Tanning Salons Targeting Gays? One Study Says Maybe So

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday October 7, 2019

A new study shows that indoor tanning facilities are much or likely to be found in and near neighborhoods where there are a high number of male same-sex couples. If so, is it just a matter of businesses responding to market forces? Or are gay men being targeted by an industry with purported links to higher rates of skin cancer?

The study comes from researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, reports the Stanford Medicine News Center.

The study looked at a number of cities with significant gay populations and found that tanning salons were twice as prevalent in and near neighborhoods with a high number of male same-sex couples.

Calling tanning beds "a class 1 carcinogen," dermatologist and study lead author Eleni Linos issued this warning:

"I don't think we can be naïve and think of this as just another business. There's no benefit to indoor tanning. Because we are already seeing very high rates of skin cancer in this community, we need to be particularly vigilant about industry influence."

The study took note of skin cancer's higher prevalence among gay and bisexual men - a demographic that is six times more likely to use indoor tanning facilities than are heterosexual men, the Stanford Medicine News Center reported.

The concern is that indoor tanning seemingly correlates to a doubled risk of skin cancer among gay and bisexual men, as compared to straights.

Said Eleni:

"Our concern is whether the tanning industry is targeting high-risk communities, similar to how the tobacco industry has done in the past, marketing to vulnerable groups."

Newsweek summed up the study's finding's and its implications for public health among the LGBTQ community in starker terms, with a headline that asked whether the indoor tanning industry might be "targeting gay men" by clustering in neighborhoods with more male same-sex couples, thereby "putting them at risk of cancer."

Eleni noted in comments to Newsweek that a larger problem for LGBTQ people in America is "health disparities related to stigma and discrimination."

Some fear that such discrimination is well on its way to being institutionalized in law. Earlier this year, the Trump administration moved to enhance the so-called "conscience clause" that allows a broad swath of medical and health care professionals to exclude people from care by citing religious or moral objections to groups to which those patients belong - groups such as the LGBTQ community, for example, or women whose medical history might include abortion.

Media sources noted that instances of skin cancer thought to have been caused by indoor tanning approach the half-million mark every year in the United States.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.