A reply from Mr Kearney

Posted on August 9, 2012

I recently wrote to Peter Kearney of the Scottish Catholic Media Office to raise concerns about his statements in the media which appeared to recycle some of the junk science being used by campaigners against LGBT equality in the US. In my letter I promised to publish his reply, so here it is. Where he has provided URLs I have incorporated them as active links, but this is the only change I’ve made to his text.

However I have made a few comments, and noted these throughout in square brackets and italics. Over the next day or two, I’ll add more of my own, as well as those from other sources. However two crucial points stand out:

He doesn’t explain why any of this is relevant to the same sex marriage debate, which is the context in which it was raised. If he wants to see poor health treated as a legal barrier to marriage, I suspect he will be on his own on that one.

He says almost nothing which is relevant to women. His original comments were about same-sex sexual activity, but almost everything he writes to back this up is about gay and bisexual men. I can’t say I’m hugely surprised by this glaring omission.


7 August 2012

Patrick Harvie MSP
Suite 4/2
52 St Enoch Square
G1 4AA

Dear Mr Harvie

Thank you for your letter of 27 July on the subject of the health implications of same sex relationships. I agree entirely with you that public debate on this issue should be “well informed and not subject to misleading arguments.” Sadly, to date, there has been little or no public debate in Scotland on the matter. This is in stark contrast to the ongoing debates on the health implications of smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse and over eating. I welcome, therefore, the opportunity to correspond with you on the matter and your commitment to publish our exchanges on your website.

You mention your previous work in the field of “gay and bisexual men’s health” in your letter. There is no question that such work has firmly established the proposition that gay and bisexual men have particular health concerns and consequences. This is instructive and I presume you would resist any attempt to suggest that it wasn’t the case.

[Naturally. Many groups have particular patterns of health and ill health, and particular needs in terms of health promotion. LGBT people are no different in that than straight people, young people, disabled people, or dare I say it celibate people.]

From December 1997 you were employed as a Glasgow Youth Worker by a group called PHACE West (Project for HIV and AIDA Care and Education). I understand part of your responsibilities included helping to run the meetings and activities of the Bi-G-LES youth group. This group was attended by children as young as twelve. A publication called “Gay Sex Now” was available at this youth group. It can be viewed here.

I am sure that anyone who reviews this publication will agree that the extremely graphic images and offensive language are not appropriate for a youth group attended by children as young as twelve. Yet this approach is symptomatic of what passes for “debate” on the subject of same sex health risks in Scotland. I believe that we urgently need a new approach informed by a concern for the wellbeing of anyone with same sex attraction based on an honest assessment of all medical evidence.

[Mr Kearney may be sure what offends him, but I'm surprised that he feels he can speak for everyone. In fact - as made clear at the time - this publication was produced for and was used with sexually active adult gay and bisexual men. The youth group I worked with, like many youth groups, had an age range up to the mid twenties, and there were certainly occasions on which it was entirely appropriate to use this publication.]

Insofar as evidence is concerned, I think our starting points are probably similar I have not made any assertions which are not regularly made by others. The issue of life expectancy is relevant, the Canadian study, R. S. Hogg, S. A. Strathdee, et al., “Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men,” International Journal of Epidemiology, (1997) has been widely quoted and as you know subject to considerable revision, reflecting the fact that underlying mortality rates attributable to HIV improved in the decade following the initial research. According to a CDC News Release in October 10, 2001, death as the result of HIV infection had dropped significantly since 1996. It is important to note however that this study focused on HIV/AIDS only which according to some authors is under-reported by as much as 15-20 per cent. Alarming recent increases in HIV rates must also be considered.

[This is the study which I highlighted in my original letter. The authors have, as I pointed out to Mr Kearney, been so concerned about the misuse of this work by anti-equality campaigners that they have issued this statement.]

