What can we do…so that we’re giving gay men the best opportunities to be powerful, productive, capable and happy in their lives?
Dr. David Brennan is one of Canada’s leading social science community-based HIV researchers. He’s got a reputation as being someone who turns findings into action and advocacy that supports better health for communities at risk for HIV. He is also the recipient of the 2018 CAHR – CANFAR Excellence in Research in Social Science.
Dr. Brennan’s work has influenced and led to the adoption of new health policies and practice in the Ontario government. He and his work are also respected internationally – particularly his focus on gay and bisexual men’s health and wellness.
The former Canada Research Chair in Health and Social Justice, Prof. Peter A. Newman, describes Dr. Brennan’s research as “deeply embedded in community concerns and needs” and that it reflects social work’s commitment to community engagement.”
“His program of research is innovative and pioneering, designed to address health disparities among sexual minority men,” said Newman. “(It) directly impacts the lives of those most affected by the epidemic, and that the delivery of services is based on the communities’ diversity, priorities, needs, and strengths.”
Brennan’s remarkable Imagine Men’s Health Study examined the links between experiences of racism and body image among men of colour and was used to develop targeted sexual health campaigns among GBMSM.
His community-driven Cruising Counts study helped assess the relevance, feasibility, and usefulness of sexual health outreach via mobile apps such as Grindr, Scruff, Hornet and others that are used by the GBMSM+ community.
With the help of health partners like Ontario’s Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance, Cruising Counts’ findings supported the overhaul of provincial guidelines about providing online outreach services to gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.
Dr. Brennan currently leads a project designed to train young gay men in health research and advocacy, called the Investigaytors. The second cohort of this project is learning ways to analyze data related to GBMSM health in Ontario.
He is optimistic that his work will address something that researchers have known for a very long time, “but were very distracted (from it) because of the power of the HIV epidemic” and the devastation to our community.
Before HIV, Brennan said researchers were already beginning to look at things like substance use and mental health issues among gay men and other queer populations.
“I hope my research will continue to build capacity for new trainees to come into this field,” said Dr. Brennan. “I get to work with a lot of really young, exciting people who are interested in these issues, so for them to (be able) to build into a ‘next generation’ addressing these issues (is) important.”
Brennan also wants his research to lead to development of interventions and tools that ensure researchers are efficiently and in “a ‘culturally competent’ way” speaking to gay men in the language that they use.
This would include how researchers address mental health and substance use issues and then work upstream to reduce impacts of bullying, trauma and violence, and reduce gender and sexual orientation policing by people in the lives of young queer people – young gay and bi men in particular.
Brennan’s research will contribute towards reducing things such as suicide rates; HIV and STI infections and mental health diagnoses.
We have more gay men who die from suicide than HIV in this country and why is that? People don’t commit suicide because they’re doing well.
“So what can we do to reduce the impact of homophobia, institutional and structural homophobia, so that we’re giving gay men the best opportunities to be as powerful, productive, capable and happy in their lives?”
In the years to come, Dr. Brennan would like to lead or be part of an even larger group of researchers who are leading the next generation into creating the best research to address the harms that come to gay and bi identified guys.
He stresses that it’s important for researchers to reduce these health disparities and that gay and bisexual men don’t develop more issues with substance use and mental health issues – as many have already.