Music and dance festivals, clubs, the Mardi Gras. If there’s one thing LGBTIQ+ people know how to do, it’s throw a great party.
But for all sorts of complex reasons, the popular party culture often goes hand-in-hand with alcohol and other drugs (AOD).
NSW’s Sexuality and Gender Diverse Communities LDAT has a mind to change the way people who love to party experience that part of their culture.
And so they are drawing on the equally strong caring culture that characterises sexuality and gender diverse communities.
LDAT Senior Leader Joël Murray says the strategy is about protection through connection.
“The focus of the LDAT for us is, what are the protective factors for our communities that prevent them from using AOD? And the main one is social connection.”
That means finding ways to normalise social connection without AOD. So people can enjoy events and be part of their community without feeling socially obliged to also drink and take drugs.
Respect message resonates every day
To mark this year’s IDAHOBIT Day, the LDAT’s message is about being respectful, whether people do or don’t use AOD.
Joël sees a strong link between the ongoing work of the LDAT and the focus of IDAHOBIT Day (May 17): International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia.
“One of the drivers of higher AOD use in our communities is our minority status – stigma and discrimination. The importance of IDAHOBIT is to address stigma and discrimination, which is a primary prevention measure. If we can reduce stigma and discrimination, then it reduces the minority stress driver of AOD use.”
Enter the Rovers
In their eye-catching bright pink vests, volunteer Rovers of all genders and sexualities have been a familiar sight at events, parties and clubs for years. They keep an eye out for anyone showing signs of distress and offer support, a chat, a helping hand. They contact medical help if it is wanted.
The LDAT saw the opportunity to formalise the Rovers’ harm reduction training, broaden their knowledge around health services and strengthen the way they work together as a network.
It was a natural extension of the widely trusted and respected program, delivered online thanks to COVID-19. The LDAT even found online training increased participation for people who might be time poor or have other barriers to attending in person.
The online Rover training focused on protective factors for the volunteers. Creating a network of peers who are able to help out in the community, without engaging in AOD use. Because they have to be sober on their shift, being a Rover gives people the confidence to go to the party but not use AOD.
“As someone who has a history of AOD use, I might want to go the party, but I don’t want to use AOD,” says Joël.
“And so the way that becomes socially acceptable is for me to join the Rovers. Then I get this amazing network of people that are in the same situation as me, and together we can go to the party, we can enjoy the party, we can help people at the party, we can give back to the community, but we don’t have to be using drugs.”
Extra pressure for diverse communities
Because of a range of factors around being a minority group, including discrimination and stigma, LGBTIQ+ people use drugs at a higher rate than the general population, putting them at greater risk of harm.
“For some people it’s a way to cope and move through the world and adapt. And because there’s a higher rate of AOD use, there is a social acceptability,” says Joël.
There is also a history of cultural practices around dance parties and the use of drugs like ecstasy and GHB.
“We are trying to replicate those cultural practices in a way that we don’t have to use substances.”
This involves building up peer support within sexuality and gender diverse communities for people who choose to party without drugs.
“I think people who do use AOD need to be better allies to people who don’t use AOD. If you offer someone a drink and they don’t want one, it’s about how we manage our reactions to that, trying to encourage and support people around their choices,” explains Joël.
Community support, especially from initiatives like the Rovers, is key.
The LDAT partners are ACON, Central Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network, School of Medicine and Health at University of Sydney, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at University of NSW, and Brain and Mind Centre and School of Psychology at University of Sydney.