Being sober during Pride weekend is always possible with Gay & Sober.
Caroline traveled to New York City in 2018 excited to join the annual Pride festivities. Through the millions of people crowding the streets pounding music and sweltering heat she found herself in midtown where the NYC Pride March was in full swing. The place is loud people are dancing people are drinking and the floats are passing by.
What she doesn’t expect to see? A sobriety contingent winding its way down the block with a Gay & Sober banner hanging off the side of a bus. The people on deck smile and wave to her, but all she can think is how out of place that banner seems. If it’s one thing queers are known for, it’s their love of the circuit scene and the alcohol and drugs that follow. The March is no exception as people in various levels of sobriety pass her on the street. In fact, Caroline was drinking herself (and honestly, not feeling all too well), and all she could think of through the haze of that weekend was that banner.
Caroline left Pride weekend but the name on that banner stayed with her. The next time she’s in New York, she’s determined to find Gay & Sober and attend one of their meetings. As of 2020 Caroline is over two years sober.
This is just one of the many stories that Christian Parker founder of Gay & Sober tells NYC Pride is common among their patrons.
“People are shocked when they see us at the Pride March because yes, it is possible to be queer and alcohol and drug-free. It is possible to celebrate Pride sober! That’s why Gay & Sober exists, for the health and wellness of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
According to the Pride Institute, an estimated 45% of the LGBTQIA+ community abuses alcohol—3 times the national average. In a community where socialization historically started at nightclubs and bars the trend continues and the risk of gaining problematic drinking behavior heightens. For Christian and a large portion of the LGBTQIA+ community this reality was all too familiar.
“As a gay man, I had to go to a gay bar and had to be around alcohol. There didn’t seem to be anything devoted to adults that didn’t want to drink or party. That’s why we created the Gay & Sober Men’s Conference and other sober and fun events to coincide with Pride weekend; a weekend that can be a perfect storm for a relapse.”
The need to offer this haven for the queer community came about in Summer 2009 when Christian and some friends traveled cross-country from New York to Los Angeles and found that there weren’t many recovery meetings in the cities they passed. In New York there are thousands of meetings, many of which are queer-focused. In central USA, that’s not the case.
“So, we decided to create a Facebook page. At first, it only had five followers; that eventually grew to over 7,000! In 2016, we asked the group if they would be interested in meeting in person, and that’s how the annual Gay & Sober Conference came to be.”
The three-day weekend filled with workshops devoted to alcoholism & drug addiction recovery spiritual growth and entertainment, culminates with an inclusive Pride Celebration and has become a staple part of Pride festivities in New York City marking Gay & Sober an integral organization for the LGBTQIA+ community.
Today Gay & Sober has grown from that budding Facebook page into now one of the largest recovery groups of its kind on social media. This year the recovery organization returned to their roots to reach an even wider audience expanding their programming to online meetings and monthly free LGBTQIA+ community programming.
“This turned out to be our moment to come together and make our programming more accessible than ever before. Now, people from all over the world that wouldn’t normally be able to access our events in person can attend these increasingly-needed recovery meetings.”
When there continues to be a demand for community building and connection virtual programming for Gay & Sober wasn’t a question of if but when. Tentative virtual planning began in May for a virtual replacement of the annual conference held on June 27. The response was phenomenal.
Over 1,000 people logged into the virtual event, and it went so well that organizers decided to hold monthly themed virtual events ever since. What did they do for October? Gay & Sober hosted a Gay Christmas themed event because ~ spooky season ~ and drag has never been more needed to lift the spirits. San Francisco drag queen Peaches Christ led the event on October 24 where audiences learned how to make homemade fake blood and more! Author Marianne Williamson actress Sandra Bernhard drag queen Bianca Del Rio and Margaret Cho are some other talents who’ve joined Gay & Sober at previous events.
All of this fun and supportive programming is only made possible with the continual support from the community at large with support that goes towards those seeking recovery with little to no means.
“Oftentimes, when someone is getting sober, most don’t have a job or form of income — we are there to offer that support towards their recovery.”
Gay & Sober awards +50 scholarships a year to assist those in need, giving them access to more of their services and free entry to events. Funding for these scholarships comes from individual donations, but mostly, ticket sales from their annual Gay & Sober Men’s Conference. Understandingly donations have fallen short with the postponement of the in-person event.
In response this December Gay & Sober will hold a virtual campaign celebration where the likes of Miss Richfield 1981 and Coco Peru along with other fabulous performers will take over the interwebs to help raise funds for Gay & Sober’s recovery programming before the tax deduction deadline at the end of the year.
"To watch people recover to see them help others to watch loneliness vanish to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends - this is an experience you must not miss. We know you will not want to miss it."
Caroline who came to New York not knowing how Pride weekend would change her life is a testament to how attending a Pride event can lead to such positive change. When will we all be able to gather in person? No one knows but if Gay & Sober is of any indication that doesn’t mean that support for the LGBTQIA+ community is stopping anytime soon.
NYC Pride hosts over 600 groups for the annual March in midtown Manhattan. We’re glad to see that just like Caroline no matter what walk of life brings you to Pride Weekend each June you take an experience with you that lasts a lifetime.