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Addiction Conference Told Gays Need Safe Places To Get Help

Posted by pozlife on November 28, 2007

by The Canadian Press

Posted: November 28, 2007 – 5:00 pm ET

(Edmonton, Alberta) Gays, lesbians, transsexuals, or bisexual people with drug and alcohol addictions face barriers that prevent them from seeking treatment, says the developer of Vancouver program.

Devon McFarlane, who developed the Prism Alcohol and Drug Services programs for Vancouver Coastal Health, says gays and lesbians are reluctant to get help because they have faced discrimination and homophobia in the health-care system.

“They need a place where they can be treated well and respectfully,’’ McFarlane told delegates at a national substance abuse conference in Edmonton.

Counselors and health service workers also need to know what questions to ask, and how to ask them.

“You’re in this society where you’re queer or trans, there’s homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism … you could be anticipating that, `If I go into a residential treatment centre with a bunch of guys and I disclose that I’m gay, am I going to be hurt or harmed, are people going to support me, are they going to protect me?’’’ said Stacey Boon, an addictions counselor at Vancouver Coastal Health.

Some counselors believe being gay or lesbian causes substance abuse problems, and some believe therapy can cure homosexuality, Boon said, which turn people off to seeking help.

Boon said she’s had clients who have gone through formal substance abuse programs and were not asked about their sexual orientation, but she said that’s a problem, too.

“They say they were told it wasn’t an issue or they were told not to say anything,’’ she said.

McFarlane noted that people must feel safe enough to be able to tell a counselor about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“If people don’t disclose or don’t feel comfortable to disclose, they may not have a chance to work at the some of the core issues that have led them to their substance abuse, such as if they were beaten up repeatedly as a kid for acting too fag-like or like a sissy,’’ he said.

Vancouver is the second Canadian city _ Toronto is the other _ to offer addiction services specifically for lesbian and gay populations.

Boon said Prism counselors ask about sexual orientation and gender identity, allowing clients to be matched to counselors who may have identified themselves as being gay or lesbian, or as an ally _ someone who does not identify as one of those groups, but will support those groups.

McFarlane said studies have found that gays, lesbians and bisexual people have a higher incidence of substance abuse than heterosexual populations.

He said people who work with those groups need to know how homophobia and heterosexism _ defined as believing that heterosexuality is normal and everything else is abnormal _ has affected clients.

The also need to know how certain groups abuse substances.

For instance, there’s the “circuit party cocktail’’ _ a mix of Viagra, ecstasy and crystal methamphetamine _ that leads to hypersex and a lack of inhibitions.

Boon said studies have shown that people who use ecstasy also have more unprotected sex.

Counselors may also need to refer people to get other services, such as testing for HIV, she added.

Prism has more than 20 gay, lesbian, bisexual or ally counselors that are available at various locations around Vancouver to help people.

It has an outpatient treatment program for gay and bisexual men who use methamphetamine, a day detox program for men and women of varying gender identities, early recovery programs for both sexes, nicotine dependence programs for lesbian women and programs for “two-spirited’’ aboriginals.

It also offers training sessions for counselors or other service providers who want to learn how to treat those groups.

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