2008 National Gay Men's Health Summit
2008 National Gay Men's Health Summit
by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

You are all invited to the 2008 National Gay Men's Health Summit, hosted by Gay City!

As Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or questioning men of all races and ages, our health as individuals and as a community is paramount. Health is about the integration of our physical body, our mental health, our spirituality, culture, and how we come together to form relationships and build ties that support us all in our rich diversity and complex issues.

Fred Swanson and his staff at Gay City (206-860-6969) are hosting the 2008 National Gay Men's Health Summit here in Seattle from October 17-21. The summit will be held at the Renaissance Seattle Hotel 515 Madison St. This summit is open any and all who are interested in learning about and contributing to the health of GBTQ men. Check out the website at www.gmhs2008.org. It is a great opportunity to be a part of something that is consequential to us all!

The work of Fred Swanson, his staff, the presenters, and the participants of the summit is crucial because it has far-reaching implications and influence locally, nationally, and internationally for GBTQ men. This summit is an integral part of a long history of work done by men, for men. It will influence the direction of our future and the contributions to the well-being of our community will be building blocks that will benefit in ways that are yet unseen.

As individuals and a community, we are still faced with complex, inter-related issues regarding HIV- transmission and care, the impact of addictions, the rejection from our religious/spiritual base, and the isolation that men feel because of the stigma of being GBTQ.

Isolation can happen to anyone, yet men of color who have sex with men experience the isolation in a different way and for different reasons. Cultural norms and messages put distinctive pressures on these men which leads too many of them to live isolated lives, or lives on the "down-low." Some of these men then miss out on the opportunities for support or proper healthcare because of their isolation. One of the very positive components of this summit is the invitation and genuine interest in the experiences, knowledge, and recommendations of the men of color who have sex with men. I can't express enough how important bridging the racial separation and isolation is in the health of individuals and the community.

HIV transmission and care is still a critical part our community. It remains a very real crisis with very real consequences - physically, spiritually, and mentally. Yes, the drugs are helpful AND contracting HIV will still impact your life. Work in this area is still needed and the summit will provide participants information about where the community is and what still needs to be done about safer-sex strategies, messages, and behaviors of GBTQ men.

Spirituality/religion is an important element in many men's lives. Many GBTQ men want to keep their beliefs and faith yet often feel rejected and pushed away from their spiritual base because of hurtful, harmful dogma. The National Gay Men's Health Summit recognizes the importance of spirituality as an fundamental part of being healthy individuals which makes a healthy community. This piece adds links and makes meaningful connections for participants.

Interwoven in all of these issues is drug addiction. Too many GBTQ men struggle with substance use/abuse. The organizers of the summit, much to their credit, see that substance addiction needs to be addressed within the context of other issues for GBTQ men. Substance addiction/abuse doesn't exist on its own. Addiction is fueled by the problems and reactions in one's life. Addressing this complex piece of our community fabric will contribute to the strength of individuals and of our community.

These intricate issues are not contained within the GBTQ community. These issues branch out and touch family and friends. Healthcare providers, enlightened spiritual leaders, business leaders, and some politicians work hard - on individual, social, and legal levels - to provide services, rights, and support to GBTQ men and their families. This is why this summit is important. You, too, can be an important part of what happens in our community. Remember, our community really is a global community and the work you do here is far-reaching.

GBTQ men from all over the country are coming to participate. These men are not just healthcare professionals. They are men who want to learn and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the men in our community and the community as a whole. This is a summit about pride, health, and community. Every one of us has something to contribute so please make time to participate in some or all of this summit.

Welcome, presenters and participants, to Seattle. Your work is important and take pride in the fact that you are making a difference. Thank you, Fred Swanson, Peter Jabin, and the staff at Gay City (www.gaycity.org) for your endless hours and for hosting this event.

When we are healthy individuals, we come together to create a healthy community. A healthy community takes a stronger, more prominent position in our larger community and ensures a better future for all. The 2008 National Gay Men's Health Forum is making this happen.

Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist who writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.