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June 18, 2001

UCSF Hosts First National Lesbian Health Conference

The first National Lesbian Health Conference, to be held at UCSF June 22 and 23 in conjunction with the city’s Pride Week Celebrations, will focus on a wide range of physical, mental and social issues that affect the health of lesbians.

The conference will take place on Friday and Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the UCSF Laurel Heights Conference Center.

More than 70 presentations will cover a range of topics including: substance abuse, HIV prevention, older women’s health, health screening, cancer prevention and treatment, reproductive health, cultural diversity, dating and domestic violence, and challenges for disabled lesbians. The event also features a benefit concert by activist, artist, singer Holly Near.

“There is an aura of perceived or actual discrimination that occurs when lesbians interact with the healthcare system. Consequently, many lesbians don’t feel comfortable going to health care providers,” said Suzanne Dibble, RN, DNS, co-director of the UCSF Center for Lesbian Health Research, a co-sponsor of the event along with The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA), and the UCSF Center for Gender Equity. “If we say the ‘L’ word and get people talking about it, we may be able to help both the health care provider and recipient come to an understanding of all the unique issues involved in lesbian health care.” Common fallacies include the notion that lesbians do not get cervical or ovarian cancer, are not at risk for sexually transmitted disease, do not have children, and do not suffer from domestic violence, to name just a few. “This conference is an important step toward separating myth from reality in lesbian health care,” she said.

Speakers include Byllye Avery, MEd, founder of the National Black Women’s Health Project; Kate O’Hanlan, MD, researcher, writer and founder of the Lesbian Health Fund; and Caitlin Ryan, MSW, author and director of Policy Studies for the Institute on Sexuality, Inequality, and Health in the Human Sexuality Studies Program at San Francisco State University.

For more information, call 415/244-4547 or visit the website. Holly Near will perform Friday night, 8-10 p.m., at the conference site. Tickets are $25.

Conference Presentations
The following are descriptions of some conference presentations:

The Gay Baby (“Gaby”) Boom: Reproductive health and choice have been almost exclusively defined as a heterosexual woman’s agenda. As such, national choice and women’s health organizations make little or no reference to the reproductive health needs of lesbians. “The Gaby” boom is enormously class-biased because reproductive technologies are just not accessible to lesbian women,” according to Judy Bradford, PhD, assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine and community health at the Medical college of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University.

Lesbians Often Delay Seeking Health Care: In the March 2001 issue of Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, UCSF researchers report that lesbians delayed seeking health care because of fear of discrimination. When they delay care they put their own health and often the health of their children at risk, according to Mary Ann van Dam, RN, MS, PNP, UCSF assistant professor of pediatric nursing. Researchers also reported that less than half of health care providers actively sought sexual identity information from patients.

Dating Violence Among Lesbian and Bisexual Teenagers: Compared to heterosexuals, bisexual females have greater odds of experiencing sexual abuse, regardless of age. In addition, lesbians have greater odds of being frightened for their safety compared to heterosexual females, and bisexuals are more likely to be threatened with “outing” compared to gay males/lesbians. These findings underscore the need for dating violence outreach and prevention efforts to be targeted to reach LGB adolescents, according to researchers.

Domestic Violence: According to statistics collected by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, BLGT couples have domestic violence rates between 24 and 33 percent – comparable to findings for heterosexual couples. Homophobia, heterosexism, racism and other forms of prejudice can intensify a domestic violence survivor’s experience, according to researchers.

Lesbians and Breast Cancer: The LBT women’s community is diverse, hidden and difficult to reach with breast health messages, even though research is indicating that lesbians have an increased risk of breast cancer. Researchers will discuss findings about lesbians and the prevention and treatment of breast cancer.

Lesbians and Tobacco Use: Studies suggest that the prevalence of smoking may be higher among lesbian and bisexual women than among heterosexual women. Compared to heterosexual girls, lesbian and bisexual girls have significantly greater odds of trying cigarettes, being regular smokers, and having friends who are smokers (controlling for age). Among girls who have tried cigarettes, lesbians and bisexual girls are more strongly addicted than are their heterosexual peers, according to researchers.

Lesbians Living With HIV: As a group, lesbians are not recognized as being vulnerable to HIV infection. If most gay people with HIV are men, and most women with HIV are heterosexual, and most lesbians think that HIV infection is a problem outside their community, then is there a place where lesbians living with HIV can find comfort, familiarity and understanding? Researchers address this question by presenting results of interviews with eleven lesbian or bisexual women living with HIV.

Source: Maureen McInaney

Gay and Lesbian Medical Association


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