Drug Use and the LGBTQ+ Community – Taking Pride in Harm Reduction

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This entry has been published on July 2, 2020 and may be out of date.

This piece was originally published by YouthRISE Executive Director Ailish Brennan as a Press Release for SSDP Ireland for both Support. Don’t Punish. and Pride Weekend Celebrations in Ireland.

Pride has become a time defined by love and acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community (LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and the + is for everyone else who identifies in the community). For better or for worse, it has become a month long event with sporting and cultural bodies as well as small businesses and large, international corporations showing the rainbow flag and expressing their support for the LGBTQ+ community. The community has reached new heights of acceptance where being seen to be supportive of LGBTQ+ people is deemed to be profitable. This rainbow-tinted image of the community’s position in society is one that hides many of the problems our community still faces.

Aside from our community facing regular homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination, we experience a range of other issues in a manner different to our cisgender and heterosexual peers. The link between the LGBTQ+ community and drug use is incredibly evident when spending any amount of time in LGBTQ+ spaces. This link is also there in non-LGBTQ+ spaces, just go to any pub on a Saturday night or even your local Garda station. Drug use is present in all sections of society and prohibition has failed to have any tangible impact on drug use and addiction.

LGBTQ+ spaces are overwhelmingly places that are traditionally associated with alcohol consumption and illicit drug use. Gay bars and clubs were the original safe havens for our community and remain a place where LGBTQ+ people can come together and embrace their identity without having to fear the judgmental gaze of wider society. These spaces have changed and developed over time to what we see today in many city centres around the world. As time has gone on new spaces have been forged, notably with the more recent rise of Chemsex within the MSM (Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex With Men) community specifically.

LGBTQ+ people flock to these spaces to escape from the hardships they experience in everyday life. While an in-person Pride has been cancelled this year that is by no means the most significant issue of Covid-19 and the restrictions, or of the LGBTQ+ community, it is representative of a much bigger issue facing many people, but especially members of the LGBTQ+ community during this crisis. The loss of these LGBTQ+ spaces is happening for a number of reasons, whether through venues closing as a result of Ireland’s regressive licensing laws (check out Give Us The Night if you want to fight this), spaces losing their “LGBTQ+ status” having been taken over by non-LGBTQ+ people, or any number of other reasons.

One of these reasons more recently has been venues and safe spaces shutting as a result of Covid-19 lockdown which seen are services that were not essential being closed. This hasn’t just affected venues and bars, organizations such as Outhouse LGBTQ+ community center and BeLonGTo LGBTQ+ Youth service have had to shut their doors temporarily as a result of the crisis. When you are seeking refuge not just from wider society but from discrimination faced within your own home, or if you are one of the disproportionately large amount of LGBTQ+ youth who are without a home, the loss of these safe spaces during times of Covid-19 enforced lockdown becomes a much more significant issue.

These problems make the already vulnerable LGBTQ+ community even more susceptible to suffering from mental health issues, being the victims of violence, engaging in harmful behaviours, or suffering from addiction. With Pride falling on the same weekend as the annual Support. Don’t Punish. Global Day of Action protesting the punitive, prohibitionist approach to drug use, it is important we consider the intersection between the LGBTQ+ community and the community of people who use alcohol and drugs. This Pride Week, we need to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our community are safe.

This Pride Week and beyond it is important we strive for evidence-based, age-appropriate education on drug use that focuses on reducing the harms associated and reducing the incidence of HIV, and other associated bloodborne pathogens. We need increased investment in harm reduction services such as supervised injection facilities as well as increased awareness and consideration for LGBTQ+ specific issues and their intersection with drug use. We need to fast-track the awareness, education and access to life-saving interventions such as Pre- and Post- Exposure Prophylaxis (For more information on these preventative drugs please visit HIV Ireland)

This Pride Week and beyond, we must look out for one another, look out for those most vulnerable within our community. We must also enjoy ourselves and enjoy the time spent within our community in a safe and sensible way. When using drugs, we must know our limits around dosing substances. We must prevent mixing drugs, including alcohol whenever possible, especially those which are known to create more dangerous reactions when mixed together (check out this extensive guide from TripSit for more information on drug interactions, also available as an App). We must be aware that when taking drugs we are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour and ensure we continue to use protection and respect the boundaries of our sexual partners, especially when they are intoxicated.

This Pride Week will be like no other, and at the moment we must respect the medical advice related to Covid-19 and social distancing (see this open letter from Youth RISE for how to stay safe using drugs during the Coronavirus pandemic). When a more normal Pride celebration is eventually permitted, we must ensure we continue to love and support each other, and we must ensure that we continue to act in the best interest of the LGBTQ+ and our own communities physical and mental wellbeing.

On behalf of SSDP Ireland and Youth RISE we want to wish you a safe, happy and visible LGBTQ+ Pride!

For more information on the appropriate terminology used by people who identify within the LGBTQ+ community please visit this link to learn more https://www.shoutout.ie/terminology