People come to settle in Brighton from all over the world. Hundreds and thousands of LGBTQ+ people visit or call it home. It is a diverse and vibrant seaside town, where musicians, writers, artists start out or end up; many Uni students end up staying on after they graduate, and Brighton hosts the largest Pride in the UK.
While Brighton and Hove council leaders talk about a sustainable city and have plans in place ‘to reduce homelessness, increase jobs and ensure that the city continues to be a place where people feel safe, supported and valued’,
There is a dark side of Brighton that is slowly killing our LGBTQ+ community.
1. LGBTQ+ Invisibility in Brighton
Brighton holds the title of UK’s Gay Capital.
It has a reputation of being a liberal, unconventional, super friendly LGBTQ+ town, with a strong sense of openness and nonconformity.
All of that and the freedom to be oneself, regardless of what others thought of you, is what makes Brighton Brighton.
Brighton has a long and colourful gay history dating back to the 1700s. It was the place where Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack) stayed in 1826 at the Royal York Hotel with her partner Marianna. The First political Gay Pride march in Brighton took place in 1973, Brighton Pride ‘Pride in the Park’ first took place in 1992, and Brighton Pride is now the UK’s biggest Pride Festival.
LGBTQ+ bars, cafes and nightclubs are disappearing at an alarming rate, not just in Brighton but all over the world. It can be argued that this is a positive sign as it implies that there is no longer a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, that every pub, nightclub, meet-up is inclusive. We’re all on common ground.
But every place that closes down to make way for another block of flats, or another chain coffee shop or office space, eats away at our collective identity.
Sadly, there are almost no lesbian bars or cafes in Brighton anymore and iconic gay places like Velvet Jacks, Doctor Brightons and The Marlborough have been sold and rebranded.
2. Drug misuse and Chemsex in Brighton is in crisis and it’s worsening
In 2018, GScene magazine wrote an article ‘CHEMSEX – The white elephant in the room’ - it talks about the growing predominance of Chemsex in Brighton.
Four years later, that elephant has escaped the room and taken over Brighton.
For good or bad, drugs have always been a part of our culture and also a part of Brighton’s culture. According to The Argus (3 September 2021) a new study has revealed that Brighton has one of the highest drug misuse rates in the UK.
The study found that Brighton was among "the worst affected areas by the increased use of illegal drugs in the country”. The study also said that Brighton had the highest rate of use for Cocaine, Ketamine and MDMA. But in the gay community, these drugs as well as GBL, GHB and the heinous Crystal Meth is on the rise.
The popularity of dating apps like Grindr and Tinder indirectly propelled Chemsex from an occasional occurrence to mainstream dating. GBL, GHB and Crystal Meth are the main Chemsex drugs and very addictive. These drugs have life and soul-destroying consequences. Used on a regular basis, the inevitable plunge into losing everything (jobs, house, money, loved ones) is quite rapid. This is evidenced in the ever-growing number of homeless LGBTQ+ people in Brighton.
The trajectory of the types of drugs in the LGBTQ+ community (Source: Craig Sloane, LCSW, CASAC) gets more deadly every decade.
1970s: Poppers, mescaline, LSD, cannabis
1980s: Cocaine, ecstasy and 'club drugs'
1990s: Crystal meth, GHB, club drugs, Viagra, steroids
2000s: Crystal meth, GHB, steroids
Many Chemsex parties also target vulnerable, young gay men. Yet sexual assaults are not reported because of the shaming society we live in and the blurry consent boundaries.
Yet as a community we are not talking about any of it. In 2021, the combination of Chemsex drugs is killing so many of our community. It’s an epidemic. And we stand back, watching the death toll rise and rise.
3. Elderly LGBTQ+ people live in isolation
In Brighton, there are many elderly LGBTQ+ people who live in social isolation. It is heart breaking they don’t have anyone to call, in case of an emergency. Many have grown up in a hostile world. They have lived in difficult and homophobic times. Going into a nursing home, they fear the prejudices and discrimination they faced decades before.
Research conducted by LGBT Foundation revealed that half of LGB respondents lived alone, 40% were single and 12% said that they had no one they could turn to if they needed support.
Older LGBTQ+ people are more likely to live alone and less likely to be partnered or married than heterosexuals, and as a result have less social support and financial security as they age. Many had been victimised at least once during their lifetimes, including verbal and physical assaults, threats of physical violence and being 'outed' .
It’s frightening to think that, as greater numbers of the UK population reach their 60s, 70s and 80s, what will happen to our ageing LGBTQ+ population in the next 20 years?
4. LGBTQ+ Healthcare and the ‘But it’s getting better’ mentality
The 2018 Health Report from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall found that one in eight LGBTQ+ people had experienced "unequal treatment from a healthcare professional because of their sexuality or gender. The discrimination ranged from healthcare professionals avoiding eye contact with the patient or their partner and assuming their identity to outright refusing of treatment.
One in twenty were pressured through healthcare to access services to change or question their sexuality".
This figure was nearly double for young people, people of colour and people with disabilities. One in five transgender people had been pressured to undergo conversion therapy by a healthcare professional’.
The older LGBTQ+ community has its own unique health disparities. They may be affected by physical and mental health conditions due to a lifetime of being a minority.
The ‘but it’s getting better’ mentality deprives many in the community of the opportunity to access an equal and non judgemental healthcare.
5. Homophobia Rising
It’s hard to ignore the subtle resurgence of historical attitudes and opinions towards sexuality and gender identity appearing, once again.
Between 2014-15 and 2018-19 the number of recorded hate crimes based on sexual orientation across England and Wales went up from 5,591 to 14,491 – a rise of 160%.
Hate crimes against transgender people have nearly quadrupled in the last five years, to 2,333 reports last year. We live in a strange time. I find it ironic that despite the statistics saying that people are more accepting of different cultures, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender, yet hate crimes continue to increase.
According to UK YouGov:
1in 5 LGBTQ+ people have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months.
1 in 6 LGBTQ+ have been discriminated against when visiting a café, restaurant, bar or nightclub.
29% of LGBTQ+ people will avoid certain streets due to fear.
80% of LGBT people don't report hate crimes.
The impacts of hate crime reverberate through targeted communities with significant consequences for individuals, communities and society as a whole https://www.sussex.ac.uk/webteam/gateway/file.php?name=sussex-hate-crime-project-report.pdf&site=430
In Brighton, homophobic and hate crimes are also on the rise. In the last few months there have been reports of an increase in homophobic abuse and assaults in Kemptown and St.James Street. Keeping in mind that it is a fact that 80% of LGBTQ+ people don't report hate crimes, so what ends up being reported is only a very small representation of what is going on.
6. So what’s next?
So, against this backdrop of excessive drugs misuse, Chemsex epidemic, social isolation, decreasing LGBTQ+ spaces, healthcare disparities and homophobia, what does the future hold for us and for future LGBTQ+ generations? In my opinion, many people believe that everything got taken care of with same-sex marriage. However, stigma and prejudice against LGBTQ+ people still exists.