Interestingly, in 2009 a group of homosexuals headed by Gens Hellquist, director of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition, filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, they detailed numerous statistics to prove the high-risk nature of the homosexual lifestyle, including:

- The life expectancy for gay and bisexual men is 20 years less than the average Canadian man;
- GLB people commit suicide at rates ranging from twice as often to almost 14 times more than the general population;
- GLBs have smoking rates ranging from 1.3 to three times higher than average;
- GLBs become alcoholics at a rate 1.4 to seven times higher than the general population;
- GLBs use illicit drugs at a rate from 1.6 to 19 times higher than other Canadians;
-GLBs experience depression at rates ranging from 1.8 to three times higher than average;
- Homosexual men comprise 76% of AIDS cases and 45% of all new HIV infections;
- Homosexual and bisexual men suffer a higher rate of anal cancer than heterosexual men;

I don’t think these campaigners were accused of “homophobia” for raising their concerns, but I may be mistaken.

[Mr Kearney does not provide the original source of the life expectancy figure, but here it is. As expected it is not a piece of peer-reviewed research, but a clinical guide designed to help health professionals care for lesbian and gay people effectively. The legal complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission was written clearly to highlight the negative health impact which arises from a group being marginalised in society, and was not the work of scientific researchers.]

In their Wellbeing in Sexual Health (WISH) e-Bulletin in June 2012, NHS Scotland promoted “GAYCON 2012: Scotland’s 4th National Conference on Gay Men’s Sexual Health and Wellbeing” being held later this year in Glasgow. As well as urging recipients to attend, their message stated: “The conference will identify key priorities for future sexual health work for gay men in Scotland at a time when this group continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.” This statement tends to suggest that I might not be not alone in believing that a variety of medical complications affect the homosexual population in a way that is not proportionate.

[Clearly in Scotland gay and bisexual men have a higher than average prevalence rate of HIV. This is in contrast to the picture in other countries where HIV is widespread throughout the population, and heterosexual transmission is the norm. This is not news to anyone.]

I have suggested that same sex sexual practices, not surprisingly, lead to disproportionately high rates of STI incidence among gay men. This echoes an assertion by Peter Tatchell that “Soaring rates of sexually-transmitted HPV infection are occurring among gay and bisexual men” and his concern that “very high rates of anal HPV infection, especially among gay and bisexual men who are HIV-positive, have huge implications”; these statements are available on his website.

[HPV infection is indeed a concern, but that concern is not confined to gay and bisexual men. Heterosexual transmission of HPV puts many women at risk of cervical cancer, and this underlies the importance of the vaccination programme. As Peter points out, many straight couples also have anal sex, so the issue of anal cancer risk also affects them. In short, HPV transmission is not caused by sexual orientation.]

A major study published in the journal ‘Cancer’ in May 2011 revealed that men with SSA (same sex attraction) in California are twice as likely to report a cancer as heterosexual men. Boehmer, U., et al. (2011) “Cancer Survivorship and Sexual Orientation,” ‘Cancer’ 117 (2011): The study which analyses what is described as “the higher prevalence of cancer in gay men” can be viewed here.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of the prevalence of, substance misuse, suicide, suicidal ideation and deliberate self harm in LGB people, concluded that they were at higher risk of suicide, substance misuse, and deliberate self harm than heterosexual people.

[Both these studies, which I will read in detail in due course, appear at first glance to be in keeping with the view of the Canadian Rainbow Health Coalition that there are negative health impacts which arise for a marginalised group whose health needs are not properly addressed. They don't appear to suggest that simply being lesbian, gay or bisexual, or having same-sex relationships, is the cause of health problems.]

Crucially, many such studies have been conducted in countries where homosexuality is widely accepted and affirmed in law such as New Zealand and the Netherlands. Since there does not appear to be an appreciable difference in rates of depression and suicide across societies with widely differing levels of tolerance towards the LGBT community it seems clear from all empirical evidence, that social acceptability is not a significant factor.

[These "many studies" are not cited, so it's difficult to respond. However the conclusion Mr Kearney draws is quite at odds with the view of professionals in the field. As George Valiotis of HIV Scotland reminded me, the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. July 2012 unequivocally pointed to the need to end stigma, discrimination and legal sanctions, recognising that stigma and discrimination hamper all our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, and prevents delivery of essential services.]

