While the levels of injecting drug use among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) populations are high we know little about their experiences of injecting drugs or living with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. The loss of traditional family and cultural ties means connection to community is important to the wellbeing of LGBT populations. While some kinds of drug-use are normalised within many LGBT communities, injecting drug use continues to be stigmatised. This exploratory qualitative study of people with newly acquired HCV used semi-structured interviews to explore participants’ understandings and awareness of HCV, seroconversion, testing, diagnosis and treatment. We present a secondary thematic analysis of eight LGBT participants of the experience of injecting drugs, living with HCV and having a marginalised sexual or gender identity.
Community was central to the participants’ accounts. Drug-use facilitated connection to a chosen community by suppressing sexual or gender desires allows them to fit in to the mainstream; enacting LGBT community norms of behaviour; and connection through shared drug-use. Participants also described feeling afraid to come out about their drug-use to LGBT peers because of the associated stigma of HCV. They described a similar stigma associated with HIV within the PWID community. Thus the combination of being LBGT/living with HIV (a “gay” disease) and injecting drugs/living with HCV (a “junkie’s” disease) left them in a kind of no man’s land. Health professionals working in drug and HCV care services need to develop capacity in providing culturally appropriate health care for LGBT people who inject drugs.
Key words: Hepatitis C; HIV; Drug Use; Sexuality; Culturally-appropriate; health care