Gay people more likely to suffer addiction
Gays are three times more likely to suffer with addiction problems according to the Reverend Joe Amico, a leading specialist who believes the LGBTQ community in Bermuda is not helped by a lack of facilities to deal with the problem.
“There are virtually none here,” said Mr Amico, who described the island as “closeted”.
Finding “only one support group for LGBTQ folks”, and no specific Alcoholics Anonymous groups for gay people, Mr Amico has trained 75 local professionals to fill the void.
Those attending workshops last week ranged from addiction and treatment specialists to community nurses and school guidance counsellors.
The classes were held by the Department of National Drug Control and the Bermuda Addiction Certification Board.
“Nothing drives addiction like shame,” Mr Amico said.
“When you have a population who are stigmatised, especially here in Bermuda where it's not OK, where it's very closeted, you have fears of being who you are. You are not able to tell your parents or, in some circles, your faith community, then you have to do something with that.”
Turning to alcohol or drugs is “not a conscious thing”, he added.
“It's just what people do. It makes you feel better. It makes you forget.”
By Mr Amico's estimate, about 2,000 LGBTQ people on the island could be struggling with addiction.
“In the general population, 10 per cent of people would be considered alcoholic or have a drug problem,” he said.
“In the LGBT community, it's around 30 per cent.”
Similarly, LGBT numbers are generally estimated to fall around 10 per cent of a given population, which, for an island of around 60,000, adds up to 1,800 people with specific needs when it comes to alcohol and substance abuse.
A minister of the Tabernacle Congregational Church in Salem, Massachusetts, Mr Amico is past president of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health, and a member of the association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Advisory Board for the New England Addiction Technology and Transfer Centre.
Preferring the term “queer”, Mr Amico said a significant portion of his training was “about creating a safe place for queer folks — for example, how to make your office look friendly”.
“Then there is knowing the terminology, such as how a person identifies — how do you call yourself?”
He said he had noticed that gays in Bermuda “don't feel safe being out”, while transgender people often opted to leave the island.
He added: “It is not a choice. Part of what I do in my training is tell people there are certain things you have to take out of your vocabulary, such as ‘choice' and ‘preference' and ‘lifestyle'. It's not. So that's another part of it.
“There are things that folks can do here to support the gay community and support their need for sobriety, and that's what I am hoping will come out of this.”