"I remember all those beautiful masculine faces that grace the walls of my memory," wrote Alan Downs, Ph.D., in the preface to his book, The Velvet Rage. "[C]ountless [gay men] didn't survive the angst of knowing they wouldn't die [to HIV], ... and so they dove deep into the darkness of crystal meth, alcohol, and the like, dancing their way into the arms of death."
Chemsex or "party and play" (PNP), the term more commonly used by queer men in the U.S., has insidiously been part of the gay subculture for some time now. Although much of the national focus has been on opioid use among whites, meth addiction remains a problem in the LGBT community, and black and Latinx LGBT people are reporting growing meth use. Chemsex is the act of participating in recreational drug activity -- often crystal meth and GHB (commonly known as just "G") -- for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities and group sex, such as sex parties (or circuit parties, depending on the event).
The street name for each of these drugs varies based on the location and the participants; however, one thing is for sure, these drugs are right under our noses (no pun intended). Social media and classified websites, along with dating and hook-up apps, are outlets sometimes used to swap drugs or find groups of men interested in using and having sex. Until recently, these kinds of party drugs were considered the exclusive domain of white gay men. But anecdotal evidence from communities is mounting that black and Latinx young gay and bisexual men are using crystal meth at higher rates. And many of them say that older gay white men introduced them to the drug.
Related: Gay Black Men Confront Crystal Meth
"What is happening is these older men are using crystal meth as leverage, in other words, they are luring young men to have sex with them and getting them hooked on that stuff, said Sal Fuentes, chairman of the HIV/ AIDS Coalition of Ventura County (HCVC), California. "They use Grindr as a platform to entice these young men of color to 'party,' in order for these boys to have sex with them."
This past month, I attended the Fair Share for Equality Conference in Los Angeles, where Fuentes and other advocates discussed the rising HIV rates among Latinx folks nationally, but specifically what's occurring in East Los Angeles and Ventura County. Eddie Martinez, a life-long advocate in the Los Angeles area, was very vocal at the conference about the need to address the rising HIV epidemic amongst young, gay Latinos. He stressed the huge correlation of new HIV rates and drug use, working in tandem with unprotected sex.
To address this issue, Martinez co-founded Act Now Against Meth, a Los Angeles-based coalition whose mission is to mobilize resources to address addiction to meth and other substances in the greater LA region. Martinez said that the coalition had been successful in advocating for $1.75 million dollars to address this issue; however, he suggested that not enough is being done because older queer men (i.e., donors and other gay community leadership), who themselves may be using meth, want to turn the other cheek. "Folks in the community don't want to expose this PNP culture," said Martinez.
Drugs have long played a role in gay communities, particularly in big cities with a huge LGBT demographic. Moreover, drug use is more common in the LGBT community than we acknowledge. According to a 2015 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, lesbian, gay, and bisexual people "were more than twice as likely as heterosexual adults (39.1% versus 17.1%) to have used any illicit drug in the past year."
Additionally, a 2015 report by the Los Angeles County Department of Health showed Latinx residents accounting for 62% of all people in the county receiving public assistance for a primary meth problem. The same study showed the vast majority of hospitalizations due to meth use being among white and Latino males aged 18-44. Finally, it found that meth users had higher rates of all sexually transmitted infections than people who used other drugs.
Yet, attention to the increased use of meth among young gay and bisexual men of color has grown only recently with the 2017 death of Gemmel Moore at the West Hollywood home of white gay Democratic donor Ed Buck, who allegedly hired young black male sex workers and required them to use crystal meth to be paid. Recreational drugs, such as Molly and cocaine, are commonly found in clubs and other LGBT social settings; however, what makes crystal meth use among black and brown queer young men different is the context, with community members in LA and New York saying that young men of color are being introduced to it by older, white gay men within the context of sex work or transactional sex dynamics.
"In Ventura County, there are white men who go after young Latino boys and get them hooked on a drug to have sex with them, and that's how these social media apps function," said Alejandro (not his real name), a 28-year-old Latinx gay man from Ventura County. "I have been to these private parties, full of rich white men looking for brown boys. We are disposable to them."
Alejandro also shared an incident at a sex party when he was given crystal meth anally (what's called a "booty bump") by an older white gay man without his consent. Studies show that men who have participated in chemsex activities often have "non-consensual" sex in situations where meth use was involved.
Efforts are being made to pay closer attention to crystal meth use among young queer men of color and to educate the community and providers while taking a non-stigmatizing approach. Harm Reduction Coalition has partnered with BEAM and Counter Narrative Project to create a toolkit for community-based organizations to better respond to black and Latinx men of color who are using crystal meth, and they are currently soliciting responses to an online survey. The groups are hoping to bring more attention and resources to groups that haven't had the capacity to respond effectively to what some see as a growing problem.
"I have lost more friends to meth than to AIDS," said Martinez." Young men who are coming out are introduced to a hypersexual culture embedded with drugs," he continued. "Then, it becomes an institutional problem."