Addiction Studies Conference

On Thursday, April 21, CLAGS, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the lesbian and Gay Community Services Center joined together to host the opening reception for the 9th annual Gay and l esbian Addiction Studies Conference. The reception, attended by almost 100 people, featured a welcome by City Council member Tom Duane and a panel discussion, “Identifying Hea lth and Substance Abuse Needs in the lesbian and Gay Community Defining Our Own Research Agenda.” CLAGS, GMHC, and the Center organized the panel discussion in recognition of the ways in which conventional research ignores or pathologizes the effects of sexual orientation on drug and alcohol use. Ruth Finkelstein, GMHC Director of Health Policy, facilitated the panel discussion. Participants included Joyce Hunter of the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at Columbia University; Walt Odets, a clinical psychologist from Oakland, California; Ana Oliveira, Director of Program Services at the Osborne Association; and Dava Weinstein of the lesbian and Gay Family Project of the Ackerman Institute for Family Thera py. The panel was organized by Richard Elovich, CLAGS Board member and Director of Substance Use Counseling and Education at GMHC, and Eleanor Neely, Director of the Center’s Project Connect. Panelists focused on the challenge of developing and defining new lesbian and gay sensitive models of research and service delivery. Ana Oliveira discussed the need for new research “instruments”- methods of quantification- that recognize the complex categories needed to describe same sex partners. Dava Weinstein discussed how conventional clinical language makes it difficult to articulate the problems of non-traditional fami lies that include gay men and lesbians, but whose pathology is not related to gay or lesbian-ness. Joyce Hunter discussed the need for funding social services that recogn ize the whole person, rather than discreet parts of their identitiesyouth or person of color or gay man/lesbian or substance user. Walt Odets spoke about the need for AIDS prevention and education to address mental health issues for gay men living in the epidemic. In a time when as many as half the gay men in San Francisco are HIV infected, for example, how do you replace norms about living longer with those about living better and coping more directly with death? Odets also spoke about the challenge to AIDS prevention to help gay men talk about the complicated and conflicted meanings sex has for them in the epidemic. The panel ended with a call from the audience and the panelists themselves for the creation of a research agenda from within the lesbian and gay communities. “What questions would you like to see answered?” asked Ruth Finkelstein. “How can research contribute to the development of services that build communities as well as serve them, and help us to articulate the realities of our lives?”