By Juan Carlos Vega, LGBT HealthLink Policy Manager
For almost two decades national and international organizations have declared alcohol a cancer causing agent and clearly state that the more alcohol a person consumes, the higher their risk of developing cancer. This was reminded to me earlier this month when our CDC-funded Disparity Network Sibling, the National Behavioral Health Network for Tobacco and Cancer Control, hosted a Webinar (from which I have copied the title for this blog) to discuss alcohol use and its relation to cancer. The webinar included the lessons learned to address the issue at the county level in Michigan and what resources and efforts are currently available to face this major health threat.
As I was listening to the speakers’ presentations, all I could do was to bring it back to our LGBT communities. The bar culture in which we live, the depression and anxiety caused by stigma hidden behind the drink, the high rates of smoking usually accompanied by a martini, the full-page vodka ad in the local LGBT magazine freebie, and the overwhelming support of the alcohol industry in our events, organizations (big and small), and even of our LGBT movement victories. For years, newspaper articles, blog postings, and community members denounce the overwhelming presence of alcohol during Pride events. Alcohol companies sponsor the stage, the parade, even host Beer Parties where we (yes, me too!) get drunk and many get wasted. The allure for our youth and elder is scary: isolation can easily find refuge in alcohol.
We don’t have a profile of what cancer looks like in LGBT communities. There is no data. As part of our efforts at LGBT HealthLink, we look to scan the environment for opportunities to engage national organizations and government agencies to begin collecting sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) elements in health surveys and cancer registries, respectively. It is an urgent matter. High levels of alcohol use in LGBT communities and the social environment where we play, gather, and socialize are directly having a negative impact on our health. We need more LGBT safe spaces like community centers where we move away from alcohol and smoking and instead move towards the health and wellness of our communities. Identify your local LGBT Community Center and ask about their smoking cessation, alcohol treatment, and cancer support groups or have them refer you to those that can care best for you.