Back doors to the LGBT+ community have been busted wide open thanks to a popper-passionate advocate and a couple thousand signatures. Poppers is a common slang term for a range of chemical psychoactive drugs called alkyl nitrites, and in particular, the inhalant drug amyl nitrite. They’ve been a mainstay in LGBT+ communities for the past 50 years because the active ingredient relaxes muscles and enhances comfort, intimacy and safer anal sex.
So, when the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) proposed last year to ban poppers, LGBT+ groups were shocked. It would have instantly criminalised hundreds of thousands of Australian men and been a real clanger for public health.
But on June 6, the TGA backed down from prohibiting the sex drug after extensive lab testing and public consultations where they listened to affected communities. They’ve now given the thumbs up to amyl nitrite as long as it’s sold pure, properly labelled and with a child-safe cap. They’ve advised you will be able to legally buy poppers over the counter at pharmacies from February 2020.
LGBT+ advocate Steve Spencer raised a petition last year with around 5,500 signatories that condemned the TGA’s earlier proposal.
“In a time where the War on Drugs is decimating communities, and LGBTIQ rights are on the line, this is a moment for celebration,” he said of the policy win.
It’s heralded as a world-first: a federal government acknowledging the therapeutic value of amyl nitrite for anal sex. Why is this such a big deal? Because, as Steve Spencer puts it: “It legitimises the experiences of LGBTIQ Australians’ pursuit of pleasure and love. And it also wipes away the potentially devastating spectre of criminalisation.”
But amidst the celebration advocates have also flagged concerns about how poppers use will be policed until the TGA’s decision is enacted next year. In February, a teenager was fined $450 for taking a bottle of poppers to a Brisbane’s FOMO music festival.
“We urge authorities to acknowledge the TGA’s findings on legal use of poppers and therefore maintain the status quo,” Spencer said.
Buying amyl nitrite from a pharmacist may also present barriers. It’s a much better alternative to being thrown in jail after the police raid your bedside table but it’s not quite the same as ducking into a sex shop at midnight to grab a bottle, as is the case now.
Spencer said that buying poppers from a pharmacy might be fine in queer-friendly communities but that it could be a significant barrier in parts of regional Australia. The new legislation may force people to ‘come out’ to their local pharmacist or instead buy potentially unsafe alternatives on the black market.
So, while Spencer welcomes “this incredible turn-around” by the TGA, he’s still concerned about how the decision will be practically applied. Because ultimately, it’s a law that’s about helping people to “engage in safe, healthy, receptive sex.”
And that’s the bottom line.