First off, Vermont NORML would like to wish all our friends out there a very happy pride month! As an advocacy group focused on social equity, we find it to be of paramount importance to bring light to any and all connections, both historic and present, between cannabis and the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s no secret that cannabis comes wrapped up in a long, deep history of prejudice and racialized criminalization. It is impossible to separate cannabis from socioeconomic and racial injustice, and the same can be said when it comes to homophobia and transphobia.
When the HIV/AIDS epidemic swept across the United States in the early 1980s, patients’ cries for help (most of whom were part of the LGBTQ+ community) were overwhelmingly ignored. This led to immense amounts of suffering and grief for a community deemed expendable by the US government and its healthcare system. Feeling abandoned and unheard, large swaths of people with HIV/AIDS turned to cannabis to ease both their mental and physical trauma.
After being ostracized by those who were supposed to help, this extremely disenfranchised population found extensive relief in an activity deemed deviant and anti-social by society. Did this negative label stop them from self-medicating? No, in fact it only further encouraged the movement towards cannabis advocacy. Feeling fed-up, angry, and abandoned, many queer activists of the time spoke out against the stigma of cannabis use as well as the noticeable benefits of its use.
One of these queer activists was Dr. Donald Abrams, an integrative oncologist at the University of San Francisco. Abrams studied the interaction between AIDS and cannabis for nearly a decade. His extensive research allowed him to discover that cannabis is both a safe and effective treatment for AIDS patients, noting that cannabis reduces the progression of AIDS against the immune system.
Abrams’ work only scratches the surface of the advocacy work done to destigmatize cannabis use not only among AIDS patients, but across the board. Harvey Milk and Denis Peron were two other prominent queer activists of the time that played an important role in the movement. As one journalist noted, “There is no doubt that people like Dennis Peron and Dr. Abrams were instrumental leaders in LGBTQ rights and HIV/AIDS healthcare, but they also played a critically important role in the realization and acceptance of cannabis as legitimate medicine.” As cannabis users in 2021, we are indebted to the heroic queer activists of the ‘80s and ‘90s who laid the foundation of the road to cannabis and sexual liberation.