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Changing Perspectives on Drug Misuse in The LGBTQ+ Community

Changing Perspectives on Drug Misuse in The LGBTQ+ Community

Talking about the misuse of drugs in the LGBTQ+ community requires that we take into account its unique set of challenges. As a vibrant and diverse community, we each come with our own sets of national, ethnic, racial and economic circumstances that affect the way we live our everyday lives. With that being said the specific contexts for any one individual’s misuse of legal or illegal drugs certainly vary, so this topic is being broached specifically in terms of social spaces, and larger oppressive factors that tend to affect substance use in the community at large. This is especially important as LGBTQ+ individuals are statistically using illegal drugs at significantly higher rates and can, fortunately, be understood through an understanding of factors from youth homelessness and violence to social spaces like bars and clubs.

Some Reasons For Use

Terms like substance abuse and illegal drug use tend to carry with them loaded connotations about legality, morality, and social acceptance, oftentimes functioning as tools for further oppressing and disregarding members of society by treating individuals with substance use disorders (SUDs) as somehow lesser, or undeserving of treatment and care regardless of ones’ sexual or gender identity. Organizations like Rainbow Health Ontario and the Canadian Harm Reduction Network have helped bring light to the specific circumstances of substance use when applied to the LGBTQ+ community. Much of LGBTQ+ culture, especially in cities, has found itself centered on nightlife spaces, like bars and clubs, where the use of recreational drugs are more commonplace. In some cases, the need to associate closely with one’s community opens opportunities for pressure to use drugs. As cities tend to be more politically and socially progressive spaces they oftentimes draw LGBTQ+ youth who have fled violence, or particularly unwelcoming conditions surrounding their expression of sexuality and gender in their homes or former communities. Such changes have given rise to inordinate levels of poverty and a disproportionately high number of LGBTQ+ youth in cities with upwards of 40 percent of youth seeking agency help identifying as a sexual or gender minority according to the United States’ National Coalition for the Homeless. These circumstances leave youth at particular risk, with statistics showing that LGBTQ+ youth are anywhere from 90 percent to 190 percent more likely to use substances than heterosexual youth. The added historical context of oppression by law enforcement and the long-standing criminal status of homosexuality leave other acts deemed illegal in a dubious grey area, as there are oftentimes circumstances where the rule of law does not equivocate with ethical or scientific truths.

In broader societal terms the effects of isolation and stigmatization, as well as physical and psychological abuse, leaves members of the LGBTQ+ community vulnerable to drug misuse regardless of age. Drugs are often tools for escapism. To separate one’s self from past trauma or social stigma on a night out, while having sex, or as a coping mechanism on a regular basis has the potential to feel freeing and can further complicate struggles with potential dependency and addiction. Ultimately this leaves issues like trauma, violence, or internalized homophobia unaddressed when opportunities to safely and healthily deliberate recovery, with support systems like therapy or support groups, exist. But before we address our community’s necessary support role, it is important that we address to what extent substance use and substance use disorders affect our community.

What is The Extent of This Challenge in Our Community?

Given the aforementioned structures in place that has been shown to increase the risk of drug use in the LGBTQ+ community, let’s talk about the numbers. The presence of drug addiction, substance use, and SUDs have been serious issues facing the LGBTQ+ community for decades. But terms of more current research it has been shown that members of the community are twice as likely to have used drugs in the last year and the use of drugs being two to four times higher than the majority population at rates of 39.1 percent versus 17.1 percent. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association have also shown higher rates of addictive legal substances like alcohol and cigarettes amongst sexual minorities. And while five percent more LGBTQ+ community members seek necessary substance use treatment than the majority, that number is still quite low at 15.3 percent.

