Yesterday, The New Civil Rights Movement published our report and initial analysis of a UK study on rates of drug abuse among the UK LGBT population. The study, “Part of the Picture: Lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s alcohol and drug use in England (2009-2011),” was actually funded by an LGBT charity, The Lesbian & Gay Foundation, and was presented in the British and U.S. media as finding that gay people are seven times more likely to use illegal drugs.
The New Civil Rights Movement continues to strongly oppose the media’s characterization of the study, and continues to characterize the study’s methodology as flawed, as we reported yesterday:
One of several problems with the study seems obvious: those who took the survey were attendees at gay pride parades — hardly a representative sample of LGBT people. Other issues include age samples, the group the study used as a base, and that the study is one that uses self-reporting for its results. is the study flawed? Most likely yes, but there may still be important takeaways. Can we call it good science? Sociologists will need to weigh in, but given the easily-spotted flaws, it seems doubtful.
There is little question that LGBT people are subject to more harassment and hate than any other segment of the population, and it’s not surprising to learn that members of socially and politically oppressed populations would look for relief, possibly in illegal substances, especially when LGBT social life historically revolved around bars, although that has changed for many as advances in equality make their way into cultures.
Time will tell how vlid this particular study is. Studies like these, if they are valid, are important because they expose the hidden needs of minority populations, but it is irresponsible for studies like these to be released without context and explanation, allowing those on the Right to use them as “evidence” of poor moral character, especially when those on the Right created the very scenarios that strongly contribute to this behavior.
In researching the study for yesterday’s article, we contacted the Lesbian & Gay Foundation, and received the following response, from both the Lesbian & Gay Foundation and the University of Central Lancashire, who jointly conducted the study. We offered to publish their response, which you can read, in full and unedited, below, followed by our comments:
Thank you for taking the time to read and report on our study in to drug and alcohol use amongst lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people in England. The report is certainly generating a good deal debate about these issues, something we feel is long overdue and we have now had the opportunity to read a range of responses to the report. We welcome your contribution to the debate but would like to take the opportunity to point out a number of inaccuracies in your article
You criticise the findings on the basis that ‘those who took the survey were attendees at gay pride events’. This is a partial presentation of the facts based on a misreading of the report. While most (81%) of the respondents were surveyed in this way, the remainder responded to the survey either by post or on-line questionnaire. This is important, because your article misses the steps we have taken to test the effect that this may have had on the results. In 2012 we conducted a separate analysis of the POTP data on drug use by recruitment method (Pride events, postal questionnaire and online questionnaire). This analysis suggests that the high rate of reported last month drug taking amongst the sample as a whole cannot be explained simply by the large number of respondents recruited via Pride events. Despite demographic differences between the sample sub-sets (e.g. that postal respondent were older), respondents recruited at Pride events were no more likely to have taken any drug in the last month than any other group of respondents and for some substances they were the least likely. These data are reported on page 19 of the main report. From this we conclude that the high rate of reported last month drug taking amongst the sample as a whole could not be explained by the large numbers of people who were surveyed at Pride events.
You also criticise the study on basis of the age profile of the respondents, who you rightly point out are younger in our sample than in the population as a whole. You use one of our tables to support your point about this. In the report we emphasise clearly that caution should be taken in relation to the comparisons between our findings on last month drug use and the figures reported for the general population by other studies, most notably the British Crime Survey. We state very clearly that ‘making comparisons between the drug use reported by the POTP respondents and that reported by the general population is not straightforward because the POTP sample is younger by comparison’. For this reason we also compare drug use by younger LGB people aged 16-24 for that reported by the British Crime Survey for the same age group, and conclude that within this age group last month drug taking by LGB people is just over two and half times more prevalent.
We also take great care to highlight the limitations of our study. We point out that we used a range of convenience sampling methods; that our sample is younger than that of the population as a whole; that our sample is younger than of the population used in the British Crime Survey; that most respondents were recruited at Pride events; that we had a low proportion of Black and minority ethnic respondents; and that the sample cannot be said to be representative of the LGB population as a whole. However, these sampling and methodological problems are not unique to our study. They are common to most studies in to drug and alcohol use and other risk behaviours amongst LGB groups as well as to many studies with so called ‘hard to reach populations’.
For us, despite the acknowledged limitations of the sampling methods, the importance of the studies main findings remain intact. LGB people are more likely to report last month drug use than the general population. Whether the figure is seven times more likely (using the whole sample comparison from our study with the whole sample British Crime Survey figures), two and a half times more likely (using the figures for young people aged 16-24 in our study and figures for the same age group in the British Crime Survey), or three times more likely (using the 2009/10 and 2010/11 extension to the British Crime Survey which compares drug use in the last year) the fact remains that these differences are stark. It is also noteworthy that drug use within our sample did not appear to diminish significantly with age until respondents were well in to their 40’s which again is in contrast with available data for the population as a whole.
Our study is also the first to use validated measures of dependency from DSM IV and ICD 10 (something you did not address in your piece).This suggests that more than 20% of the sample reported three or more signs of dependence. This is evidence that people are engaged in patterns of drug and alcohol use which lead to problems.
The report’s main findings should be a wake-up call for people working with the LGB community and for policy makers commissioning services at a local and national level. These concerns, raised in the report, are supported and reflected in the comments of David Stuart and Katy Richardson whose views you rely upon for support in your own article. We look forward to continuing and informed debate and discussion on these issues.
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One final thought: Sociologists and other social scientists often do great work and more studies need to be done to help examine the LGBT community, whose needs, due to anti-gay laws and practices, as well as homophobia, are currently different than the overall communities in which we live.
However, as the world learned with the flawed “studies” of people like Paul Cameron, a discredited social scientist whose “work,” decades later, is still the basis of anti-gay hate from organizations like the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, and now, the flawed “work” of Mark Regnerus, which as recently as today appeared in the anti-gay attack by New Jersey’s Archbishop John Myers, once a study that portrays the LGBT community in a negative or wanting light is published, despite flawed methodology or flawed conclusions, those studies will live for decades as tools of our opponents, which is why The New Civil Rights Movement was quick, and appropriately so, to criticize this study, despite the good intentions behind it.
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