YOUR VOICE | Opinion: by T. R. Hawkins
Alright. Let me get this out of the way; I have never used hard drugs. I am a cis male, which is to say that I am comfortable with the gender identity that I was given at birth. And, I also come from a middle-class American family. I am white. Why am I telling you these things? Because it is important to state that I can never fully empathize towards these oppressed LGBTQ groups; I can only show my sympathy.
I do not face the same blockades that these people may have to face (and statistically most likely will have to face). One of the things I can do, though, is listen to them and share their experiences in hopes of exposing these truths to a broader audience.
With that being said, let’s get to the facts and try to expose how one’s sexuality can affect the rest of their lives thanks to a biased system as well as a minefield of socio-economic problems that disproportionately effect LGBTQ people.
The struggle of being “different”
In a recent national study on adolescent health, 45% of females and 35% of males who reported same-sex attraction or behaviour smoked; compared to only 29% for the rest of the youth. – The National LGBTQ Tobacco Control Network.
I think here’s a good starting point for a lot of questions that most people might not have considered when it comes to LGBTQ.
Despite steps towards greater equality and recognition, our implicitly discriminative, hostile and homophobic culture continues to impact the lives of LGBTQ people. Now, what is a common every-day vice that people tend to turn to first in hopes of calming down? Cigarettes. Lots of them. It is then somewhat alarming that so many “queer’ people are taking up the bad habit at a rate that is so much higher than their heterosexual peers.
Minority Stress: When “a hostile, homophobic culture, … often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization.”
It seems that by simply projecting hetero-normativity via the media and across our culture, we are making it hard for our queer youth to be comfortable with themselves. Unfortunately, it is very well documented that such an unhealthy crutch can, in fact, kill.
The higher rate of tobacco addiction is mirrored by larger rates of drug addiction compared to their straight peers.And this search for escapism can likely lead to life-threatening diseases.
As put into words in the novel Unequal Opportunity: Health Disparities Affecting Gay and Bisexual Men in the United States, the author states “Since the beginning of the AIDS crisis, an increasing number of medical conditions have been recognized as associated with substance abuse, including the myriad HIV-associated conditions, chronic hepatitis C, multiple pulmonary conditions, and other metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.” It is documented on the official website for the CDC that persons abusing substances may also increase the risk of them getting HIV (or giving it to others) due to risky sexual practices and/or sharing needles or other injection methods.
Let’s look at some figures:
I know that is a lot of information to take in, but here are some of what I believe to be necessary numbers to investigate as far as this subject matter goes;
- An estimated 20 to 30 percent of gay and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population (source),
- Gay and transgender people smoke tobacco up to 200 percent more than their heterosexual (and cis gendered) counterparts (source),
- 43 percent of gay and 90 percent of transgender people have experienced discrimination and harassment on the job (source),
- Fifty-six percent of gay individuals and 70 percent of transgender individuals report experiencing some form of discrimination in housing based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (source).
Due to all of these factors, is it any surprise that substance abuse is rife? Yet, queer people are killing themselves at a far higher rate simply because getting help is either too hard or unavailable to them. After all, only 11.2% of Americans seek professional help at the best of times.
The statistics have proven time-and-time-again that those numbers would most likely be worse if they were done strictly on the gay and transgender communities.
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- America’s got a problem that no one wants to talk about. Read more in: America’s Drug Addiction
This is not okay. We all need to be more fully aware of how these systems play into one another. The hetero-normative of our culture is rapidly taking a lot the great minds of our youth (and therefore our future as well) and putting them on a track that is destined to have them exposed to an exponential amount of dangerous situations.
There seems to always be a stigma associated with getting help, whether it be mental health or physical health. The world at large would have you believe that getting help shows signs of weakness or embarrassment or that you are a flawed character, and most people do not want others thinking they are flawed in any way. We all want our peers to see us as positive beacons in their lives. But sometimes the strongest thing you can do is show that you have a flaw, an open wound, and you’ll be astounded at how quickly your friends and family will flock to your side and help you begin the healing process, almost as if you are a baby again, unconditionally loved and looked after…
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