Dream With Us—How 'Gay and Sober Men' Brings Support, Love and Safety

By Jean Sullivan 06/24/16

Gay and Sober Men is a safe and fun community—and 2017 looks to be their biggest year yet.

Gay and Sober?
We still need to provide a safe, affirming place.

In recent years, a question seemed to keep coming up—are special interest gay friendly meetings and LGBT-specific treatment centers relevant or even necessary in society’s current age of progressiveness, tolerance, and acceptance? Marriage equality is now the law of the land and family-friendly companies like Disney even showcase gay and lesbian characters from time to time.

Then came the recent, tragic events in Orlando. And it became clear that now, more than ever, we need to provide a safe, affirming place—as well as events—for people in the LGBT community.    

At the Pride Institute, a treatment center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one can go to rehab in an all-LGBT setting. Thus creating a safe space for absolute, un-edited honesty by its clients and further fostering an atmosphere of recovery. Pride opened its doors in 1986, at the height of the AIDS epidemic. The institute not only addresses client’s drug and alcohol issues, but critical problems that plague the community such as discrimination and homophobia. Surprisingly, Pride is currently the only treatment center of its kind in the United States to offer this kind of immersive experience. However, more and more rehabs across the country offer an LGBT-friendly track to those clients that seek it.

June is national Pride month. Nearly every city has events and activities that celebrate the LGBT community. In New York City—where the modern gay rights movement started—they have a week packed with events, circuit parties, and parades. But along with Pride come lots of opportunities for drinking, partying, and indulgences. The highest admittance time of year at the emergency room of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village is not New Year’s Eve, but actually Gay Pride Weekend. Studies even suggest that up to 33% of the LGBTQ+ population have difficulty controlling their alcohol and drug use. That number is even higher in the transgender community. 

Taking this into account, a group of sobers from all over the country have decided to mobilize, and have committed to making a difference for the sober or sober curious members of the gay community. What started out as a small private group of sober guys on Facebook in 2009 has mushroomed into the largest recovery group of its kind on social media. Last year, the private Facebook group—known as Gay & Sober Men (GSM)—polled its 6,000 online members, and it was decided that they all wanted to meet one another—in person, in real time! During next year’s Pride weekend, these people will come together to celebrate recovery with the first annual international Gay & Sober Convention, a unique four-day men’s conference in New York City. 

The mission, according to Kori, Mathew, and Brandon—Gay & Sober’s nonprofit board members—is borrowed from classic AA literature: “to watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow about you, to have a host of friends. We are doing this in the spirit of brotherhood, friendliness, fellowship, and adventure.”

This type of event has been done before, but it was held in Palm Springs and was known as Hot ’n Dry—another men’s only roundup. This conference is different in that it’s on the east coast and that it welcomes people that are not only in AA. People in NA or CMA will find programming specific to them, and even people that aren’t in "12 step” but just love a sober lifestyle will be welcomed with open arms.  

Activities will include health and wellness workshops, big speaker meetings, spiritual growth forums, and dance parties under the Pride fireworks. Thanks to social media and to enthusiastic sober “cheerleaders” from New York to Los Angeles, to London and even Tokyo, hundreds, perhaps thousands of fellows are expected to attend. It’s a big undertaking to financially pull off a conference like this in a city like New York.

It will also take a village to make it a success. But the organizers and volunteers have high hopes. Mathew, from Edmonton, Canada, believes that “enthusiasm is contagious” and he is convinced that using social networking platforms will help get the word out as never before. GSM seems to be doing the right thing and is aware that some may even criticize its efforts. Speaking to that, one of the founding members who came up with the idea of the conference said, “Yes, there will be critics, but we aren’t doing it for the critics. We are doing it for the community.” The team is steadfast in its vision of encouraging unity and enhancing one’s sobriety. Fittingly, the theme for 2017 is "Dream With Us!"

Some of the event details are still in development. Most sober conventions and roundups are held at a host hotel where everything happens on property. At GSM, they are using a host hotel in Chelsea, aptly called The Dream.

A sunrise guided meditation could be held in a park on Roosevelt Island or at the observation deck of One World Trade Center—both with inspiring vistas of the city. Several talented performers have also been invited to entertain at the Saturday night banquet meeting and concert near Columbus Circle. To close the weekend of sober events, the conference has several options—one is a float during the annual Gay Pride march down Fifth Avenue. The other is a dance cruise with two DJs on two floors of the Circle Line Cruise. The floating, rocking dance party will sail down the Hudson, through the harbor to the Statue of Liberty, and the climax of the beautiful evening will be a spectacular show of pride with the a fireworks display—all with the skyline of Manhattan as its backdrop. 

This experience is a first time trial run for GSM. But if it all goes well, the possibilities are endless. The conference may even travel from city to city each year. After all is said and done, and in the spirit of giving back, Gay & Sober is putting any surplus revenue to good use by sponsoring up to three people within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender community that are in need of financial aid for inpatient treatment services. 

Pride month started off on a very dark note with the Florida tragedy. But as we can all see, the rainbow colors are brighter and more visible than ever before. People in the LGBT community are coming together, and even sober fellows like the ones at Gay & Sober want to make this world a better, more loving place—because in the end...there is way more good than bad.   

On a personal note, being a straight woman in recovery, I have been surrounded by and helped tremendously by sober fellows of the gay community. My numerous stints in rehabs taught me that I have an unhealthy need for male attention. This behavior would lead to a definite relapse if I were to continue it at outside AA meetings. I am fortunate enough to have found true friendship and love within the rooms, particularly from the gay members. For me it’s attraction, not distraction, that keeps me coming back.

The conference dates are June 22nd - 25th, 2017.

Registration opens on December 1st and more information on volunteering & donating is available at www.gayandsober.org

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