An awareness campaign about breast cancer almost seems redundant these days. Among the pink water bottles, viral YouTube videos, mastectomy art projects and likelihood you know someone who’s had it, breast cancer is a celebrity cancer. Everyone knows it exists. But general ‘awareness’ doesn’t mean that everyone who needs to is getting screened and, among the lesbian, bisexual and queer community (LBQ), rates are worryingly low.
ACON has launched its #TalkTouchTest breast health awareness campaign for LBQ women to address the imbalance. According to the LGBTQI health organisation's CEO Nicolas Parkhill “LBQ women have been identified as an under screened and high risk population for breast cancer. Research has indicated that this may be due to a several factors including higher smoking and risk-drinking rates, lower use of oral contraceptives and more”.
Speaking on ABC Radio National, ACON director of HIV and sexual health Karen Price pointed out that many LGBTQI people have difficult relationships with health providers because of a fear of homophobia. Indeed, according to the Human Rights Commission, 34 per cent of LGBTQI people hide their sexuality or gender identity when accessing services.
At the #TalkTouchTest launch on Wednesday night, Dykes on Bikes club president Manda Hatter explained that some butch or masculine-identifying women may experience a sense of disconnection with their breasts that makes them uneasy about the very idea of getting a mammogram, or may not access screening due to an attitude to health centered on an idea of toughness and strength - a kind of stoic dismissal of health concerns. I know quite a few women who probably wouldn't see a doctor if one of their limbs suddenly fell off - "She'll be right, mate" - let alone if they found a lump in their breast. More broadly speaking, though, the issue is one of visibility. When LBQ women don’t see themselves in mainstream campaigning they are less likely to respond to it.
With most health campaigns targeted at the general population, there has been a lack of direct messaging for LBQ women. #TalkTouchTest, which was developed with funding support of the Aurora Group and City of Sydney, focuses on peer-to-peer education, engaging community groups, sports clubs and community events to spread the word. The campaign encourages women to talk about breast health with their community, friends and partners. Currently providing important information about screening, along with a photo series showing LBQ women in all their glorious diversity, the campaign encourages women to either self-check, or check their friends, family and partners. Research shows that many women find lumps and seek out further testing because they notice a change accidentally; #TalkTouchTest simply recommends formalising that process by setting reminders for regular checks and chatting to your friends about doing the same.
The campaign also effectively plays with stereotypes about the queer community. We often joke that a group of LBQ friends will have all slept together (like The L Word’s chart) and that we all remain best friends with our exes but in my experience, this is often true. Suggesting to a straight woman that she ask her friend or ex to help her check her breasts might be met with shock and derision, but in my circles it’s a perfectly acceptable proposition.
While the broader population are generally aware of the health needs of straight people and, to a lesser degree, gay, bisexual and queer men, far less information is available about the specific health needs of LBQ women. #TalkTouchTest is the latest in a suite of campaigns ACON has launched to address LBQ women’s health, including Smoke Free Still Fierce, a smoking reduction campaign, and the Claude project, which engages artists and creatives to promote women’s sexual health. I contributed my own brand of ‘awareness raising’ to Claude earlier this year, creating a music video to promote the use of latex gloves for STI prevention.
Participating in the Claude project, which has also featured writer Anna Westbrook, model Casey Legler and performance artist Betty Grumble, gave me a direct insight into how creative peer-to-peer education can work. As our video was shared, conversations were had about lesbian sexual health and STI prevention.
ACON’s use of creative messaging, peer-to-peer education, community engagement and grassroots campaigning signals a promising shift in the way we address LBQ women’s health. In the case of #TalkTouchTest, one can only hope the campaign ensures increased rates of screening and earlier diagnoses, keeping more LBQ women healthy, happy and thriving.