Scotland’s LGBT community is being targetted and exploited by alcohol companies, new research commissioned by Glasgow Caledonian University suggests.
The research also highlights a startling lack of support for LGBT people when coming out, who often drink heavily after they have made the decision to announce their sexual identity.
It also suggests that people who enjoy “the scene” are more likely to drink heavily than those who don’t frequent specifically LGBT bars.
The report, which took into account the views and experiences of many LGBT people, found that “entry into the alcohol-fuelled commercial gay scene was perceived as a necessary rite of passage, a way to gain acceptance and, by some, as an important part of LGBT identity.”
Several of those providing evidence observed that LGBT-friendly bars tended to offer more drinks promotions than more mainstream venues, “such as scantily-dressed staff selling cheap shots off trays”.
The findings are not altogether surprising. Businesses of all types have long recognised the value of the “pink pound”. Furthermore, previous research has indicated that LGBT people are more likely to present with mental health related problems or be at risk from alcohol dependence as heterosexuals. Part of the reason for the increased risk of alcohol-related problems in LGBT people appears to be the limited options for socialising outside of “the scene” and places where they felt comfortable to express their identities freely.
The authors of the report have now urged alcohol companies to market their products more responsibly. Dr Carol Emslie, the lead researcher, said: “Drinking is central to the commercial gay scene and the alcohol industry is increasingly marketing their products directly to LGBT consumers – for example the sponsorship of gay pride in the UK and USA and how a lot of vodka brands, in particular, promote themselves as gay friendly.
“We need to make sure there are more places in Scotland where LGBT people can meet to socialise without alcohol, as well as working towards a culture where all groups in society find it acceptable to drink moderately, or indeed to choose not to drink at all.”
However, the problem is wider than the matter of aggressive marketing. Dr Emslie and her colleagues also expressed concern that LGBT people often found themselves unsupported, especially when coming out. They highlighted ongoing discrimination and a lack of understanding in some services; it was suggested that Alcoholics Anonymous, being focused on straight white men, did not feel inclusive or welcoming, while GP services came under fire for often failing to understand, and sometimes jumping to incorrect conclusions, about LGBT people’s lifestyles.
Eric Carlin, director of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP), said: “LGBT people are as susceptible to getting into problems with alcohol as anyone else. However, this study shows that many LGBT people still feel stigmatised and support services can feel intimidating. Hopefully, this report will provide useful insights to reduce barriers to LGBT people accessing support.”
The research, which was funded by SHAAP, will be presented to the Scottish Parliament next week.