LGBTQ Community Centers Promote Smoke-Free Prides


Editors note: This article was a collaborative effort between LGBT Detroit, Affirmations, OutFront Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids Pride Center, and Perceptions to advocate for smoke-free community events moving forward, including Pride celebrations.

LGBTQ community centers across Michigan are banding together to tackle the number one killer attacking the community...tobacco. For decades, Big Tobacco (the "big five" largest global tobacco industry companies) has systematically targeted the LGBTQ and other marginalized communities with a product they know is deadly. Stand up with LGBT Detroit, Affirmations, OutFront Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids Pride Center, and Perceptions to tell Big Tobacco, "We won't take this anymore" by starting with a healthy smoke-free LGBTQ Pride season.

Research shows people in the LGBTQ community are more likely to be smokers than people who are not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates nationwide that almost 20 percent of identified gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults smoke tobacco products, compared to 14 percent of the community's straight counterparts.

LGBT Tobacco, a national non-profit health agency that focuses on smoking rates in the community, reports that homosexual people are 50-200 percent more likely to be addicted to tobacco than hetrosexual people. All said, this takes a toll on smaller and smaller sub populations who for years were more focused on the social abuses, HIV/AIDS, and isolation from communities of origin. So it was thought that "smoking is the least of my worries." The CDC also reports that youth in the LGBTQ community report higher rates of mental distress, anxiety, and depression. When combined with entering spaces where tobacco is normal and seen as "just another part of the community," it can encourage them to pick up smoking and e-cigarettes to cope with stress.

These LGBTQ community centers take a stand against the normalizing of tobacco being a part of the LGBTQ experience. It has been the contention of health organizations that tobacco and its by-products are harmful not only to the users, but also to non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke. In December 2016, the CDC wrote that exposure to secondhand smoke from burning tobacco products causes disease and premature death even among non-smokers. Additionally, there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke, and even brief exposure can cause immediate harm. This is not a statement from a self-righteous organization with a hidden agenda, but from our nation's public health agency whose primary intent is to promote good health for all -- irrespective of social status, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

"The theme of the Great Lakes Bay Pride Festival is engagement, equality and respect for all," said Chris Lauckner, board chair of Perceptions. "One goal in making the event smoke-free is to send the message that we are proud enough to respect the health of all people."

The LGBTQ community is no stranger to fighting for a cause. For years, LGBTQ people have fought relentlessly for basic human rights and only in recent years has the community been able to gain notable wins. Even with difficulty, LGBTQ people are stronger, resilient and the community's voice is now recognizable and bears weight in media support.

The upcoming Pride celebrations around the world, statewide and locally is as much a tribute and celebration of LGBTQ people as well as the community's survival. What better time to take a stance for the community and for the environment by celebrating a non-smoking festivity.

LGBTQ community centers across the state banded together to reduce and eliminate tobacco deaths and diseases in Michigan through leadership, collaboration and education with the leadership of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Affirmations, Grand Rapids Pride Center, Perceptions, LGBT Detroit, and OutFront Kalamazoo are pronouncing that this year, smoke-free Prides will increase the quality of life for LGBTQ residents.

In light of the recent executive order which negatively affects climate change policy and the deleterious effect that it would have on all life, the LGBTQ community can lend its voice to promote, protect and preserve our planet by promoting a smoke-free ordinance at Pride events throughout the summer months.

Ferndale Pride kicked off the smoke-free Pride season last weekend. Following suit is Hotter Than July, Motor City Pride, Kalamazoo Pride, Great Lakes Bay Pride, Grand Rapids Pride and other community Prides that will include zones that encourage smoke-free living and LGBTQ health.

"We have made enormous strides in attaining recognition and we have the notoriety that our voice is strong and reverberates worldwide," states Curtis Lipscomb, project manager of Hotter Than July. "It is incumbent that we arbitrate for a cleaner, safer environment and to start a major movement at Pride events."

The legacy left for those poised to follow as leaders should be one that encourages young people, and society at large to stand firm on behalf of the environment and healthy communities.

The voices of youth in the community pack a gut-wrenching punch and play a pivotal role in challenging global issues by using innovative ideas as tools for the betterment of all the inhabitants of the earth. A smoke-free Pride can make an impact across all spectrums, which is why these LGBTQ community centers encourage everyone to do their part.

Connect online with LGBT Detroit, Grand Rapids Pride Center, Perceptions, Affirmations and OutFront Kalamazoo or visit with them at Michigan's Pride events this summer.
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