Two York profs help launch Rainbow Health Ontario

A proposal by two York professors has led to the recent launch of Rainbow Health Ontario (RHO), a new province-wide health program focused on promoting better access to services and improving the health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) people across the province.

RHO will work to improve the health of LGBT people through education, research, outreach and public policy advocacy. "There are some pretty major needs we need to address in the LGBT community," says York Professor Nick Mulé. 

Right: Nick Mulé

Mulé and Andrea Daley – professors in York’s School of Social Work in the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies – co-authored the original proposal for a resource centre at the Sherbourne Health Centre in Toronto. Mulé, chair of the Rainbow Health Network (RHN),  and Daley, a member of RHN’s steering committee, collaborated with Anna Travers, former manager of the LGBT Health Services Program at the Sherbourne Health Centre. The Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care agreed to fund the initiative at $600,000 annually for the next three years. Travers is the new RHO director.

"This is really quite exciting," said Mulé. "For me this goes back 17 or 18 years to when I was a member of the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Ontario." There Mulé was part of putting together a report in 1997 with 79 recommendations outlining what was needed to address LGBT health issues. Unfortunately, the report was never acted on by the government of the day. "Rainbow Health Ontario was spawned out of that report in 2001," says Mulé. By 2005, the first proposal for a resource centre was complete. "It’s been quite a few years in the process."

Left: Andrea Daley

RHO is designed to improve access to services and to promote the health of Ontario’s LGBT communities. The goal is to provide education and training, resources and consultation as well as research and policy development. In addition, there are 14 part-time community outreach team members, one in each of Ontario’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs), to represent LGBT communities across the province with a particular focus on recognizing and addressing the needs of the rural populations.

“In addition to LGBT health issues being inadequately addressed, members of LGBT communities continue to experience access and equity issues in terms of having their sexual and gender identities recognized, accepted and affirmed during their interactions with health care institutions and practitioners,” says Daley. “Recognizing, accepting and affirming the sexual diversity of health-care service users is integral to ensuring equitable access to services and respectful and appropriate treatment during health-care interactions. This would involve addressing heterosexism, homophobia, lesbophobia, transphobia, etc. as expressed by health-care service providers and institutional policy and practices."

Education and training are an important part of RHO’s mandate. That includes reaching out to health-care practitioners across the province to raise awareness of issues pertinent to LGBT communities along with front line interventions and policy initiatives. The impact of discrimination on the health and well-being of members of LGBT communities is another area that needs to be addressed, in part, through training and education, says Daley. 

Right: Andrea Daley (left) and Nick Mulé at the launch of Rainbow Health Ontario

One of the initiatives of RHO is to have a database on its Web site of all the queer and queer positive service providers in the province where members of LGBT communities can go and feel safe. There will also be a list of researchers and what they’re working on. "Much of Rainbow Health Ontario’s work will be virtual," says Mulé. "The Web site is going to be really comprehensive."

Mulé says there are many health issues that need attention, but which often take a backseat to HIV/AIDS, including suicide, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, body image, self esteem issues, stress and cancer. "As a member of this community, I know there are health issues that are not being addressed," said Mulé.

Ongoing research into LGBT health issues is also key. Right now, most of the research findings come from the US or from community-based researchers in Ontario and not from academic sources. As co-chair of the Research Advisory Committee for RHO, Mulé says it is important for researchers across the province to be connected and to share what they’ve learned.  RHO will be instrumental in facilitating that.

The launch of the RHO Resource Centre featured speeches from George Smitherman, former minister of health & long-term care and the current Ontario deputy premier and minister of energy and infrastructure, and David Caplan, current minister of health & long-term care. Mulé also gave remarks. The staff of RHO was introduced as were the LGBT representatives of Ontario’s 14 LHINs.

For more information, visit the Rainbow Health Ontario Web site.