Student Panelists Discuss Queer Identity and Substance Abuse


Maria Nguyen 

A panel of students answered questions involving queer identity, substance abuse, and the Isla Vista party culture at “Untold Queerstory: How Substance Abuse Affected Me,” held in the Loma Pelona Center on Thursday, May 8, as part of this year’s Pride Week. University of California, Santa Barbara Residence Halls Association and UCSB’s Life of the Party sponsored the event.

This event was created as a way to give a voice to the statistic that LGBTQ youth are at a significantly higher risk of abusing substances than heterosexual youth.

The panel consisted of four students: second-year Black studies major Ernie Piña, third-year sociology major Brandon Pineda, third-year feminist studies and Chican@ studies double major Melba Martinez, and second-year global studies major Crystal Long. They each shared their own experiences as queer students living in Isla Vista. The individuals in the group discussed their positive and negative stories about substance abuse relating to the UCSB scene and to the struggles as LGBTQ students.

All four of the students provided a range of experiences in regard to their initial reactions to UCSB’s party scene. As a collective group, the students agreed that they did not expect it. Long did not expect herself to be a part of it, and Martinez expressed that she was afraid of the scene.

“I feel safe with queer people of color because there is a lot of trust put in,” Long said on the topic of late night partying.

Each of the panelists spoke about their own experience with substance abuse in correlation with partying and queer identity. There was a mutual agreement and iterance that, as a queer individual, it was harder to feel comfortable going out in a place like Del Playa, and it feels comparatively safer to have fun at a place accommodating to the queer community.

Martinez brought up the commonly used phrase, “is there a queer party tonight?” This reinforced the idea of comfort within the community, and that get-togethers are more enjoyable when there is a level of trust put in.

The idea of going out in places separate from queer parties, where the hook-ups are mostly between opposite genders, created a discussion of hate crimes, discrimination, problems of consent, and general mistreatment.

In the rowdier places of IV, a lot of derogatory, homophobic slurs may be thrown around.

“It’s hard to be in IV because there is a lot of anger built up from this, and it triggers us badly,” Piña said.

A question arose about the stereotype of queer individuals, which led to the discussion of corporations like Absolut Vodka that fund gay pride festivals. There is a stereotype of a token, fun, gay character, which goes hand-in-hand with the kind of thinking that the corporations have that fund these events.

The direct topic of substance abuse was discussed throughout, in the context of drugs and alcohol as a means of entertainment, pleasure, and/or coping. While a few of the panelists disclosed their struggles with queer identity causing a turn to substances, the importance of a balance of work and play was stressed.

Among the panelists, the general consensus was that the tight bond of the queer community within UCSB was a huge resource and help to them. Different campus resources had their own effects, but the comfort of being with an understanding community was the best resource.