Talking Mindsets

It’s important that when working to improve and unify our community that we engage with challenging issues like drug misuse and substance use disorders carefully. Many nations have tended to criminalize addiction, which has not only been ineffective for treatment and recovery but tends to perpetuate antagonistic systems of imprisonment and punishment that leave individuals unemployable and less likely or able to seek assistance on top of sexual and gender minority statuses. Major organizations globally, like The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, have proposed a series of responses to the treatment of drug abuse in all communities which at their core seek to alter perspectives on substance use and SUDs. Treating dependency, substance use disorders, and drug misuse as centrally health issues rather than legal ones furthers a more productive means of developing treatment centers, networks, and organizations while moving away from criminal demonization. As a community LGBTQ+ individuals are particularly aware of how painful and isolating it can be to go unsupported by society at large and how an organized community can work to stand up for its members. As such, it is essential that we as a community support sexual and gender minority individuals regardless of their circumstances, without falling prey to ideology that seeks to mistreat those who may faces challenges with substance use. Who are we to truly call ourselves a community if we do not stand by the most vulnerable amongst us and seek to better their circumstances, in whatever way we can?

We can begin with our mindset. Educating ourselves about our communities challenges help us to more accurately understand and talk about substance use, which creates a more productive dialogue that seeks to support, rather than cast aside, individuals in our community. Avoiding negative judgment that may come from not understanding individuals’ circumstances and stereotyped notions of drug use promote the idea that each person is valuable, is an individual, and is deserving of love and support irrespective of their challenges. Taking opportunities to reach out to those in need around us and educate ourselves about community resources like clinics, rehabilitation resources, mental health professionals and support groups are an important part of advocating openness and support to those around you. The LGBTQ+ community uniquely centers itself on love and acceptance. Fostering that love and support in our own physical and mental care and the care of those around us, from the most vulnerable to the most successful, promotes a culture of health and unity.

Written by Matthew Farrar

Sources

(2007). Substance Abuse in Canada: Youth in Focus. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-011521-2007-e.pdf

(2014). LGBTQ People, Drug Use & Harm Reduction. Rainbow Health Ontario. www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2015/06/RHO_FactSheet_LGBTDRUGUSEHARMREDUCTION_E.pdf

(2016). “SAMHSA Report Shows Higher Rates of Substance Use And Mental Illness among Sexual Minority Adults.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. www.samhsa.gov/newsroom/press-announcements/201610110100

(2017). Substance Use and SUDs in LGBT Populations. National Institute on Drug Abuse. www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbt-populations

“LGBT Homelessness.” National Coalition for The Homeless. http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt/

Gutierrez-Morfin, Noel (2016). “Report: Lesbian, Gay and Bi Adults Have Higher Drug Abuse Rates.” NBC News. www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/report-lesbian-gay-bi-adults-face-higher-substance-abuse-rates-n671876

Marshall, M. P. et al. (2008). Sexual orientation and adolescent substance use: a meta-analysis and methodological review. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2680081/

Volkow, Nora (2014). “UNODC Recommends Treating Addiction as Health, Not Legal, Issue.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2014/03/unodc-recommends-treating-addiction-health-not-legal-issue

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Plan B

Plan B

For years my mother has used the expression “Life is full of challenges, and if ‘Plan A’ doesn’t work out, then you have to go to ‘Plan B’.” And so onto Plan B we go!

Plan A, our “Round the World Trip,” has been put on hold indefinitely due to a serious illness in the family. The trip and documentary will go forward at some time in the future, and we will keep everyone informed when we are able to confirm.

Plan B, our “Global Outreach Campaign” will be our immediate priority. The search for new contributors and grassroots organizations will continue, which allows us to work closer to home. We will continue to connect to individuals and groups across the globe, and share their stories and activities with you. We will be attending pride events in Western Canada to increase our visibility, to explore opportunities to collaborate with local organizations, and to help bring attention to important issues facing the LGBTQ+ community. We look forward to connecting with you in person and online in the coming months. Stay tuned here and on our social media channels for more updates. In the meantime, be well and be yourselves!

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Round the World 2018

Round the World 2018

It has taken many months of exploring options, but we have now finalized the details of the around-the-world trip beginning in May. With the multitude of LGBTQ+ events that will happen in 2018 to choose from, the many organizations we hope to visit, scheduling dozens of potential individual interviews with locals, connecting with translators (plus tackling the logistics of booking 20+ flights and accommodations over the eight months) coordinating this adventure was a daunting task!

