MR. BLANKENHORN: It’s a good point. And we have good reason for that. We are writing to report on a small but possibly growing and worrisome trend among some American men who have sex with men (MSM), which has been reported by participants in the first author’s ethnographic study of MSM in Los Angeles.1 Often described as “a new way to use poppers” or as “huffing poppers,” in fact, the practice is simply huffing-that is, inhaling organic solvents or propellants, typically with the use of a rag, a sock or a bag to diffuse or contain the solution for more efficient inhalation. Something very, very important happened around 2009. The Gallup poll, for the first time, showed a tie in people saying homosexual relationships were morally acceptable with people saying they were not morally acceptable. There is now – I think it’s like a 9 or 10-point gap of a solid majority of Americans saying it’s OK to be gay.
It’s not to say all religion is bigotry. And this means it’s going to be tempting for gay people to press our advantage and try to use the law to make it difficult for people who want to preserve religious traditions that are anti-gay to do so. But more important, we want to be in a live-and-let-live society where no one gets treated as a prisoner of conscience and feels the need to stay in the closet, frightened because of what they believe. Physicians also need to understand the dangers and alert their patients, the study authors added. This method of inhalation also carries the added risk of aspiration, where the liquid is sucked into the lungs. This is unfortunate, because lumping these disparate agents together based on mode of administration obscures substantial differences in both mechanism and typical risk between alkyl nitrites, which act on a specific NO pathway, and inhaled solvents and propellants that exert their effect through combinations of mild hypoxia, direct chemical interaction with neuronal membranes, and agonism at various receptors.
Other research suggests that substance use in general – whether poppers, cocaine, or other club drugs – increases the risk of unprotected sex, and thus the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, research has found that popper use suppresses natural killer (NK) cell function, which increases vulnerability to infectious agents, produces sustained alterations in the immune system, and may be a Kaposi’s sarcoma (KS) cofactor. Certainly, more research into why and how gay men are using the panoply of recreational drugs available is needed. Over a third (35.1%) of gay men are estimated as having ever used poppers. The familiar sight of poppers in gay bars, clubs and saunas will also disappear. That’s what we fought against all those years, long before marriage, and that’s what we will continue to fight against. Government drugs advisers have said “poppers” – used by many gay men to enhance sexual experience – will not be covered by a ban on “legal highs”.
MacKay is reluctant to call the ban homophobic, but doesn’t deny it accidentally targets the community. It doesn’t help to call them bigots even when they are, but usually they’re not. And our job is to help them see. MS. TIPPETT: Jonathan, you have written something, which I think is pretty unique, that you also see this consensus. We have suffered very directly and very concretely and quite often with our lives from religious bigotry. We’ll get squashed like bugs on the windshield if we try to go against religious liberty. Only, this one was about as far as you could get from a convent. And the other thing I’ll say, I mean, I don’t want to get schmaltzy about it, but the truth is… And that’s why we need to be champions of all reasonable protections for religious people who may not agree with us and may not want to associate with us, but we need to let them share this country with us.