A study of young men, aged 17–22, who have sex with men, found that the “prevalence of HIV infection is high among this young population of homosexual and bisexual men” Lemp, G. et al. (1994). “Sero-prevalence of HIV and risk behaviours among young homosexual and bisexual men.” An abstract is available here.

[As I noted above, the fact that in Scotland gay and bisexual men have a higher than average HIV prevalence is not news. The idea that society should respond to that by further marginalising gay and bisexual men is, to put it politely, counterintuitive at best.]

Promiscuity is regularly cited as an exacerbating factor in same sex relationships. [Exacerbating what? Does it exacerbate something in same sex relationships that it doesn't exacerbate in mixed sex relationships?] One of the largest studies of same sex couples revealed that only seven of the 156 couples studied had a totally exclusive sexual relationship and the majority of relationships lasted less than five years. Couples with a relationship lasting more than five years, reported incorporating some provision for outside sexual activity in their relationship: McWhirter, D. and Mattison, A. 1985. The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop. Prentice Hall.

Such analyses would explain why even following the introduction of Civil Unions or Same Sex Marriage, there does not seem to be an increase in monogamy or fidelity within the LGBT population or a concomitant reduction in disease prevalence associated with promiscuity.

[Monogamy is an entirely personal choice of course. Whether people choose to have an open relationship or not, their sexual health risks will relate to their behaviour, not to their sexual orientation.]

A study in the Netherlands, revealed that the rate of new HIV infections among gay men in Amsterdam has increased steadily since the introduction of effective antiretroviral therapy according to the online edition of AIDS.

The study found that most of the infections were acquired from casual partners, but the researchers also found evidence of transmissions within relationships.

[Antiretroviral therapy isn't intended to reduce transmission. It's intended to keep people alive. It was always clear that if HIV+ people could stay alive and healthy, this would mean a larger cohort of HIV+ people which could itself give rise to additional new infections. Many developed countries are currently trying to understand this new phase of the epidemic, and exploring what this change and others such as migration patterns will do in terms of new infections. But once again, this has nothing to do with sexuality. Where straight people have access to modern therapy, similar patterns emerge. Would Mr Kearney prefer that people don't have access to antiretrovirals at all?]

I’m sure you will agree these are all challenging findings suggesting an ongoing need for significant public debate in the area of “gay and bisexual men’s health”. It would be refreshing in the extreme if this did not comprise the sort of “do as you please” platitudes commonly uttered by Scottish politicians who appear to be utterly lacking in compassion for a minority group whose health has deteriorated in inverse proportion to the political and social affirmation they have been given.

[Wow, there's a leap. Nothing in the research provided by Mr Kearney, even with his own unique interpretation, has shown that anyone's health has "deteriorated in inverse proportion to the political and social affirmation they have been given". It appears that he has done exactly what he did in his TV interview, and cherry picked the evidence he thinks supports his own prejudices, and then made a wildly unsubstantiated claim to follow it up. It's astonishing to be accused of a lack of compassion by someone representing an organisation which has opposed LGBT people's equality and civil rights at every step of the way.]

It would be equally refreshing if those who disagree with the Church were to accept that it speaks from a position of genuine concern for individuals and for human flourishing. By highlighting facts which have been established by relevant scientific and medical enquiry we do not intend to engage in political point scoring but wish to advance the wellbeing of everyone in society by paying due regard to the consequences of particular behaviour.

