July 11th, 2008
The trend in business relations has been towards an acceptance and welcoming of gay and lesbian clients and appreciation of them as customers. This may be because of the perception that product loyalty is particularly strong in gay consumers or because businesses generally believe that moralistic rants drive away not only gay customers but also those who love them.
Which made it all the more surprising to find that Insure.com, an online insurance purveyor, has been hosting articles that make false and defamatory statements about gay men and women.
Gay Mortality Claims
Insure.com is a publicly traded company with an advisory board ranging from a former US Senator to executives with various companies, including AT&T. The company is a major sponsor of Bill O’Reilly’s radio talk show and Bill gives voice to their commercial.
In addition to selling insurance, they provide information about the insurance industry. Joe White, an employee and company blog contributor, wrote two pieces in which he claimed that “being gay” was a health risk, and not just a minor one.
In an article on the business website entitled Top five ways to kill yourself and get away with it, White lists the number one way to kill yourself:
1. Being gay. A gay lifestyle is by far the biggest risk to life expectancy that goes unrecognized by insurance companies. The question has been considered by multiple studies, and the gay lifestyle is universally acknowledged to decrease life expectancy. A conservative estimate is that a gay lifestyle takes away 8-20 years from the average lifespan.
In other words, living a homosexual lifestyle has health risks at least as severe as smoking (by some estimates even more), but due to the sensitive nature of the issue, life insurance companies don’t charge different rates for gays. So gays save money on life insurance at the same rate they die young.
White bases his Number One self-killer information on another insure.com article he authored, Gay men die 20 years younger.
It’s a loaded subject, but let’s get right down to it: gay men, on average, die significantly younger than the rest of the population.
Part of the bases for White’s wild claim is an extrapolation from a 1997 study from Robert Hogg entitled Modeling the Impact of HIV Disease on Mortality in Gay and Bisexual Men. It was based on research performed in Vancouver from 1987 through 1992. The question that they were trying to answer was not the mortality of gay men, but rather the impact that HIV might have on the gay population.
White acknowledges that this study was of HIV positive individuals but then says something curious: “Many who read the study, however, understood it to categorize the gay lifestyle as inherently hazardous.”
Perhaps recognizing that “Impact” means the opposite of “inherently”, White did not reveal the name of the study. Further, the only persons who read some inherent hazard into sexual orientation were anti-gay activists and writers. In fact, this so annoyed the authors that they responded to the claims of anti-gays with a letter of clarification.
Mr. White was aware of the letter; he references part of it.
In the same letter, the researchers reiterated their original claim, that a gay man in Vancouver had the same life expectancy as a Canadian man in 1870, 8-21 years shorter than the average male today.
The wording in the letter is
The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia, but to demonstrate to an international audience how the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men can be estimated from limited vital statistics data. In our paper, we demonstrated that in a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality continued, we estimated that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years would not reach their 65th birthday. Under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban centre were experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by men in Canada in the year 1871.
That does sound ominous, if you stop there. Which is exactly what Mr. White chose to do. He opted to eliminate the substance of the words following this quote:
In contrast, if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996. As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia .
It is essential to note that the life expectancy of any population is a descriptive and not a prescriptive mesaure. Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces everyday. It cannot be attributed solely to their sexual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor. If estimates of an individual gay and bisexual man’s risk of death is truly needed for legal or other purposes, then people making these estimates should use the same actuarial tables that are used for all other males in that population. Gay and bisexual men are included in the construction of official population-based tables and therefore these tables for all males are the appropriate ones to be used.
This is a most curious edit. By leaving out the above paragraphs, White leaves the reader believing exactly the opposite what the authors intended. They did not “reiterate their original claim”; rather, they reported that circumstances had changed significantly and that their statistics were no longer applicable.
While Vancouver during the late 80’s may have had a large number of HIV positive individuals, and while they may have been dying young, this cannot be extrapolated to any other geographic region or time.
But Mr. White did not rely solely on the Vancouver study (with selectively eliminated information). He also based his claims on a familiar source, Paul Cameron.
In 2005, Dr. Paul Cameron, the President of the Family Research Institute, published a study in Psychological Reports that confirmed a 20-year life expectancy gap for actively gay men. Researchers performed the study by examining gay obituaries and comparing them with data from the Center for Disease Control. Both data sets put the average age of death for gay men about 20 years younger than average.
