GPs are becoming more aware of same-sex families attending their practices as part of a growing social change, says the coauthor of an ongoing study into same-sex families in Australia, Associate Professor Ruth McNair.
Professor McNair, of the department of general practice at the University of Melbourne, told MJA InSight that the study showed that many GPs had not realised they were seeing same-sex families.
“It’s not so much been about homophobia”, she said.
An update on the Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families (ACHESS) national research project is published today by the MJA. (1)
ACHESS is a work in progress. A preliminary report on the study’s background research, design and methodology was published last year. (2)
In the current MJA article, the authors set out to describe what makes a same-sex parented family, pointing out that many combinations of gender, conception method and parental status exist, and that doctors need education to recognise, respect and treat those different family groups.
Professor McNair said same-sex families were becoming more common. “It’s a growing social change, particularly among gay men who are coming to understand that having a family is okay, and they can access surrogacy now.”
New Zealand’s decision last week to legalise same-sex marriage would benefit the health of that country’s same-sex parents and their children, Professor McNair told MJA InSight. (3)
“Studies from the US have compared states with same-sex marriage laws with those without them and they clearly show that states banning same-sex marriage have more mental health problems in gay adults”, she said. (4)
“It’s important for the children to know that the government thinks their family is okay.
“There aren’t enough data on the children of same-sex families in this country and that’s part of why we’ve undertaken this study.”
Professor McNair said persuading medical schools to train prospective doctors to recognise and respect same-sex families was a matter of demonstrating the health inequities present in the system.
“This is a subgroup that is suffering more because of the attitudes present in the health care system”, she said. “Therefore we have to educate our prospective doctors.
“Some of the medical schools are picking it up as part of their cultural competency framework.”
Ben Veness, president of the Australian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), said the ongoing study would be a vital resource for GPs in practice and in training.
“AMSA is entirely supportive of this kind of research”, Mr Veness told MJA InSight. “We would hope that this kind of research will be informative not just for the medical community but for the broader community as well.
“After all, same-sex families are not a 2013 phenomenon. It’s just taken us a long time to address it.”
AMSA has an official policy on marriage equality and health for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, which calls on the Australian Government to “develop and implement goals, policies and strategies to minimise the health inequities” and to “support research into the negative health effects of stigma and discrimination”. (5)
Professor McNair and Dr Simon Crouch, the lead researcher on the ACHESS project, said the full results from the study would be available in 2 to 4 months.
– Cate Swannell
Posted 22 April 2013