.

Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of 41.

“Dr. Turing deserves to be remembered and recognized for his fantastic contribution to the war effort and his legacy to science,” said U.K. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling who signed the pardon, according to “A pardon from the queen is a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron also welcomed the pardon in a statement.

“His action saved countless lives,” he said, according to the New York Times. “He also left a remarkable national legacy through his substantial scientific achievements, often being referred to as the ‘father of modern computing.’”

Then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009 apologized on behalf of the U.K. government for the way authorities treated Turing in response to a campaign that, LGBT rights advocate Peter Tatchell and others supported. The British government subsequently rejected an effort to pardon the pioneering mathematician because it said he was “properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence” as noted.

A bill that would have pardoned Turing stalled earlier this month in the British House of Commons.

Patrick Sammon, former executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, chronicled Turing in a documentary that premiered in D.C. in 2012.


U.K. House of Commons approves marriage bill

Great Britain, England, British House of Parliament, House of Commons, House of Lords, Big Ben, gay news, Washington Blade

A same-sex marriage bill passed a final hurdle in the House of Commons by a vote of 366-161 on Tuesday, and now heads to the House of Lords for final approval. The law puts the United Kingdom on par with Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, and most recently France in extending marriage equally to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. (Photo public domain)

The British House of Commons on Tuesday gave its final approval to a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in England and Wales.

The 366-161 vote capped off two days of debate on the measure that the same chamber overwhelmingly approved in February.

Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Spain and Portugal are among the 11 countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.

Gays and lesbians in neighboring France can begin to legally tie the knot next week after President François Hollande on May 18 signed his country’s same-sex marriage bill into law. Gay couples in Uruguay and New Zealand will also be able to walk down the aisle in August once their same-sex marriage laws take effect.

Brazil’s National Council of Justice on May 14 ruled registrars in the South American country cannot deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

The British House of Lords is expected to consider the same-sex marriage bill next month.

British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson are among those who support the bill.

‘This evening’s vote shows MPs are on the public’s side, as poll after poll shows a clear majority of people in Britain support equal marriage,” Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the British LGBT advocacy group Stonewall said. “Now that the bill has cleared the Commons without any of the wrecking amendments tabled by opponents, we hope peers will show the same respect to public attitudes.”


In U.K., straights in better health than gays

LGBT Health, United Kingdom, Gay News, Washington Blade

Gay Pride flag of the United Kingdom by Fry1989 with Caduceus by Rama and Eliot Lash. (Compilation via Wikimedia)

LONDON — A study released Monday found that British LGBT residents have overall worse health than their straight counterparts, Gay Star News, a European news outlet, reported.

The LGBT Public Health Outcomes Framework Companion Document found that British LGBT residents have higher rates of physical and emotional bullying, suicide and self harm, drug use, alcohol use, smoking and social isolation and vulnerability in old age, the article said.

The document includes several recommendations including that sexual orientation and gender identity should be routinely monitored in health and social care.

The report was executed for health and wellness boards, public health teams, local authorities and other organizations and commissions that provide services. The work was coordinated by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, Gay Star News reported.


British House of Lords gives final approval to marriage bill

House of Lords, Great Britain, England, gay news, Washington Blade, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality

Same-sex marriage supporters gather outside the British House of Lords in London on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Simon Callaghan)

The British House of Lords on Monday gave its final approval to a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales.

The measure passed on a voice vote after parliamentarians debated the measure for more than an hour. Same-sex marriage supporters and opponents also gathered outside Westminster Palace in central London as the House of Lords considered the bill.

“Judge us on the creation of the liberties we protect and extend,” Baron Waheed Alli, who is gay, said.

Baroness Tina Stowell of Beeston said she is a “firm believer in justice and fairness” as she described the same-sex marriage measure as “a force for good.” Baron Patrick Cormack of Grimsby urged those who support the bill to acknowledge opponents who feel it “does change the structure of society by changing the definition of marriage.”

“I understand that you feel euphoric today, but please have a thought for those who have different views,” he said.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, a British LGBT advocacy group, applauded the vote.

“It’s impossible to express how much joy this historic step will bring to tens of thousands of gay people and their families and friends,” he said in a statement. “The bill’s progress through Parliament shows that, at last, the majority of politicians in both Houses understand the public’s support for equality – though it’s also reminded us that gay people still have powerful opponents.”

Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Iceland, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Argentina, Mexico City and 11 states and D.C. currently allow same-sex marriage.

Gays and lesbians in Minnesota, Rhode Island, New Zealand and Uruguay will be able to tie the knot on August 1.

Brazil’s National Council of Justice in May ruled registrars in the South American country cannot deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A judge in neighboring Colombia last week said a gay couple in Bogotá, the country’s capital, who had sought legal recognition can enter into a civil marriage on July 24.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month found a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and struck down California’s Proposition 8 that had banned same-sex marriage in the Golden State.

The Scottish government last month introduced a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Scotland.

The bill will return to the House of Commons, which approved it in May, for parliamentarians to consider any last-minute amendments. They will then send it to Queen Elizabeth II who will sign it into law through royal assent.

The first same-sex weddings are expected to take place in England and Wales sometime in the spring of 2014.