Those of us who are familiar with Cameron and his followers know that these claims are fraudulent. But others relying on White’s claims might not know that Dr. Paul Cameron has been thoroughly discredited.
He has been dropped from the American Psychological Association, condemned by the Nebraska Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Canadian Psychological Association and been barred from presenting himself as an “expert” in at least one courtroom. And even the anti-gay fringe disavowed Cameron after he lauded Rudolph Höss, the camp commandant of Auschwitz, and his efforts to eradicate homosexuality.
White takes the outdated Vancouver study, combines it with Cameron’s bogus “research” and declares:
this revised estimate would establish the life expectancy of gay males to be at least 20 years below average.
This classifies gay men with a graver risk of mortality than smokers and the obese—perhaps the highest mortality risk for any demographic its size.
Are there Mortality Variances?
To the best of my knowledge, there have been no serious studies that reveal any difference in average age of death between heterosexual and homosexual persons. But that does not mean that such a difference does not exist.
Various demographics of persons do have different average life expectancies.
Many factors impact life expectancy – genetics, diet, exercise, smoking, drugs and alcohol, stress, marital status, poverty, and many many more. And there are likely to be some characteristics that result from the social patterns found more often in the gay community.
But we cannot know whether the increased emphasis on diet, exercise, health, and body awareness leads to a measurable average increase in life expectancy. Nor can we know whether a higher incidence of drug use or stress related to discrimination or rejection leads to a measurable decrease. We don’t even know if enough gay persons share enough stereotypical characteristics that these presumed risk factors can impact the gay population as a whole.
During the 80’s and early 90’s we know that deaths from AIDS related illnesses impacted the gay community much more severely than the population at large. But current drug regimens have brought the life expectancy for some HIV positive persons to be nearly that of non-infected persons. And even if there is some reduction due to HIV infection, this subpopulation is only about 15% of gay men and no measurable percentage of lesbians.
Perhaps there is some mortality variance, but neither White nor myself have any idea as to what it might be. And only a highly irresponsible insurance provider would provide to its clients “information” that is both defaming and demonstrably false.
On June 1, we contacted the Robert “Bob” Bland, the CEO of Insure.com and informed him that his company was hosting articles that were factually inaccurate and based on the work of an anti-gay activist that had been discredited.
Bland responded that because the articles were based on third party studies and not original research they would require time to do fact-checking. He did not pull the articles.
We offered to provide Bland with additional information, if needed. He responded:
I may, thank you. We want to do a wider-ranging issue that is fair and balanced and include more research and debate, maybe even quotes from you and your organization.
Can you give me a list of studies or links regarding gay male life expectancy that you think may be valid? Or are you saying that there’s no difference in mortality there?
We discovered that, while the 35 major life insurance companies do not ask about sexual orientation, virtually all of them immediately decline any applicant who is HIV positive, indicating to me that their actuaries have sound data showing reduced mortality for this group, just as they decline anybody who engages in risky hobbies or racing.
We provided Mr. Bland with thorough information about the invalidity of Whites sources as well as clarifying for him that HIV status does not equate to sexual orientation. He responded by repeating his “risky hobbies” comment. That was on June 12th.
On the 28th I wrote inquiring how the research was coming and whether they were going to continue to host the anti-gay articles on their site. Bland responded:
Other priorities came in front of this. This could take 1-4 more weeks as we have limited editorial resources. We’ve never hosted anti-homosexual articles at our site and have no corporate agenda on this issue whatsoever.
As of this writing, the Top Five Ways to Kill Yourself article is no longer at the web address. But those persons wishing to find fun insurance facts can still read that gay men die 20 years sooner, on average, than straight men. Mr. Bland has not clarified why he does not believe this to be an “anti-homosexual” article.
No doubt Insure.com does have some accurate information on their website. But considering the extent to which they are willing to accommodate and defend myth, lies, and homophobic ranting, I would be more trusting of a fast-talking guy with a bad toupee to accommodate my insurance buying needs.
Aug 15: Insure.com Pulls Cameron Quotes
Jul 17: Certified Cameronite: Insure.com
Jul 14: Insure.com CEO Defends Paul Cameron
Jul 11: Insure.com’s CEO Bob Bland Responds
Jul 11: Insure.com’s Anti-Gay Propaganda
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