A sweep of hangovers across the nation and streets littered with empty plastic cups can only mean one thing: Pride month is coming to a close. Every June, cities throughout the U.S. (and the world) celebrate the LGBTQIA+ movement late into the night. I don’t mean to be flippant; as a queer woman, I absolutely celebrate Pride. Just a few years ago, I didn’t have the legal right to marry my partner. Hell, just a few decades ago, it was illegal to even have sex with my partner. And LGBTQIA+ communities still face so many issues, particularly the disproportionate number of black trans women being killed.
Yet LGBTQIA+ communities face another insidious issue, and it happens to rear its ugly head amidst the rainbow and glitter of Pride: Liquor companies are capitalizing on the LGBTQIA+ movement. Why? Because liquor companies love to make money, and the queer community loves to drink. Every year, companies like Bud Light, Coors Light, Captain Morgan, and Barefoot Wine scramble to throw money at Pride. The list is virtually endless.
Liquor companies are capitalizing on the LGBTQ community. Why? Because liquor companies love to make money, and the queer community loves to drink.
And then there’s vodka.
Absolut Rainbow is a year-round nod to Pride with a rainbow design. In fact, the company’s been sponsoring Pride events for years and continues to ramp up it’s marketing to LGBTQIA+ communities. In an April Instagram post, the company captioned an image of two queer couples with the following statement: “Sometimes people feel forced to stick to a heterosexual relationship due to societal norms. This depicts their love and longing for someone they would rather choose to love and be with.”
While I’m a little unclear what heteronormativity has to do with imbibing, it seems that Absolut is selling a dangerous message that with a bit of vodka, you can be your true self. For countless queer individuals, this cuts to the heart of what we all want. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 42 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth report living in a community that is “not accepting,” and 92 percent said they “hear negative messages about being LGBT.” In other words, Absolut is selling a sense of belonging.
It doesn’t stop at Absolut, though. Smirnoff also promises that elusive promise of community with its Welcome Home campaign, featuring an “iridescent rainbow aesthetic” and photographs of queer couples right on the bottles. Skyy Vodka sponsors Pride festivals throughout the U.S., and it claims to be the first spirits brand to air an ad featuring a lesbian couple.
While I’m a little unclear what heteronormativity has to do with imbibing, it seems that Absolut is selling a dangerous message that with a bit of vodka, you can be your true self.
This targeted marketing becomes particularly disturbing in the context of addiction in LGBTQIA+ communities; the statistics are rather, well, sobering. LGBTQIA+ individuals are 2.5 times more likely to experience substance use disorder compared to heterosexual individuals, according to a study by the American Psychiatric Association. Furthermore, the study states that women who identify as lesbian or bisexual are more than twice as likely to engage in heavy drinking in the past month than heterosexual women (8 percent and 4.4 percent, respectively). In addition, a 2013 survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau found that a higher percentage of LGBTQIA+ adults between 18 and 64 reported past-year binge drinking (five or more drinks on a single occasion) than heterosexual adults.
Substance use tends to start at an earlier age for the queer community; LGBTQIA+ individuals in treatment for substance use disorders started drinking earlier than their heterosexual counterparts. According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the prevalence of substance use was 2.5 to four times higher for transgender youth compared to their cisgender peers. In addition, LGBTQIA+ teens are twice as likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Finally, the underlying issues driving the population to substance use only contribute to this epidemic. LGBTQIA+ individuals are twice as likely to develop mental health disorder in their lifetime, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQIA+ individuals between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. LGBTQIA+ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide. Between 38 and 65 percent of transgender individuals experience suicidal ideation. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the LGBTQIA+ population misuses substances, as opposed to an estimated nine percent of the general population.
When I choose not to imbibe at Pride, it feels like a small way to stick it to the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy — especially the companies that are trying to prey upon my vulnerability as a queer woman.
Plus, the notion of monetizing Pride is just plain perverse. Known as the Stonewall Riots, the first Pride was actually a protest in response to the New York Police Department’s harassment of the LGBTQIA+ community on June 28, 1969. After a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, the New York City queer community revolted. The movement was led by transgender activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. The following year, the first Pride parade was held in New York.
I got sober in August of 2016, which I consider incredibly fortunate for two reasons: I didn’t waste my liver on the current presidential administration, and I didn’t come out as queer until 2017. Now, I’m not saying I’m lucky I stayed in the closet until I was 27; that’s a personal hell that I will write about until the end of my days. However, I feel fortunate that I had more than a year of sobriety under my belt before I ventured into the weird, wild, wonderful world of dating as a queer woman. I didn’t fall prey to liquor companies promising me I’d feel more accepted if I only bought a bottle of ethanol for the low, low price of $29.99.
As a cisgender woman, society tries to capitalize on me enough already; it tells me what to wear, how to smell, when to shave, and what to shave (depending on how trendy body hair is at any given time). When I choose not to imbibe at Pride, it feels like a small way to stick it to the imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy — especially the companies that are trying to prey upon my vulnerability as a queer woman. It took me 26 years to get sober and 27 years to come out. I will never let a well placed social media ad take that away from me.