Yours sincerely

Peter Kearney


  1. Patrick, you have done a great job in flushing out the response, and in your initial analysis and comments. Thank you for your support for equality, the dignity and worth of all. The response ranges over a whole collection of topics unrelated to same sex (male!) relationships. Attempts to sound scientific end up with the usual give-aways. On one specific point, thanks for the facts about distribution of the ‘Gay Sex Now’ resource. You and I know the origins of the booklet, its purpose and the appropriate use to which it was put. Only the Christian Inst, the RC Church’s media office and the disreputable Souter campaign gleefully dragged it out at every turn. By the time of that campaign, they were the only people who had spare copies to show anyone. How diligent they were in ordering their free copies! I am glad now to have a link to the ‘dropbox’ version. Roy

    Comment by R. Kilpatrick — August 9, 2012 @ 11:25 am

  2. Well done Patrick & team with your reply,

    However i really feel that the catholic church should be spending their time with their dwindeling loss of parishioners as they soon will be extinct, when did you or anyone you know! last get an invite or hear of a new catholic church opening? ( i was on google & could not find any new churches being opened in the UK for over five decades)

    In Washington USA for example it quite clearly shows a loss of over 71,000 parishioners in the last decade


    The Catholic church is not doing itself any favours in thier quest to fight gay marriage law, They are out of touch with modern society, For example: In my place of work 97% are straight women & 1% Catholic, they all agree that gay marriage is the way ahead.

    Regards Steven.

    Comment by Steven Blockley — August 9, 2012 @ 11:30 am

  3. Well done Patrick…

    I well remember the work you did with PHACE west when you were based at the LGBT centre in Glasgow for your outreach work, through my own involvement on the centre management committee. I recall we were all very sensitive to age concerns and had proper procedures in place to address this. That Kearney should appear to challange this is concerning but not surprising, as is his complete lack of recognition of lesbian women’s health issues. I’m not going to go into the many peer-reviewed research studies on this but do recall one piece of research which I believe found that children raised by Lesbian parent couples had better ‘outcomes’ than any other parenting arrangement…

    Any marginalised group will have particular health issues, but these are due to issues such as lack of provision which is empathetic and targeted rather than to the condition or lifestyles, per se. You could say the same for smokers, diabetics, epileptics, and people affected by learning disabilities if their specific needs were not addressed by our health care system.

    Perhaps Peter Kearney could do his own research on Lesbian and Bisexual women. He’d probably be very surprised if he did. It might certainly puncture his contracts on LGBT people…

    Comment by Jaye Richards-Hill — August 9, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  4. Sorry -autocorrect problem. Last sentence should have said *constructs*

    Comment by Jaye Richards-Hill — August 9, 2012 @ 12:37 pm

  5. i’m totally with YOU on this one patrick!
    as for the church, i really don’t know where to start. i’m tempted to respond, ‘why bother?
    the phrases : bigotry, prejudice, bile & many other such spring to mind. these days, i tend to ignore the witterings of the church & like minded cronies. usually of little relevance, adding nothing new, recycling & reinforcing old, outdated, out of touch irrelevant attitudes.
    the recent ‘getting knickers in a twist’ debacle over gay marriage is FARCICAL! the self selected ‘defenders of marriage’ seem to think they have a monopoly over marriage.
    eh, no. not by a long way.
    as an institution it predates the church etc by millenia, origins dim in human history.
    of his ramblings, one thing did stand out. the (allegedy) higher rate of suicide & depression.
    i may be stretching a wee bit here, but might this perchance be linked to the attitudes of such as himself & his cronies? just a thought….
    i could go on, usually do, but instead i’ll have a cuppa with a view to reducing my blood pressure. these eejit numptys really are full of it.
    good luck amigo in continuing to share enlightenment, taking on the forces of darkness & ignorance.
    see you on the barricades.
    fyi – i’m a straight, married 58 y/o man, totally supportive of lbgt rights etc.

    Comment by cam hamilton — August 9, 2012 @ 3:25 pm

  6. I’m at work, so haven’t been able to read through the letter in its entirety, but one thing does spring out to me. He says that, “A major study published in the journal ‘Cancer’ in May 2011 revealed that men with SSA (same sex attraction) in California are twice as likely to report a cancer as heterosexual men.” This may be due to the fact that heterosexual men are less likely on average to go to their doctor.

    Comment by David Myers — August 9, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  7. I dont understand what gay men’s sexual health or, indeed, practices, have to do with marriage, or equal rights. Is Mr Kearney suggesting that because some gay men take part in practices he sees as higher risk, then the punishment should be that we forego our human rights??

