Geographic Micro-Clustering of Homosexual Men: Implications for Research and Social Policy

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Abstract

There is increasing demand internationally for better-quality information on people with a non-heterosexual orientation. Information requirements include both basic demographic characteristics as well as evidence of disparities in outcomes or differences in needs compared to the general population. The availability and therefore collection of such data are essential if social policies are to be responsive to all groups protected under the Human Rights Act 1993, and if the impact of interventions targeted at sexual orientation minorities is to be properly evaluated. In light of ongoing difficulties obtaining accurate data on basic demographic variables for this population, we consider whether the census can provide accurate geographic micro-clustering data on homosexual males by comparing census data with a nation-wide survey of homosexual men. Place of residence information was targeted due to the importance of this variable in guiding future survey sampling and the provision of social and health services. The geographic micro-clustering profile of homosexual men in both data sets was congruent, and considerably different to the general male population: 12-13% of the national population of homosexual men resided in an inner-city Auckland area compared to 1.3% of all males aged over 15.

INTRODUCTION

A persistent problem when identifying the needs of homosexual populations has been obtaining representative samples, since homosexuality is defined by low prevalence indicators that are difficult to measure, private and usually stigmatised. Furthermore, without accurate basic demographic information on gay communities to guide research, it is difficult to fully evaluate the effects of targeted health promotion programmes, or rigorously assess the impact of general health, social and economic policies on this group (Gates and Ost 2004, McManus 2003, Sell and Becker 2001).

This has led to what Plumb (2001) has described as a "catch-22" situation. Unconventional survey methods and opportunistic research have predominated because of difficulties associated with conventional probability sampling, but this has inevitably compromised the credibility of empirical findings due to potential biases. Data quality concerns have in turn made it more difficult to advocate for funding specific programmes and further research, thereby hindering public health interventions for this population at every step (Plumb 2001). As a result, it is still uncertain whether the accumulated findings from studies surveying homosexual men and women provide an accurate estimate of their basic demographic and behavioural parameters, or whether our current understanding is limited by serious conceptual and methodological problems (Blair 1999).

Consequently, the collection of more accurate data on sexual orientation has become an urgent priority internationally (Dean et al. 2000, Saxton and Hughes 2003). Efforts to this end are proceeding in the United States (Gates and Ost 2004, Meyer 2001, Plumb 2001), Canada (Statistics Canada 2004), New Zealand (Ministry of Health 2004) and Scotland (McLean and O'Connor 2003), with cited tasks including the standardisation of sexual orientation measures and the inclusion of such measures in regular surveillance (Sell and Becker 2001). Canada and New Zealand have both begun to explore the feasibility of including a direct question on sexual orientation in their national census in the future (Statistics New Zealand 2003b, Turcotte et al. 2003). Current legal and social policy debates surrounding homosexuality--such as same-sex partnerships, families headed by same-sex parents, and fair access to social services--broaden this project beyond health and increase its urgency (Black et al. 2000, Phua and Kaufman 1999).

This paper focuses specifically on geographic micro-clustering and the role of this basic demographic variable in planning future research, interpreting survey findings and implementing social policies. …