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Queer Sober Areas Are Thriving. Now We Should Shield Them

Megan Keys struggles with drugs and alcohol go back decades. As a teenager attending a boys-only high school in Birmingham, she was prescribed Prozac for her depression, which she later overdosed on. causes rashes on your skin.

In her twenties she drank a lot in the Birmingham club scene while also taking pills, speed and acid. Inwardly, she tried to cope with it. Key suffered from body dysmorphia after years of being bullied about her weight and also came to the realization that she is a transgender woman.

In 2008, after using cocaine with friends during the Euro soccer tournament in the summer, she had a breakdown. “My psychiatrist said to me, if you don’t face transsexuality, you won’t see 40, and I knew that,” says Key. She quit drugs but continued binge drinking until 2017 before giving up alcohol altogether in March last year.

Today, Key is the trustee of the London LGBTQ + Community Center, which will open on the 1st. The six-month pop-up in Blackfriars will provide the queer community with a sober space, including a café and support services.

Studies have shown that LGBTQ + people are at higher risk of alcohol and drug abuse than their heterosexual, cisgender peers. A UCL study in February this year found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were significantly more likely to report alcohol and drug abuse than straight people. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment that analyzed the past two years of the Global Drug Survey concluded, “Trans respondents said they needed more help reducing substance use than they did cis[gender] Respondents. “

For Key, now in her forties, drinking, drugs, smoking, and eating “were all ways to deal with a lack of control [her] Gender identity “.

Megan Key, Trustee of the London LGBTQ + Community Center.

The pop-up is one of a growing number of spaces trying to diversify what’s on offer for the queer community, and is all too often limited to pubs and clubs where alcohol and drugs are circulating.

Maryann founded Wright in January Sappho events who hosts sober events across the UK for queer women, trans and non-binary people such as pottery workshops, boxing tutorials and book readings. “It was born out of a desire that people had more to do than go out and drink,” says Wright. “We have to get better at providing a wider range of spaces that are accessible to people.” Then in August, an LGBTQ + cafe and bookstore called The common opened in Bethnal Green in East London.

In the capital, other organizations have been offering sober LGBTQ + rooms for years, such as Elop in Walthamstow, which offers counseling and support groups, and the Mosaic Trustwho runs a weekly youth club in Kilburn. In June, The outside project opened its own LGBTIQ + community center in Southwark with weekly coffee mornings among its activities after moving from a location in Clerkenwell, which first opened in 2019.

“We need spaces to come together and connect in a healthy way, where we can remember it the next day”

– Megan Key, Trustee of the London LGBTQ + Community Center.

For Key it is “extremely important” that there are sober rooms for LGBTQ + people. “We’re more likely to suffer from suicide and self-harm, we’re more likely to have drug abuse problems, we’re more likely to be excluded from our families, we’re more likely to be discriminated against in the workplace.” to connect where we can remember the next day where we can build long-term relationships. “

Sober in 2016, Eleanor Higgins, an actress, writer, and producer used these rooms to keep her on track.

She explains how “drugs and alcohol were normalized quite early on” during her experience with the queer scene. “I noticed that my straight colleagues weren’t doing this to the same extent,” she adds.

Higgins says she used drinking as a “coping mechanism” in her twenties, partly because of the difficulty she had as a teenager in figuring out her sexuality. “There was internalized shame, and I definitely think that was part of getting out of there,” she explains.

Sobriety wasn’t always easy for Higgins, who briefly drank alcohol after the death of a friend last year. But it’s the only option for them. “Me and alcohol, I have such an allergic reaction,” she says. “It manifests in a way that I’m becoming like Jekyll and Hyde.” These days she goes sober with friends to clubs like Dalston Superstore in east London and has taken LGBTQ + yoga classes and activities from Sappho Events.

More LGBTQ + outside London sober rooms are set up alongside veterans like those from Manchester LGBT + center, opened in 1988. (The center is temporarily closed while a new one is under construction, expected to open in March 2022.) Sol Café opened in June and is home to a queer book club and gender makeup sessions. In Brighton, activists are preparing for the opening The Ledward Center, billed as LGBTQ + community and cultural space. A Called group Queers without beer has held sober socials in London, Manchester and Bristol every month since 2018, with meetings planned in Derby and Hastings.

While more sober LGBTQ + spaces seem to open up, there are fears for their longevity, especially given the harsh climate for queer spaces in general.

In 2017, a UCL study found that the The number of LGBTQ + locations in London has decreased by 58% since 2006. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have made things worse. The Charity Birmingham LGBTFor example, he ran a sober café for years, but had to close it because of the pandemic. Is that now Fundraising of £ 3,000 to make this room Covid-19 safe, including windows that can be opened to improve ventilation.

“For many of our customers, it’s still a shame who they are.”

– Toni Hogg, service manager at Antidote.

For queer people at increased risk of substance abuse, LGBTQ + -specific support services are essential including the LGBT Foundation in Manchester Recovery team and Antidote in London. For Toni Hogg, S.Service managers at Antidote have a clear link between the trauma LGBTQ + people experience and addiction problems.

“We grow up with all the negativity in the media, in school, at work, and all the other places where people make comments about LGBTQ people who can often be negative, and we internalize that,” they say. “Many of our customers are still very ashamed of who they are. I think that naturally affects a lot of drug and alcohol use, especially in the area of ​​intimacy. “

Toni Hogg

Antidote’s support services include drop-in sessions, a monthly social program, and a six-week program for those – especially gay and bisexual men – struggling with chemsex problems who use drugs like GHB during sex.

For Key, sober LGBTQ + spaces were crucial to embracing herself as a trans woman. She recalls a trans-specific community center called Gender Matters in Wolverhampton that closed in 2015 and where she received advice. Inside there was a common room with large couches, a pool table, and a TV. It took her two years to enter this common room, she says, because she was “too embarrassed to be trans to discuss it with others”.

Finally she did – and she found a sense of community. “When I got the courage to step into this room, it was like breathing out because there were people like me and I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore,” she says. “You will never do that unless you have sober safe rooms. That’s why I think it’s important. “

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