The Cheers Queers campaign launched this month in San Francisco. For more information, visit CheersQueers.org.
When you think about the Castro, or the LGBT community in San Francisco, what comes to mind?
For many of our community members, it’s the social scene—the bars, the clubs, the drag shows, and parties. All events that come with alcohol—and plenty of it.
“They pour them strong in the Castro, you know. It’s like they pour it and then they just squirt Coca Cola on top.”
--San Francisco community member, describing the strength of alcoholic beverages served at bars in the Castro
For many years, bars have played a central role in the gay community—providing a safe space for people to connect with each other and meet partners. To this day, drinking establishments feature prominently in LGBT neighborhoods in San Francisco. In San Francisco alone, there are 57 gay or queer-identified bars—only one less than the total number of bars in the entire city of Oakland.
“We know that bars play a central role in people’s lives—giving people in the gay community a place to meet. And we know that many people enjoy alcohol and do so while taking care of themselves. We also know that heavy alcohol use can have consequences for our community’s safety and wellbeing, and is a driver of HIV infection for gay men,” said Jen Hecht, MPH, senior director of program strategy and development at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
Because of this, Hecht, along with colleagues at San Francisco AIDS Foundation and University of California San Francisco started a research project on the role that alcohol and drinking culture play in the lives of queer people in San Francisco.
During the study, called PACE (the Pacing Alcohol Consumption Experiment), Hecht and team did in-depth qualitative interviews with people going to bars in San Francisco and did brief surveys with gay bar patrons to find out why people drink, when it’s harmful, and what strategies people employed in their own lives to reduce the harm from drinking. The worked with bar owners to install water dispensers in local watering holes, ran a media campaign to promote alcohol consumption pacing, and engaged people coming out of bars to do BAC testing.
“Basically, we asked people to participate in a survey and then take a breathalyzer to see what their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was at the time they were leaving the bar. We developed a fun app so that people could see how their BAC compared to other people in San Francisco. This is a strategy called ‘normative feedback,’ which helps people be more aware of the extent to which they’re drinking.”
Soon after the PACE study concluded, San Francisco AIDS Foundation established a binge drinking program based on the PACE study research findings.
Two counselors, Glenn Ontiveros and Rich Lugo, EdD, were hired as part of the Stonewall Project at San Francisco AIDS Foundation, to conduct counseling sessions for community members interested in changing their drinking.
“We meet people where they are and help them set realistic goals regarding their drinking to help reduce the risks related to alcohol, such as blacking out, getting hungover, or losing their things. There is no pressure to change, but we do encourage people to explore different harm reduction strategies to find what works best for them and their life,” said Ontiveros.
To promote this new service in the community, Hecht, along with members of the Stonewall team, and the marketing and communications team, collaborated on a social marketing campaign they named “Cheers Queers.”
“The goals of the campaign were to not only get the word out about the Stonewall counseling service, but to share messages about safer drinking with the queer community—in a way that was fun, eye-catching and relevant to the people we wanted to reach,” said Chris Richey, marketing and communications director of the foundation.
Launched in mid-October, the Cheers Queers campaign includes “ads” featuring local San Francisco nightlife celebrities—including drag queens, bartenders and DJs known by the queer community. Each nightlife personality included in the campaign worked with San Francisco AIDS Foundation staff to come up with a tip or piece of advice related to drinking.
The ad with local drag legend, Juanita MORE!, shares, “You look great in black…but not when you black out. Think before you drink.” The ad with Grammy-nominated violist and bartender at The Edge, Keith Lawrence, shares, “Daddy knows best. Grab a water with every drink. Grab two with every shot.”
“Ultimately, it’s not about getting people to stop drinking,” said Mike Discepola, director of behavioral health services & the Stonewall Project at the foundation.
“The campaign’s messages are meant to help gay, bi and transmen navigate alcohol use in the way that works best for them and assists them to reduce any harm that drinking might cause in their lives. We hope our work can help those who choose to drink be a little more mindful about how much and how often they’re drinking, and remember to implement harm reduction strategies like drinking water when they’re out at bar or shareing their 2-for-1 cocktail specials with another person.”
"I'm so happy and proud to be a part of this campaign!,” said local drag queen Shelix. “Not only do I get to look amazing all over town, but I get to be behind something I really believe in. Alcohol abuse, and not knowing ones limit are VERY real issues in our community, and hopefully this campaign will inspire a dialogue, instead of reaching for that next cocktail. Keep it cute, Mary!”
In addition to sharing tips on how to drink more successfully, the Cheers Queers ads encourage people to visit the Cheers Queers website, which has already seen more than 1,000 visitors. At the site, users can take a “drinking assessment” quiz, which gives normative feedback about how their drinking compares to other bar-goers in San Francisco, and learn how to access the free substance use services of the Stonewall Project.
Cheers Queers ads launched this month in San Francisco. For more information, visit CheersQueers.org.
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