Stigma carried over from 1980's puts older MSM off getting tested for HIV, research suggests

A study by Glasgow scientists argues that the "mass homophobia of the 1980's" still affects how older Men who have Sex with Men deal with their sexual health.

Activists in New York in the 1980s hold a banner reading

A study carried out by scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Glasgow has suggested that older MSM are less likely to undergo HIV testing due to the impact of stigma carried over from more homophobic times.

Using data collected from 2,436 men in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the researchers found that older MSM over the age of 45 were less likely to have had a HIV test in the last year. They also scored higher on a “stigma scale”.

Speaking of the findings, which were published in the British Medical Journal, researcher Dr Jamie Frankis commented, “Homophobic stigma is having a negative impact on the health of our older men, but not younger men who’ve lived through periods with less homophobia and greater equality.

“That would speak to the homophobia that was highly present in the ’80s at the onset of HIV when gay men, who now are over 45, would have been young and they would have experienced massive homophobia, anti-gay and anti-HIV stigma.”

Frankis continued, “It is possible that [ older MSM ] are still troubled by the mass homophobia of the ’80s and that is affecting their own testing behaviour. They could still be harbouring fears around HIV as a heavily stigmatised infection rather than the HIV of today, which is a highly manageable condition.”

Alastair Rose, from the Waverley Care HIV charity, responded, “This research highlights that despite advances in equality, the lived experiences of homophobia, stigma and discrimination experienced… through the 1980’s continue to impact on the sexual health and wellbeing of [ older MSM ]. We need to ensure that we provide services that are tailored to meet the needs of this population, reaffirming the changing landscape of HIV treatment and prevention, and de-stigmatise the sex men have with each other.”

In a recent interview with GCN, ACT UP Dublin activist, Thomas Strong, spoke about the problems associated with stigma: “Social stigma and social marginalisation are really harmful aspects of the epidemic. In many respects, the stigma is the biggest problem for those of us living with HIV who have access to medication and are actually pretty healthy in every respect.”

Thomas also spoke about the U=U fact. U=U, or Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, means that a person with HIV who has an undetectable viral load can not pass the virus onto a partner. “Especially in Ireland, the knowledge of the fact that people living with HIV that are on treatment can not pass on the virus is really low. That message needs to get out and people need to hear that.”

For more information on HIV and the U=U message, visit ACT UP Dublin, HIV Ireland, Man2Man or Positive Now 

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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