MSPs met on the 11th May for a Members’ Business Debate on recommendations made by SHAAP and Glasgow Caledonian University’s Substance Use Research Group

 

A debate took place at the Scottish Parliament today about alcohol problems in Scotland’s LGBTQ+ community.

Emma Roddick, SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands, and Co-Convener of the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on LGBTI+ led the debate on how services for people with alcohol problems in the LGBTQ+ community can be made more effective in meeting their specific needs.

The motion for debate endorsed the recommendations contained in a new report What are LGBTQ+ people’s experiences of alcohol services in Scotland? A qualitative study of service users and service providers’, which was carried out by Prof Carol Emslie and colleagues at Glasgow Caledonian University’s Substance Use research group and funded by Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP).

The report investigates both service users’ and service providers’ experiences and highlights the central role of alcohol in the LGBTQ+ community and the barriers that this community faces when trying to access treatment and support.

Barriers include alcohol service providers feeling uncomfortable in discussing gender and sexuality, with some even voicing their perception of a lack of relevance to alcohol treatment, despite LGBTQ+ individuals believing that their identity was often linked to their drinking problem.

 

The recommendations in the report that are recognised in the motion, include:

  • Alcohol services should demonstrate appropriate inclusivity and diversity policies, LGBTQ+ training, and work towards the LGBT Charter
  • Alcohol services need stronger links to mental health services
  • LGBTQ+ people should be considered as a group with specific needs in the forthcoming Alcohol Treatment Guidelines
  • Alcohol-free spaces for LGBTQ+ people should be supported
  • The Scottish Parliament should show leadership on LGBTQ+ issues to help tackle the stigma that people face

 

Emma Roddick opened the debate by thanking SHAAP and Glasgow Caledonian University for their report on LGBTQ+ people and alcohol services in Scotland. Roddick noted the significant alcohol-related health inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ people in Scotland, including in the Highlands and Islands region. She also urged others to understand the importance of sexuality and gender in receiving help for alcohol issues:

If someone is seeking help from an alcohol service due to mental health issues that are related to their sexuality then that aspect cannot be ignored. It is key to where they are now. It is key to how they can recover, and it’s key to what recovery would look like for them”.

Roddick finished her powerful opening remarks saying she will be following up on the report with the Scottish Government and noting that inclusivity and equality were fundamentally necessary going forward.

 

Following Roddick, Jamie Greene MSP, welcomed the report, while noting the disappointing lack of progress since SHAAP’s previous report on LGBTQ people and alcohol in 2015 ('The social context of LGBT people's drinking in Scotland'). Greene discussed how that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to experience problems with alcohol, but also highlighted the central role of alcohol in the community and the need for more alcohol-free LGBTQ+-friendly spaces to be supported by the Scottish Government and the people in Scotland. This, combined with barriers to accessing treatment and support, are the key areas that surfaced with regards to alcohol misuse.

 

Next, Pam Duncan-Glancy MSP, welcomed SHAAP’s report and its findings on alcohol services, noting that the report made clear that these services simply are not meeting the needs of the LGBTQ+ community right now. Duncan-Glancy called for alcohol services to demonstrate appropriate inclusivity and diversity policies, and raised the role of stigma for the community:

“In Scotland in 2022, too many people still feel stigma, shame and rejection because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. An unacceptable situation.

“We all know that stigma, shame and rejection have a detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing and can lead to excessive alcohol and drug use” tackling the heteronormative norms that exist, need proper investment, stop diverting people who use alcohol and drugs from mental health services.”

 

Emma Harper MSP, congratulated Emma Roddick on her first parliamentary debate and echoed much of what had been said so far. Harper raised the issue of alcohol services in rural Scotland, and asked the Minister if the Government can commit to ensuring that rural Scotland will continue to be included when improving alcohol services for LGBTQ+ people. Harper also noted the importance of better training for staff, which SHAAP’s report revealed was not sufficient at present. This sentiment was shared by Evelyn Tweed MSP who also expressed concern surrounding sponsorship of LGBTQ+ events, such as pride, by the alcohol industry.

 

Paul O’Kane was the last MSP to weigh in on the debate, reiterating the importance of alcohol-free spaces for LGBTQ+ people being safe and supported, and asking that the Parliament should show leadership on LGBTQ+ issues to help tackle the stigma that people face.


Maree Todd, Minister for Public Health, Women's Health and Sport responded on behalf of the Scottish Government. The Minister highlighted the importance of the issues discussed in the Debate, the need to empower LGBTQ+ individuals to seek support for alcohol issues, and the necessity of non-judgemental and person-centred support for alcohol problems:

“it is vital that the experience they [the LGBTQ+ community] receive when seeking treatment should be non-judgemental and person-centred"

The Minister emphasised that there should be no shame or stigma associated with reaching out for support. The Minister then outlined work of the Scottish Government on this, including: reviewing the UK Government Alcohol Treatment Guidelines, working with Public Health Scotland to review the evidence on Alcohol Brief Interventions, and exploring the evidence around Managed Alcohol Programmes. The Minister also recognised the issues associated with targeted alcohol marketing and concluded by pledging: "Our services need to be open and welcoming to all. It is absolutely vital, and life-saving, that they are."