BACKGROUND: Recent reviews and studies suggest distinctive health needs among gay men. METHODS: Swiss residents in the Geneva Gay Men's Health Survey (GGMHS, n=477) were matched with controls from the Swiss Health Survey (SHS, n=477) along sex, age, nationality, and region of residence and compared along standard indicators of health status, health behaviors, and health care utilization. Both health surveys were conducted in 2002 using probability sampling--i.e., time-space sampling (GGMHS) and household probability telephone sampling (SHS). RESULTS: Although gay men were significantly less likely to be overweight (adjusted odds ratio (AOR)=0.54), they reported significantly more and severe physical symptoms (AOR ranged from 1.72 to 9.21), short-term disability (AOR=2.56), risk factors for chronic disease--i.e., high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high glucose, and smoking (AOR ranged from 1.67 to 3.89), and greater health services utilization (AOR ranged from 1.62 to 4.28), even after adjustment for differences in socio-demographic characteristics and health behaviors. CONCLUSIONS: Evidence of greater morbidity among a community sample of gay men along standard health indicators underlines the relevance of sexual orientation as a socio-demographic indicator in public health in general and in the health inequalities discourse in particular.