June 2017 Monthly Mosaic

Share This!

June 2017 Monthly Mosaic

Intersecting Stigmas: LGBTQ People and Drug Use

Our apologies for the late delivery of the June Monthly Mosaic. Please also welcome Elise Szabo as the Mosaic’s newest co-editor. Thank you to Em Basso for their dedicated service. And, a special thank you to UT Austin chapter leader Andrew Hood, who contributed heavily to this issue.

In the United States, June is celebrated as LGBT Pride Month in honor of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which were a key tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.

In many ways, drugs and queerness are undeniably linked. Both using drugs and identifying as queer unfortunately still carry certain stigmas in modern society. In addition to the dehumanization people who use drugs and people who identify as LGBT+ can encounter, both groups are often unfairly portrayed as the sole creators of the problems they face. While, of course, the choice to use drugs cannot fully equate to something so inborn as gender or sexual identity, we must also remind ourselves that addiction is not a choice.


While, of course, all drug use is not abused and many people are able to use drugs in responsible manners, an estimated 20-30 % of gay and transgender people suffer from problematic substance use, compared to about 9% of the general population.

Gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200% more than their heterosexual and cisgender peers, and 25% of gay and transgender people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.

Men who have sex with men are 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana, 12.2 times more likely to use amphetamines,  and 9.5 times more likely to use heroin than men who do not have sex with men.

Few studies have looked at drug use in the lesbian community, but what little information there is suggests that drug abuse occurs at higher rates among lesbians than heterosexual women and could equal the rates of occurrence in gay men.

Stigma plays a huge role. Openly queer people living in a largely heteronormative culture can experience everything from raised eyebrows to hate crimes, and stress from ongoing discrimination is a principle driver of these higher rates of substance use.

Many queer people use drugs as a coping mechanism, LGBT+ individuals are almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition, and people with mental health problems are significantly more likely to have substance use disorders. Yet, gay and transgender people face a dearth of culturally competent substance abuse services tailored to their needs. Many medical professionals get little more than two hours total of training  — throughout medical school and in residency —  on health-related issues that affect the LGBT+ community.


Key to SSDP-DARE’s mission is elevating the lived experiences of those who have been impacted by the War on Drugs. Here, we here from UT Austin chapter leader Andrew Hood, a key contributor to this issue of the Monthly Mosaic

One of the main reasons I began to experiment with drugs was because I was LGBT.

I had long since been fascinated with pharmacology, and the social pressures of high school had just begun to sink in. In so many ways, high school is everything it is stereotyped to be: cliques exist, labels are applied, and people can be notoriously unpleasant. By my freshman year, I knew that I would likely soon be labeled “the gay kid” in my graduating class. There was one openly gay student in the class before me. Everyone knew his name and the fact that he was gay — but nothing about who he was a person, nothing about his hobbies or interests, and few even had a clear picture of what he looked like.

I was never one to stay firmly and totally in the closet. Feeling doomed to be labeled deviant because of my sexuality, I chose instead to be publicly deviant with my substance use.

I wanted people to know I did drugs. I wanted people to think I was wild so much more than I wanted to be known as “the gay kid.” I wanted some sort of identity other than “the gay kid” in a whitewashed Houston suburb.

I allowed myself to become that person because it afforded me large social graces. As the social dynamics of 2011 suburbia dictated at the time, it was weird for straight people (especially men) to hang out with the “gay kid” as friends. Yet, it was much less weird to hang out with someone to do drugs. Our shared drug use allowed for a connection that would otherwise be socially taboo.

I fell into periods that could probably be called a “bad habit” as a result, but today I’d probably still argue that it was worth it. Worth it to not be “the gay kid.” Worth it to feel humanized —  in a roundabout way.


Interested in learning more about these issues? These sources can help get you started…

Drug use and medication adherence among HIV-1 infected individuals

“This longitudinal study examined the impact of drug use and abuse on medication adherence among 150 HIV-infected individuals, 102 who tested urinalysis positive for recent illicit drug use.”

In The Gay Community, Meth Has Made an Unwelcome Comeback

“Why is meth still so popular in the gay community, and what can be done about it?”

Report: Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Adults Have Higher Drug Abuse Rates

Addressing health-related issues that affect the LGBT community is not really taught in medical school or in residencies. Sometimes all you get are two hours of training and that’s it.”

The Meth-Gay Sex Nightmare

Crystal meth use in the gay and bisexual community soared at the turn of the millennium in Los Angeles…Experts say the transmission of HIV in Los Angeles County went hand in hand with the PNP subculture. But intervention and prevention efforts aimed at stopping the spread of HIV have seen success.

Why the Gay and Transgender Population Experiences Higher Rates of Substance Use

“The stress that comes from daily battles with discrimination and stigma is a principle driver of these higher rates of substance use, as gay and transgender people turn to tobacco, alcohol, and other substances as a way to cope with these challenges.”


The War on Drugs is an international travesty. This section of the Monthly Mosaic, co-sponsored by SSDP’s International Outreach Committee, highlights some of the top drug policy reform news from around the world.