But ultimately when we remind ourselves why we are doing this and what is at stake for LGBTQ+ communities around the world, who are in various stages of enacting sexual orientation laws to protect members, we know it will all be worth it. The organizations and grassroots groups we are meeting with will shed light on their work and provide us with a better view of how they will achieve their strategic goals.

The stories that we will be collecting will continue to be shared on the project’s website, and the footage from the interviews will be amalgamated into a documentary film. Keep reading our blog for more stories and updates.

The big events we are committed to so far are:
– Edinburgh Pride June 15-18
– London Pride July 5-9
– Paris 2018 Gay Games August 4-12

This map indicates some of the cities we will be visiting and will add more as we confirm.

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The Proud Diplomat

An Interview With Kevin Huntting: Founder of The Proud Diplomat

The Proud Diplomat

An Interview With Kevin Huntting: Founder of The Proud Diplomat

Dale:     Tell me about your project The Proud Diplomat?

Kevin:     The Proud Diplomat started over two years ago. The reason I started the project is I am married to a Mexican citizen and diplomat. And, around the time he received a new post, we moved from San Francisco to Dallas, I started searching for information about LGBTQ individuals who were married to a diplomat or living this ex-pat type of lifestyle. To my surprise, I found there was little, if any, information. I wanted to find this information to be able to relate and get insight from other people’s experiences. It just didn’t seem like there was a lot of great information out there.

That’s where the idea was born. So, I created a space where people can share their stories of living abroad, living in different cities, or countries, either single, partnered, or married with the intent of sharing their experiences. It can be very scary and exhilarating to uproot your professional and personal life every 3-4 years or to just pick up and move to a new country to study or work. The spectrum of stories I feature are broad and the site encompasses three main areas 1) the personal authentic stories of this community, 2) global facts and information, and 3) travel and culture. Some examples of the stories I feature revolve around how individuals define home, how to manage a career, and how to manage a same-sex relationship. The project covers a gamut of topics with the primary focus of sharing those authentic stories and experiences so that other individuals can relate.

Dale:     How did you start the project?

Kevin:     Similar to you and your project Living Without Disguises, I wanted to write about my personal experiences. So, I created my own website and blog sharing some of my experiences. My first piece was about picking up and moving both my professional and personal life from San Francisco to Dallas.

There was a lot of anxious energy there, and I had to put all my trust into my husband since I didn’t have a job, friends, or family in Dallas. I had to believe in the fact that I chose love over my career, which is a risk. ” So, I left my career, and started writing about my experiences.”

It was only after writing a few pieces, and understanding a life of constant change, did I start to think this project could be bigger and that I wasn’t the only person going through these types of experiences, so I thought how can I get other people involved to hopefully share their experiences as well?

Dale:     What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

Kevin:     It’s an informative space that, ideally, becomes a global community. I would like for it to become a forum where people can interact with one another depending on where they are. For example, a support network of individuals who may be based in various countries around the world.

I’m far from reaching that goal, but my initial focus has been to help build awareness of the project, and over time I will realize my vision for the entire project. There are significant challenges LGBTQ individuals face from “How do you manage a same-sex relationship if you’re moving every three to four years or you find yourself in a country where you don’t speak the language?” You don’t immediately have a support system to turn to. And, if you don’t have family, or friends it really becomes challenging. For me, establishing a network of individuals who are there to share and support each other and make a positive difference in the lives of others is my goal.

Dale:     How have you found the community responding to it?

Kevin:     Most people respond very well to the overall concept. They think it is amazing and always share how interesting they think it is.”

But like you had talked about with LWD, it seems like sometimes I hit a wall trying to get people to share their experiences. They may start off by saying “Oh, sure, I would be open to participating.” But, many times people get cold feet at the point of making it public. I’d say it hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be, and a lot of times I have to rely on a close networks of friends that I have here in D.C. to help continue building the stories and finding individuals who want to participate.

