Cities Journal

Are Big American Cities Killing Young Gay Men?


For decades, young gay men have been flocking to major cities in order to escape the prejudices of the smaller communities they grew up in and to feel more accepted. Even in today’s climate where the media have definitely done away with bigotry, in every day life, young gay people are still discriminated against, especially outside large metro areas. Because of this, young gay men (and women for that matter even though they were not part of the study) are still flocking to large cities which might actually be killing them according to a study done recently.

The study in question was conducted by an associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health John Pachankis and his team and is probably the most comprehensive study on the subject; that subject being migration of gay and bisexual men between the ages of 18 to 29 and the physical and emotional implications that this migration comes with. The full name of the study is New to New York: Ecological and Psychological Predictors of Health Among Recently Arrived Young Adult Gay and Bisexual Urban Migrants.

Gay and bisexual men between the ages of 18 and 29 who have moved to New York City in the 12 months prior to the study were questioned about their hometowns, their new experiences, motivations for migration as well as health risks. The online survey was completed by 273 men altogether and the results are somewhat scary, we have to say.

Before sharing their results, the study referenced earlier research that had been done about young sexual preference minority migrants to large cities, reminding us of the things that have been more or less “established” by the researchers over the years.

For instance, they reminded us of the findings which have been mostly qualitative and which described migrants’ early days in large urban centers as particularly risky, engaging in risk-taking sexual activity and substance abuse in order to make up for the intimacy that they lost after leaving their hometowns. The researchers also reminded us that the gay men migrating from small towns have traditionally been more at risk due to the relative unpreparedness for new surroundings and experiences.


The researchers then point out that these previous studies and research have all but ignored the motivation behind migration as an important factor. And it is easy to see why this is a serious misstep, since someone who has migrated to a large city (in this case New York City) to have a career as opposed to simply escaping bigotry should be much less likely to engage in behavior that might put their health at risk.

This study was therefore aimed at this, while also examining other factors, such as hometown characteristics and personal background factors such as financial situation, education and so on.

They wanted to see whether the motivation behind migration would protect the migrants against increased health risks. These health risks include HIV transmission, problems with alcohol or substance use as well as mental health concerns. The reason for this is that young gay men are at increased risk of these in general and migration elevates these regardless of the sexual orientation.

One of the findings that is particularly alarming is that nearly three quarters of the study subjects reported at least one of the health risks that were assessed. Discrimination in their hometowns was related to all of the health risks. Higher income levels resulted in lower odds of mental health problems and HIV transmission risk behavior, while increasing risk of alcohol abuse. The study also showed that migrants from outside the United States were less likely to engage in HIV transmission risk behavior.

Another very important finding is that those young men who arrived to NYC in the previous 6 months were more likely to engage in HIM transmission risk behavior.

The most important findings of the study have to be the increased tendency toward HIV risky behavior within the first months of arriving in a large city and the fact that hometown discrimination contributes to all of the risks.

The upside to these findings is that they are all things policy and social work can influence.


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