    He may or may not be correct, that a debate on the pros and cons of a same sex relationship is overdue in terms of sexual health. He may or may not also be correct that gay men and women are more likely to have shorter relationships, and involve other partners in those relationships (I know plenty of straight people who have cheated on partners.) I struggle still to find the link between all of these possibilities and the right to be able to marry whoever you like, the same as he can.

    If his God made us all in his likeness, then surely he made us the way we are too? Is that too simplistic (I’m sure Mr Kearney would say it was) religious people normally find a glib way of trying to make the rest of us feel like we don’t understand. We do understand, and we dont agree, it’s that simple, and unfortunately for you, Mr Kearney, we have as much right to an opinion as you, in spite of the fact that, come the rapture, you know doubt think we’ll be at the back of the queue for salvation. The fact is, most of us know that is complete nonsense, and the fact that a minority of people still believe in an invisible magician above the clouds (Step away from the curtain!)does not mean that the church, in whatever form, has ANY right to an opinion, or a hand in legislation on what WE do with OUR lives. Marriage is not a religious thing, it was hijacked by the church, and if people choose to become married in a church, that’s great.

    People got married (Or at least a similar service) long before the church came along. There were pagan services and tribal services, all meaning the same thing, and in tribal countries, in most cases, still affording the same legal rights.

    Mr Kearney, I hope you have a happy marriage, of whatever kind, and I look forward to reading your findings and arguments on what is possibly a long overdue study on sexual health, however, let’s not confuse that with your obvious homophobia and your disagreement of gay people having equal rights (An opinion you are ABSOLUTELY entitled to have)

    Comment by David Cairns — August 9, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

  8. Patrick this is a most fair, thorough and well backed up picking-apart of Mr Kearney’s letter, it is a shame that those against LGBT rights continue to provide illogical arguments and twisted or incorrect facts under the pretence of ‘debate’.

    I totally agree with you that it is counterintuitive to suggest that not giving more equal rights to LGBT groups because of health factors such as depression, suicide and higher smoking rates and alcoholism. The large majority of the time these factors are caused by the fact that LGBT people are made to feel different, marginalised and/or unequal to society. Surely the first step to curing stigma and lack of social acceptance is to create legal equality, and definitely not by implying to our countries youth that LGBT people are in some ways unlawful or unequal. And by Mr Kearney’s logic we should make being African-American illegal due to the increased risk of diseases such as diabetes that befalls them. His argument is totally ridiculous.

    In addition I would take issue with his statement that the Church “speaks from a position of genuine concern for individuals and for human flourishing”. Although not religious myself I have a great deal of respect for religion, however I would argue that no religion, organisation or belief mechanism that lays down predetermined views on what is right or wrong can truly speak from a position of genuine concern for human well-being as, by nature, it is biased by these views. It does not represent the views of the entire population and hence cannot and should not have an influence on law, which should be approached independently, empirically and without bias.

    Comment by Ross Macdonald — August 9, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

  9. What leaves me flumoxed is what relevance the arguemeents have in relation to equal marriage.
    Even if all these allegations of LGBT health were true, how does that impact on equal marriage?
    This argument is irrelevant, and taking the debate into and unlit and ludicrous cul-de-sac.

    Comment by Gordon Ross — August 9, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  10. Still can’t work out what any of Kearney’s cherry-picking of health stats has to do with two people who love each other getting married, whether they are gay or straight. Kearney says the lack of debate on health implications of homosexuality “is in stark contrast to the ongoing debates on the health implications of smoking, drug use, alcohol abuse and over eating.” So is he out there vigorously campaigning against fat people who love each other getting married, or smokers, whether they are gay or straight? And where is his corresponding research on the sexual health of gay women?

    Well done Patrick for the responses. Sadly Kearney is one of those people who doesn’t recognise that he is only painting himself into an ever smaller corner.

    Comment by Alistair — August 15, 2012 @ 3:43 pm