But, I am the type of person who believes in the vision of my project, so I just keep pushing forward. I know if I keep pushing it forward something great will happen as my audience seems to be highly engaged, and in need of the content. Last week, I interviewed the Canadian Ambassador to the OAS about LGBT initiatives and, Canada’s perspective and leadership.

So, I’m getting somewhere. Slow and steady wins the race though I would like more people to want to proactively participate.

Dale:     What are the obstacles or the hurdles you’ve found most daunting?

Kevin:     First off, finding people who also believe in what I’m trying to do. Unlike you, I don’t have a non-profit. It’s not an established 501 (c) so there is no board of directors or big budgets now, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and how I work and trying to get people involved.

Recently, I have been involving other individuals in the project as writers and contributors. I am currently working with a gentleman, Matthew, who you just spoke to, in Chicago, and he is focused on the section of my project around Facts affecting the LGBTQ global community. He recently wrote a piece about racisms within the LGBTQ community, and the piece resulted in healthy engagement. I plan to continue   partnering with smart, like-minded writers and contributors in order to increase the quality and quantity of my content.

I would consider bringing in a partner. It needs to be someone who is as passionate as me about the LGBTQ community and wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Sometimes, it can feel like I am the character from The Myth of Sisyphus who is just pushing and pushing that rock uphill, but I am enjoying it.

Dale:     That’s the most important part.

Dale:    So what happens next for you and for the project?

Kevin:     The next steps are producing more quality content on a regular basis. For me, the website and building content that is relevant for my audience is a lot of the work that I’ve done along with the analysis to support it. But, I need to be producing more content.

I think the second piece, which you already doing, is that I need to get out there more and talk about my project face-to-face. DC is such a great place to be because it is home to so many International expats, and diplomats, which is the same audience I am reaching through Facebook, and my website. I need to get out there and speak to people about it. My background is in consumer marketing, but I need to push myself to get out and talk more about my project as this could lead to finding additional support allowing me to take it to the next level.

Dale:     What has been the most surprising part of working on the project for you?

Kevin:     The most surprising part of this project, is that if you have something that you believe in passionately, you should definitely find a way to bring it to life. Don’t listen to the critics, as they are everywhere, and follow your passion as it will result in so much personal happiness and growth. Also, the adage about working hard will result in something good, is so true. Going it alone is challenging to navigate at first, and full of surprises, but the harder you work, and the more you believe in yourself and your idea the better the results. You just need to keep knocking on people’s doors, even when many of them say no. Believe it will happen, and with time, effort, and energy, it will.

I didn’t realize that it was going to be as challenging as it is.

Dale:     In the perfect picture senario of your project, what would be the end result?

Kevin:     I think for me; the perfect result would be a highly engaged global community full of inspiring stories and information. Having a more engaged audience and connecting people through a global LGBTQ network would be success.  And, of course, making a positive different in the lives of others. Let’s get to work! You can reach us by email at info@theprouddiplomat.com or visit us at www.theprouddiplomat.com.

 

 

 

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Why a Nonprofit?

Why a Nonprofit?

On January 15 Living Without Disguises officially became a nonprofit organization. It is a pivotal step in the future of the project, and one I know will allow me to accomplish many of the objectives I have set out over the last several months.

Some have asked: ‘Why become a nonprofit?’  Well, that isn’t an easy answer!

When I decided to create Living Without Disguises, I knew I wanted to develop something that would allow members of the LGBTQ+ community a safe place to share their stories. I wanted to see first-hand what is going on in the LGBTQ+ world, talk directly with members of my global community, and then merge those interviews and journey into a documentary film. I hoped that the website might be a place to connect and for those that don’t have the same opportunities or weren’t in a place where they could speak their truth. I wanted to consolidate this collection of inspirational journeys so that we could see that despite our differences, we are not alone.  

I could have stayed the course and not deviated from my original vision, but as I dug deeper into conversations with individuals and leaders in the LGBTQ+ community, I realized there was so much more that could be done to help unite our community globally. Though I may not be able to define those specifics right now, so many of the people I have spoken to are teeming with ideas of how Living Without Disguises can be a launch pad for advocacy and change.

