During the summer of 2022, I noticed rainbows appearing on bottles of alcohol to celebrate LGBTQ+ Pride. Brands of spirits, wine and beer all seemed keen to flaunt their queer allegiance as soon as June arrived. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that had happened, and in previous years I hadn’t thought too much about it. Rainbows. Solidarity. Nice. But in 2022 my feelings towards those cheery little rainbows had changed. They made me uneasy, irritated, and then a little bit angry.
Being LGBTQ+ and drinking alcohol
The reason for my anger was rooted in what I’d learned about the ongoing inequity experienced by LGBTQ+ people in relation to alcohol consumption. If, like me, you identify within the LGBTQ+ umbrella, you are more likely to drink alcohol, drink it to excess, and are more at risk of becoming dependent on alcohol than if you are heterosexual and/or cisgender. This also means you’re more likely to become unwell and die because of alcohol.
The reasons for this are often explained through individual actions – we drink more to cope with the stigma and discrimination we face for just being who we are. While this may be true, an understanding that LGBTQ+ people drink more to deal with the pressures of their identity masks other important factors which have often been overlooked. For example, alcohol consumption has long been normalised within LGBTQ+ communities due to its invariable presence within the majority of ‘safe spaces’. The commercial scene was built around bars and clubs, and alcohol can be integral to the way LGBTQ+ people come to know who they are. Going out and coming out are often alcohol-related. But those rainbows in June are another important consideration. Exploring how the alcohol industry targets LGBTQ+ communities, marketing their products to appeal to queer consumers, is vital.
Alcohol marketing to LGBTQ+ people
To that end, in October 2022, my colleagues and I began a scoping review to find out what, if anything, had been written academically on the topic. Our findings have just been published, and reveal those rainbows on the bottles every summer are just the tip of the iceberg. The alcohol industry has actively targeted the LGBTQ+ community for decades, with a broad range of advertisements, promotions, benefactions, collaborations and sponsorships that saturate queer spaces. Targeted marketing is evident in print, on television, throughout social media and on the scene. The alcohol industry employs the imagery, language and celebrity of LGBTQ+ communities, and aligns itself with causes we care about. They tell us they are our friend, our supporter and our ally, and infiltrate LGBTQ+ events and celebrations. Such blanket marketing serves to reinforce and perpetuate a culture where drinking alcohol is normalised and necessary, in turn maintaining the increased risk of alcohol-related illness and death we experience.
I’m not anti-alcohol, as my friends would attest. However, actively encouraging our community to drink more at every opportunity while knowing the increased risk of harm we face feels immoral at best. To consider any alcohol brand an LGBTQ+ ally requires Orwellian levels of doublethink. Why aren’t we angrier about this? The Pride movement was ignited by protest and uprising, yet that very same movement now placidly accepts sponsorship from alcohol brands at many Pride events. Has the ubiquity of alcohol within our communities blinded us to its pernicious effects?
We should be angry. We should be angry about those rainbows on bottles of prosecco in June purporting to support our rights, angry about RuPaul’s drag queens dressing up as flavoured vodka when we’re just trying to watch television, and angry about every one of the multitude of ways the alcohol industry seeks to ingratiate itself with LGBTQ+ communities. Be angry about an industry that says it’s our ally, while simultaneously doing everything it can to make sure LGBTQ+ people remain more at risk from drinking alcohol than our heterosexual/cisgender friends and peers. Be angry, and then let’s do something about it.
Written by Dr David Whiteley, Lecturer, Glasgow Caledonian University.
All IAS Blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Institute of Alcohol Studies.