David Stuart: An Inspirational Leader in Chemsex Harm Reduction

    The harm reduction and LGBTQ health movements have unexpectedly lost a leader, David Stuart. On January 12, the news was publicized by London’s largest sexual health clinic, to which David dedicated eight years of his pathbreaking career as a chemsex support worker. “It is with great sadness that we announce the sudden death of our colleague and friend David Stuart,” tweeted 56 Dean Street.

    Among his achievements, David is credited with developing the concept of chemsex—or the queer and trans culture of sexualized drug use, particularly involving crystal methamphetamine, GHB/GBL, mephedrone, and other so-called “party” drugs.

    Always humble, David never shied away from acknowledging that the term he championed circulated in the community long before he entered the field of public health. Here we find one of the great qualities that made him so brilliant and effective: He was no stranger to the hustle. According to his professional website, he was living with HIV and doing sex work by the age of 19. Later on, he engaged in activities still even stigmatized in institutionalized harm reduction spaces, doing “high profile pimping in the early 90s, high profile drug dealing in the noughties,” as he wrote.

    David’s persistence, despite the intersecting wars on drug users and sex economies and his participation in the oppressed communities that survive together, is absolutely to thank for his contribution of chemsex harm reduction, as a framework and practice, to queer and trans people who use drugs during sex.

    He didn’t stop at providing a foundational framework for what’s become its own field of academic research. In addition to pioneering and implementing harm reduction-based interventions for people struggling with their chemsex participation, David is responsible for getting the world’s first chemsex support services off the ground, only to continue supporting the development of countless others around the world. 

    If someone from the lay public were to know a face from the chemsex harm reduction field, it would likely be David. He is featured in numerous documentaries, including the well-known Vice UK “Chemsex” documentary, and the recent shorts series “hu.mans.” Or they may have stumbled upon what he called his “prolific” YouTube channel.

    As a young trans woman who uses crystal meth in the context of New York City‘s chemsex scene (referred to locally as “parTying” or “party ’n’ play”), my connection with David has undoubtedly helped keep myself and my community safer. For one, the resources he developed on chemsex harm reduction were indispensable as I entered the scene.

    Thanks to the Chemsex First Aid guide that he co-authored with fellow London chemsex harm reductionist Ignacio Labayen De Inza—and on which I previously reported for Filter—tips on responding to highly-stigmatized GHB/GBL overdoses and preventing psychosis and dental harms of crystal meth were already under my belt.

    As I learned more about the advanced infrastructure David had developed in London, and saw the lack of it where I live, I had his wisdom and support to thank as I embarked on organizing harm-reduction mutual aid by and for trans women who use crystal meth. In our email correspondences, he was always humble about the need to expand chemsex supports to meaningfully include trans women, and constantly encouraging of my efforts to do so on my side of the Atlantic.

    Queer and trans chemsexeurs can find him at any parTy where we take care of each other.

    Something I always appreciated about David was his unflinching commitment to the queer community.  As the “chemsex” term proliferates, David has noted that some are attempting to apply it to the heterosexual/cisgender context—which he rightly called out as “appropriation” in an interview with me in 2021. “Gay sexual liberation has a unique history and flavor that includes bathhouses and Grindr and a particularly widespread availability of certain drugs that can enhance or medicate the sexual experience,” he said. “These cultural uniquenesses define the word chemsex.”

    David has indelibly changed how queer and trans people use drugs, have sex and find support. While nothing can replace the loss felt by his absence, his presence is inextinguishable. Harm reductionists can find him at the international chemsex conferences indebted to his conceptual innovation. Most strongly, perhaps, queer and trans chemsexeurs can find him at any parTy where we take care of each other.

    If you find yourself missing David, I encourage you to visit his professional website’s bio, a beautifully composed reflection on his life that almost reads like a pre-mortem obituary. Go read it; the love he has for himself, for other gay men and for the movement is palpable. Perhaps I should have just copied and pasted it.

    Reading David’s reflection of his own life is cathartic, even for those of us who only knew him by way of email and the occasional call. It gives us insight into how he’d like to be remembered. And it seems like it’s rather clear.

    “So I am an activist, and I don’t stop,” he wrote, in reference to raising awareness around and responding to the deaths of an average of two gay men in London every month from drug toxicity. “Join me. I insist.”



    Screenshot of David Stuart giving a talk in 2016 via Youtube

    • Show Comments

    You May Also Like

    The Invisible Majority: People Whose Drug Use Is Not Problematic

    For years, Mark* woke up each morning, made breakfast for his two young children, ...

    In 2018, the Temperance Movement Still Grips America

    Our society—even some of its most progressive elements—vilifies alcohol. This stands in opposition to ...