The fundamental objectives of the project will remain the same but how we achieve them will now depend on more than just me and a few volunteers. As a non-profit organization we are better equipped to envision, manifest and execute projects and initiatives.The board will now oversee the project mission and guide future initiatives, providing a much more formal structure.  The LWD Projects mission and purpose will continue to integrate the personal interests of individuals associated with it, but with more clarity and efficiency.

I have always felt a great responsibility and accountability to the individuals sharing their stories and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole in the project mission.  Accountability and transparency of the project and our objectives will become more important as we grow.  We will not only have the responsibility to contributors but to our donors and how their donations are making a difference in our mission.

To date, the project has been completely self-funded. There had been offers of donations, but in the beginning, I decided that to control the project and not alienate certain individuals or groups, it would be best to decline such support.  Now as an incorporated nonprofit we can choose how we fundraise and those activities will be completely transparent and publically available.  

We will hold our first fundraiser on May 5th in Victoria BC, the proceeds raised will support the project’s vital activities including updating of the project website, copywriting, transcribing services, and hiring of interpreters for the documentary film.  All travel expenses for the upcoming trip remain self-funded, and no money from the fundraising activities will go towards it.

I chose to officially register Living Without Disguises as a non-profit organization so that I could develop the project to its full potential. As exciting it has been to launch the project and be responsible for every aspect of the work , I quickly came to realize that I could not do it alone. And isn’t that why I started this in the first place – so that members of my LGBTQ+ community would be able to connect to others who could support them and their journeys? I realized that maybe I needed to take a dose of my own medicine, and collaborate with additional resources and talent who felt as passionately about this as I did; to call on others who could help me bring this project to a truly global scale.

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Orlando

My grief that was the genesis of this project

Orlando

My grief that was the genesis of this project

In the spring of 2016, I had been working for CTV Vancouver Island in the newsroom for a few years. When you are exposed to tragic or depressing news stories daily – mass shootings, bombings, racism, hate crimes against gays and other minority groups – you can, unfortunately, become oversaturated, maybe even a little numb. Even stories of politicians attempting to take away the hard-fought rights that the LGBTQ+ community had become so common that it became less and less clear which direction I should focus my attention.

But then on June 12, Orlando happened.

Overnight the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting changed everything for me. I felt connected to my community like never before, and I needed to do something! I spoke to my friends. We shared stories of how we felt, and shared the anguish in our hearts. Everywhere I looked online, on TV and in print, there was a story on the shooting and its victims. In cities across the USA and the world, gatherings and vigils were being held to commemorate the victims and to show solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community.

What hit home the hardest for me, and for everyone I talked to, was that it could just as easily have been me and my friends in that nightclub. I couldn’t help but remember the countless evenings me and my friends would head out for a night at the bar – to let loose, to celebrate events, to meet new people. There was a time when a gay bar was one of the few safe places we could go to be ourselves. Gay bars were the only place to go and not have to be afraid that someone might push you around for looking at them the wrong way or making eye contact. For many of us gay bars were more than just a place to party. Gay bars were home. For me, this was the tragedy. Suddenly somewhere I had considered a safe place was no longer safe. A deranged individual, took all that away.

In my heart, all I could think was who were these people and their families. So much attention was paid to the shooter – who he was and what made him commit such a heinous act of hate. But I wanted to know about the people whose lives were lost. The people whose stories were ended with the pull of a trigger by a madman. I was devastated by the fact that no one would ever get to meet them for the first time, and get to know them. I was devastated that they would never get to tell their stories.

It was my horror, my outrage, and my grief that was the genesis of this project. I realized that I wanted to create something that would enable my community to tell our stories in a place that was safe, especially now that that our one safe sanctuary had been violated in such a horrific way. Living Without Disguises came to be because I wanted in someway to bring our community together, and make sure that each and every one of us got a chance to tell our stories, so that we would never be forgotten in the event that something so unspeakable would happen to us. I was motivated to tell my story, and I hoped that others would come forward and tell theirs.

If you feel compelled to add your story to our anthology, please do.