Essential for Survival: Measure 110 and the Queer Community

On November 3rd, 2020 the people of Oregon decided to take radical action on the failed war on drugs. 

58% of Oregonian voters said yes to drug decriminalization, defunding the state’s police and carceral system, and reinvesting it in community health. However, along with providing a proven treatment method for substance abuse, Measure 110 inadvertently benefits Oregon’s LGBT population —5.6% of Oregon’s population to be exact. 

The LGBT population has the odds stacked against them within this Queerphobic society —regardless of the “progress” being made. Drug decriminalization, police defunding, and carceral abolitionist methods are inherently tied to queer liberation: institutions used to oppress us must be dismantled if there is to be true liberation.

Drug decriminalization is a process within that dismantling, placing the focus on accessible treatment that opens doors to populations that are in desperate need of it. Both adult and youth Queer community members are more likely to have substance abuse issues than their heterosexual counterparts. Queer Oregonians, specifically, are also more likely to suffer with a mental illness, face houselessness, and survive both sexual and physical abuse; all confounding variables that facilitates someone developing a substance abuse. 

Houselessness leads to substance abuse, mental illness leads to substance abuse, all things queer Oregonians are at greater risk to experience —and do experience. Both of these are also criminalized explicitly or treated as crimes, and are often intertwined with each other.

Measure 110 is an institutional shift that our society is in desperate need of, and it’s a shift that the survival of Oregon’s queer population survival depends on.

An individual coping with Bipolar disorder with drugs will no longer —by default— be thrown into conditions that will only lead to deterioration and potential death. Instead of sending a mentally ill person to jail for self medicating, Measure 110’s goal is to provide them with access to the necessary and effective resources. 

When Queer individuals interact with institutions built to punish, not rehabilitate, a substance abuse issue, they are forced into living conditions that can constitute human rights abuses and dehumanization. 

Austere drug policies fail everyone and cause immense harm, but queer Oregonians are specifically brutalized and targeted by these systems. Police intervention, jail sentences, and stints in prison provides no treatment for a disease —addiction— only degradation and trauma. 

In Lane County we have four robust resources for drug and alcohol treatment: Chrysalis Behavioral—a subset of the White Bird Clinic—Serenity Lane, Willamette Family, Inc., and Emergence

However, White Bird is the only program that offers a queer specific service, the other three simply do not mention LGBT services/resources or their existence— and a Pride post does not count. TransPonder, a local advocacy non-profit offering resources for our trans and gender diverse community members, has Chrysalis Behavioral listed as the only substance abuse resource.

Right now there isn’t a whole lot of explicitly queer-specific care in our slice of Oregon, so these institutions still need to be built. But the pendulum has swung, and we’re not going back to a system of terror and brutality. Oregon is building a new future that we all have a stake in, a future that seeks to mend the wounds inflicted by the war on drugs.

This queer journalist voted yes—proudly—on Measure 110 because I believe my community’s health and safety depend on new institutions and their correlating policies. 

And, as of Feb. 1, Measure 110 is in effect.

Janusz (Lopaka) Malo
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