In Ottawa, one in five gay patients refuse to disclose their sexual orientation to their health care provider for fear of facing stigma, according to The Ottawa Hospital.
This is one of the reasons why The Ottawa Hospital Foundation wants to create a comprehensive health care program that will help improve access to appropriate care for gay men.
"Some patients will face judgment, especially in the face of their sexuality. Not just judgment, [but] some doctors simply will not understand the reality of gay men," said Ottawa Hospital Foundation research assistant Maxime Charest.
Same-sex marriage has been legal for 12 years in Canada, but there are still many improvements to be made in the healthcare system to make it more accessible, according to Roberto Ortiz Núñez, director general of MAX, which promotes health among LGBT men.
"We still encounter a bit of heteronormativity, so they assume we have a wife, that we are going to have children. All the questions we are asked or are not being asked will have an impact on the services we are going to have," Núñez said.
While he has made the choice to disclose his sexual orientation, other gay men resist sharing that information with their doctor. Whether it is through refusal to disclose it or simply because the doctor does not inquire, the impact on the health of these men is real, according to Dr. Rémi De Champlain, who researches gay health issues.
"The doctor will not have access to any part of your personality. On the sexuality side, sexually transmitted infections, for example … STIs are more common in the gay population. We will see more syphilis, hepatitis and HIV," said De Champlain.
Gay men also live with a higher rate of mental health issues.
In a large study conducted for the Jasmin Roy Foundation, which was released a few weeks ago, 81 per cent of respondents said they felt, during their lifetime, feelings of disorientation, loneliness, isolation or discouragement because of their sexual orientation.
"And if the person is suffering from anxiety [or] depression because of his orientation … if the doctor does not have access to this information, he can not help him in the best possible way," he said.
This grim portrait of the reality of healthcare access for gay individuals encouraged The Ottawa Hospital Foundation to launch a Gay Men's Health Research Chair in Ontario. The foundation is trying to raise $1 million to start the study.
The position of chair has not yet been awarded to a researcher, but whomever it is will have quite the workload, according to Charest.
"They're going to look at the epidemiology of gay men's diseases across the province. They will also look at the psychosocial issues that have an impact on access to and quality of health services," Charest said.
Ontario lacking adequate healthcare for sexual minorities: Charest
In his view, the current provision of healthcare is not adequate for Ontario's sexual minorities, with specialized clinics being few in numbers and located only in large urban centres.
Núñez said he is pleased to hear that researchers will specifically address this issue. Several studies have been conducted on this subject, but in Toronto and Vancouver.
"The fact that we have a chair in Ottawa will allow us to develop initiatives with local evidence to better meet the needs of men in the region," he said.
The foundation hopes to launch research in early 2019.