We need more sober spaces in the LGBTQ+ community

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I’ll admit that I like to party and shut down bars just as much as any other queer but it’s also not something I rely on day to day. Last Wednesday evening after work, I was out until 1 a.m. celebrating my queer friend’s birthday at Tavern on Camac. It was a fun and silly night. Then throughout the rest of the week, I spent my evenings binging “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with my boyfriend. Both occasions were equally fun for me.

However, I am very privileged to say that I have built several chosen queer communities where drinking is not our only option for fun (That includes the friend whose birthday I was celebrating. Alcohol is, after all, OK in moderation for some people.). But not everyone in the LGBTQ+community has that privilege. According to Alcohol Rehab Guide, up to 25% of the general LGBTQ+ community has moderate alcohol dependency, compared to 5-10% of the general population.

There are many reasons for this abuse. For example, LGBTQ+ people may turn to alcohol as a way to self medicate from the regular emotional distress, anxiety, and fear that is associated with being part of a marginalized community. However, this “self-medication” can actually make these symptoms worse and create an even bigger downward spiral. Furthermore, LGBTQ+ people often have less access to support systems. This includes faith-based support groups and even their own families, who may shut them out for not accepting their LGBTQ+ identities.

Additionally, alcohol has become deeply ingrained in LGBTQ+ culture. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties, local drag shows and even some LGBTQ+ charity events are often held in bars. As a matter of fact, even one of the most important moments in LGBTQ+ history — the Stonewall riots — was connected to gay bars. It’s no wonder why alcoholism has become so normalized in LGBTQ+ culture and why this issue isn’t talked about enough.

Finding a safe place to party and be yourself is important but partying isn’t necessarily a reality for some folks. Where is the recovering alcoholic supposed to go to meet other members of the LGBTQ+ community? Where is that queer 13-year-old who loves drag supposed to go to enjoy a show? More simply, where are the quiet queers supposed to go to enjoy a community setting?

Singing along to Sabrina Carpenter’s “Espresso” on the dance floor with your gaggle of gays can feel amazing but it’s also frustrating if that’s your only way to find community. A few resources exist in Philadelphia. There’s the Philadelphia Freedom Roundup, which is a recovery-based group that promotes sober events in Philadelphia. And there’s also The Painted Mug Cafe, which serves as an LGBTQ+ community space that includes but is not limited to events for sober people and youth. These are all great starts but there needs to be more spaces like this curated by and for our LGBTQ+ community members.

As Pride month comes to a close, and I turn down yet another invite to a Pride party at a bar, I can’t help but feel sorry for the queers who don’t have a community to engage in sober fun, or somewhere to go outside of the bar scene. I’m not saying “shut down the bars.” After all, I love the occasional cocktail or glass of wine. But there needs to be more places for queers to go to that don’t involve alcohol; safe spaces where we can meet each other and be proud.

Remember that boyfriend I binged “Buffy” with? He doesn’t drink alcohol at all.

Want to know something ironic? We met at a bar.

That’s something to think about.

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