Deaf Gays At Higher Risk of HIV Infection

Hold onto your health insurance: according to an article in the Toronto Star, if you are gay and deaf, you are less likely to have had the information on safe sex and HIV risks communicated to you.

Statistics indicate that as many as 2 to 10 times as many deaf people are affected by AIDS as compared to hearing people. At issue appears to be the nuances of the safe-sex message, as well as the risk of using injectable street drugs. Coupled with the challenge in getting the message to the deaf community is the fact that deaf people are more likely to have a history of substance abuse; 1 in 7 deaf people will struggle with drugs compared with 1 in 10 in the hearing majority. Intravenous drug use and sharing needles is a significant risk factor for HIV.

The issues surrounding those who are both deaf and gay are interwoven and many. There is the discrimination that the deaf experience; then there is the additional discrimination that the homosexual experience. Add to this the complexity of HIV transmission, and you have a situation where too few are getting the message.  

Schools for the deaf are as ambivalent about getting out the safe sex message as any hearing school. Other professionals, including doctors, may not know ASL. As a result, many deaf and gay people fall through the cracks.  

The Toronto-based Deaf Outreach Program is trying to stem the tide. Spokesperson, Kevin Canning, is a one man show, traveling around North America, informing audiences in ASL. The message can be communicated clearly in ASL, says Canning, because it is a visual language and the concepts can be demonstrated as part of the communication.

One person is just not enough. This is a message that needs to get out to more people now, before there are more casualties.  

There is more bad news. In my experience, insurers are quick to pick up on these kinds of risk factors. If you are deaf and seeking health insurance, be prepared to encounter arguments for higher premiums until this trend can be reversed. In the meantime, be sure to make use of my 5 tips to get the best health insurance. And practice safe sex, please.

Monique L. Attinger

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