Editor’s note: The Lesbian & Gay Foundation responded to our criticism. You can read their comments, in full.
A UK study that was actually funded by an LGBT charity is being presented by the British media as finding that gay people are seven times more likely to use illegal drugs. 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.
The study, titled, “Part of the Picture: Lesbian, gay and bisexual people’s alcohol and drug use in England (2009-2011),” also compares more LGB people of lower age groups with less people of the total population in higher age groups, making its results questionable as well. For example, 29% of those studied were between the ages of 16-24, but were compared to an overall UK population where less than half that, 13%, fall into that age group. Strikingly, 2% of the study’s respondents were 61 and over, but the study was compared to a UK population where 22% are over 61.
In short, the study’s results certainly seem inherently flawed, although perhaps some of the takeaways, that LGB people (transgender people don’t seem to have been identified in the study) are in pain and turning to illegal substances for relief, may be true, and that is an important red flag likely true not just in the UK, along with the fact that LGBT people are underserved by the medical field.
The Lesbian and Gay Foundation, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is credited, along with the University of Central Lancashire, as having conducted the two-year long study of 4206 respondents of apparently lesbian, gay, and bisexual Britons.
Four key findings published in the study include:
- Across all age groups LGB people are much more likely to use drugs compared to the general population.
- Problematic patterns of drinking are much more common among LGB people.
- LGB people demonstrate a higher likelihood of being substance dependent and show high levels of substance-dependency.
- Significant barriers exist to seeking information, advice or help among LGB people.
“David Stuart, education, training and outreach manager at London Friend, the UK’s only targeted LGBT drug and alcohol service, said feelings of ‘rejection’ and ‘fear’ as well as ‘shame around sex’ could be factors leading to substance abuse,” the Independent reported:
He added that drug services “aren’t equipped” to deal with the shifting drug trends, noting that “while government funding is linked to crime prevention and drugs like crack and heroin, less than 2 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people use these drugs.”
But Kitty Richardson, 25, who runs the Most Cake, a blog for lesbians in London, said: “the scene has a lot to answer for”. She added: “People are very quick to label gay people as troubled, or inherently needing those crutches, but all our methods of socialising revolve around drink or drugs. A by-product of that is people can become dependent.”
The study concludes:
Problematic usage and dependency amongst LGB people is currently not widely acknowledged or addressed in the substance use field, and as a consequence there is substantial hidden harm among LGB populations.
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.
Update: Post-publication, apparently Full Fact agrees with our interpretation, and offers more evidence as to why the study is flawed.
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