In addition to this month’s international news, we highly recommend checking out A Day in the Life – The World of Humans Who Use Drugs, a new film from Drugreporter.


Austria – SSDP Members in Austria Campaign for Medical Cannabis “On May 26, the two founding members of SSDP Austria marched alongside supporters of medical Cannabis to hand over 10,000 signatures to Dr. Harald Dossi, the director of Parliament, in defense of sensible drug policies.”

Brazil – Brazil Police Raid Sao Paulo ‘Crackland’ and Make Arrests“Brazilian police have arrested nearly 40 people for drug trafficking offences in central Sao Paulo where crack cocaine has been sold and consumed freely for years. About 500 armed police officers were involved in the operation.”

Canada – Montreal Gets Federal Approval for Two Supervised Injection Sites“Supervised injection sites provide a safe space for addicts and provide them with the necessary equipment — sterile syringes, gauze pads and the like — for safe injections.”

France – France to Decriminalize Cannabis Possession Within Months, Interior Minister Says “France’s newly-appointed interior minister has said that personal cannabis possession may no longer be prosecuted from as soon as September, although this change may be accompanied by unprecedented strict rules on people with convictions for selling drugs.”

Indonesia – Indonesia Rejects Calls to Abolish Death Penalty “Abolishing the death penalty was one of the recommendations put to Indonesia by member states at the 27th session of the U.N. Universal Period Review in Geneva, Switzerland.”

Iran – Iran Abolishes Death Penalty for Drug Trafficking “Under the changes, the death penalty for non-band drug traffickers and smugglers who were unarmed and had no previous execution or life imprisonment convictions will be converted to 25 to 30 years of imprisonment.”

Ireland – ‘A great day for drug policy in Ireland’: Supervised injecting centres get go-ahead *Content Warning: article contains potentially triggering images for people who are in recovery “The bill will permit the preparation or possession of controlled substances in supervised premises and exempt certain users from the possession of controlled drugs under certain conditions.”

Israel – Israel’s Cannabis Decriminalization Policy Come Into Effect “The new government policy shifts the responsibility of enforcing marijuana laws from police to civil authorities. Possessing more than 15 grams of cannabis remains illegal in Israel.”

Mexico – How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico “But unlike most places in Mexico that have been ravaged by the drug war, what happened in Allende didn’t have its origins in Mexico. It began in the United States, when the Drug Enforcement Administration scored an unexpected coup.”

Myanmar – The Push to Decriminalize Drugs in Myanmar “Proposed changes to a 1993 narcotics law will treat drug addiction as a health problem rather than a crime and emphasise treatment and rehabilitation over long prison sentences.”

New Zealand – Restriction on Medical Cannabis to be Removed “Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced today that restrictions would be removed for cannabidiol, or CBD, bringing New Zealand into line with other countries including Australia.”

Nigeria – Drug Control in Nigeria: The Human Rights Perspective “Human rights-based approach to drug control in Nigeria should take human rights as a starting point, rather than an afterthought.”

Thailand – Opinion: Need to Revise Drug Laws “Despite having some of the harshest drug laws on the planet, Thailand has over the years managed to consolidate its international reputation as a recreational drug paradise.”

United Kingdom – Six UK Music Festivals to Allow Drug Testing Reading and Leeds Festivals and a number of other live music events are aiming to introduce the scheme with the support of local police forces.”

TAKE ACTION Do an SSDP DARE and get points on the SSDP Chapter Activity Tracker!



Each Monthly Mosaic is edited by Elise Szabo and Kat Murti. This content of this issue was primarily Submittedd by Andrew Hood, with contributions from Emory Basso and Kevin Garcia as well.

Each month, SSDP’s Diversity, Awareness, Reflection and Education (DARE) committee publishes the Monthly Mosaic, a newsletter dedicated to exploring intersectionality and the War on Drugs. Previous issues have covered topics such as  domestic violence, trans awareness, Black Lives Matter, and women’s unique experiences with the drug war. The DARE Committee strives to promote inclusivity within the SSDP network, and facilitate collaboration and engagement with presently underrepresented perspectives, individuals, and movements. In order to ensure that the Monthly Mosaic more intentionally and meaningfully reflects these values, the DARE committee is pleased to invite members of our student and alumni network to submit ideas for upcoming issues.

If you have any questions, please contact Elise at elise@ssdp.org. We look forward to reading your submissions!

Elise Szabo ‘14 They/Them/Theirs or She/Her/Hers Pacific Region Outreach Coordinator Email + Gchat: elise@ssdp.org Twitter: https://twitter.com/elisemszabo Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elise.szabo Office: 202-393-5280 ext. 23 www.SchoolsNotPrisons.org Are you a member of the Sensible Society? Join us today. Kat Murti ’09 She/Her/Hers Chair, SSDP Diversity Awareness, Reflection and Education Committee (SSDP-DARE) Email + Gchat: kat.murti@board.ssdp.org Twitter: https://twitter.com/KatMurti Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KatMurti www.SchoolsNotPrisons.org Enjoyed the Monthly Mosaic? Donate to SSDP-DARE.