The social context of LGBT people's drinking in Scotland

Carol Emslie, Jemma Lennox, Lana Ireland

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


Previous studies suggest that alcohol use and misuse is higher among lesbian, gay and bisexual populations than heterosexual populations and very little is known about drinking in transgender people. However, surveys cannot tell us about the meaning of drinking and how it fits into everyday life. This qualitative study aimed to explore the social context of drinking among LGBT people in
Scotland. Between 2014 and 2015 we recruited a diverse sample of 33 respondents to seven focus groups.
Our findings point to the centrality of alcohol on the commercial gay scene (which itself is situated within the heavy drinking culture of the west of Scotland), the habitual promotion of drinks such as alcopops, spirits and shots in gay venues, and strong peer pressure to drink across the lifecourse.
Respondents also described the necessity of drinking in order to venture onto the gay scene and to conform to what they perceived to be community drinking norms. Drinking alcohol was an important part of identity construction. Even when respondents rejected the stereotypes that suggest that gay men will drink colourful, sweet drinks and that lesbians will drink pints, there was a sense that they still had the power to influence people’s drinking behaviours. Some female and transgender respondents were particularly aware of how their appearance and drinking combined to display particular gender identities (e.g. wearing a dress and heels and drinking vodka when ‘going straight’ in mainstream venues, drinking a pint on the commercial gay scene to signify being a ‘dyke.. on the pull’ and not a ‘straight chick’, or drinking a pint when in drag as part of a ‘gender fucking’ performance).
Almost all of the sample used social media extensively to organize and record their socializing and drinking. There was awareness of the possibility of being inadvertently ‘outed’ through appearing in photos of customers posted on gay venues’ websites. Social media and drinking are part of the fabric of everyday life for many respondents and both are used to construct identity, yet research
has largely ignored LGBT participants.
Respondents did not appear to be concerned about being asked about their drinking in routine health consultations but were less certain about whether they should tell health professionals about their sexual orientation. Some were concerned that health professionals would make incorrect assumptions about their lifestyle if they disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity and
there was also a fear that sexual orientation might be used unproblematically as the explanation for a range of health problems they might present with.
There were perceived to be a range of barriers for LGBT people who needed to access alcohol services. These included service providers assuming that all patients were heterosexual, and the perception that alcohol services and peer support groups would not provide a safe or welcoming space for LGBT people because they were ‘macho’ and ‘intimidating’.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationScotland
PublisherScottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems
Commissioning body Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems (SHAAP).
Number of pages28
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2015


  • LGBT
  • Alcohol


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