US: Middle Eastern LGBTQs Underrepresented in Health Research — And That’s a Problem

While the demand for a more intersectional approach to LGBTQ activism is heartening, as an Arab American I can’t help but feel that the voices LGBTQ people of Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) origin are not being heard at a time when anti-Arab, anti-refugee, and Islamophobic sentiment is at an all-time high. 

As an LGBTQ health advocate, I am particularly concerned that these voices are excluded from conversations on sexual health policy and advocacy. In August of last year, I had the opportunity to conduct a study out of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior and Prevention Studies (CHIBPS) examining discrimination and sexual risk among Arab men who have sex with men (MSM) living in the United States. The Shabaab study, as it was called, was my attempt to spark a dialogue around sexual health and HIV risk among LGBTQ people of MENA origin living in the United States. Although the sample was small, the results were intriguing: Half of participants had experienced some discrimination based on their ethnicity, and while no one reported positive or unknown HIV status, nearly 60 percent reported having tested positive for a sexually transmitted infection (STI), a risk factor for HIV.

Research has shown that a combination of factors, including systemic discrimination, lack of access to resources, racism and homophobia, have contributed to poor health outcomes such as depression, drug and alcohol use, and increased rates of HIV for Black and Latino LGBTQ people. At a time when LGBTQ people of MENA origin are facing similarly discriminatory circumstances, why is no one seeking to learn more about the health outcomes and potentially risky behaviors of this population? The fact of the matter is that we know next to nothing about the health outcomes of MENA populations living in this country, never mind those who are LGBTQ. It is high time public health researchers investigate this severely understudied population.

Researchers will face several challenges on this front. For starters, defining what it is to be “Middle Eastern” is not an easy feat.  Read more via Chelsea Now