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life expectancy of gay men

August 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Listening to The Dividing Line lately has been excruciating. James White, the host, is usually interesting to listen to, but lately he’s just been repeating himself and using an increasing number of cliches and buzzwords and fewer and fewer facts, especially regarding gay marriage. I have to admit that for the last couple of weeks if I hear him start in on Islam or gay marriage I will typically fast-forward until he moves on to the next topic. Listeners who skip him altogether missed a fascinating discussion of the primacy of Peter last week, but not much else.

One of tropes he’s been flogging lately has been the difference between the “culture of life” (in the Christian community) and the “culture of death” (in the broader culture). I’m accustomed to hearing “culture of life” meaning at least political (if not organizational) opposition to abortion and euthanasia; sometimes opposition to war; rarely any mention of support for say good nutrition or limits on pollution; almost never any references to homosexuality.

I’ll say just as an aside that claims to a “culture of life” are harder for modern evangelicals to make in the wake of the Iraq War, but that’s another topic for another day.

White repeatedly refers to gay men having shorter lifespans than their heterosexual counterparts; he sometimes goes on to suggest that any kind of legal marriage-like arrangement won’t lengthen gay men’s lives the way marriage does straight men’s lives. So I went looking for some data.

Back in June, Sean Gorman of the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch published a “Politifact Virginia” analyzing similar comments by Delegate Bob Marshall claiming that homosexual men live twenty years less than their straight counterparts [link]. Here’s the takeaway: there was a study conducted in Canada, looking at how HIV changed life expectancy among gay men in Vancouver over the period 1987-1992, and they had a life expectancy of about 20 years less than the baseline.

This was during a period of time that deaths due to HIV were rising substantially each year; these peaked in the US about 1995 [link]. Here’s Gorman’s quote:

In the United States, figures from the Centers for Disease Control show that the rate of HIV deaths per 100,000 people peaked at 36.3 deaths in 1995 and fell to 2.7 in 2010, the latest year data is available.

So far as I can tell there have been no substantial studies on the life expectancy of gay men since then, so if you’re willing to connect the dots the way Gorman does it’s reasonable to conclude that gay men in the United States are living longer today than their late Eighties counterparts in Vancouver, so their life expectancy is no longer twenty years less than their straight counterparts.

The truth of course is more complicated; gay men die of causes other than HIV/AIDS; they apparently have a cancer rate that is roughly double that of straight men [link]; during adolescence they attempt suicide at higher rates than their straight counterparts [link]; etc. But so far as I can tell nobody has updated the Canadian life expectancy numbers in a way that would substantiate the kind of claim Marshall makes above.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader whether White’s “culture of death” claims are as strong as he makes them sound.