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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

Sober Prides Are On The Rise

The resources and success stories of people who have hit the pause button on drinking…

By Fraser Abe

A lot of Pride-goers have a regrettable story to share. The endings are all different – a bad hookup, an embarrassing moment on the dance floor, a morning spent hugging the toilet – but the beginnings are usually the same: too much to drink or too many drugs. The moment when the story goes from cute to cautionary tale is different for everyone (and never for most), but the statistics on the LGBTQ community are not in our favour. In its documents on substance use disorders, the Government of Canada points out that LGB adolescents were two to four times more likely to use substances and LG adults experienced higher rates of heavier drinking, compared to heterosexuals.

If you’re someone who feels that Pride is too much about the partying, take heart: it doesn’t have to be the booze-and-benzos-soaked bacchanal it was. Sober Prides are on the rise, thanks partially to a growing wellness trend (self-care is bae!) that encourages people to examine their relationship with their bodies and make better decisions on its care.

The term ‘sober curious’ exploded in popularity last year – searches for the term hit many peaks in Canada in 2019 versus the years before, according to Google Trends. Basically, a person who is sober curious is interested in exploring a life that features less (or no) alcohol. Ruby Warrington, author of the book Sober Curious, told Bustle: “People are more invested in their overall well-being [these days].… It becomes harder to reconcile the way alcohol really makes us feel.”

Certainly, many partiers are familiar with the annual drinking pause that comes in January – after a December full of social events that provided many excuses or reasons to imbibe – but swearing off the stuff forever is a daunting notion, even for casual drinkers. First, there are the probing questions: Why aren’t you drinking? Are you an alcoholic? Are you pregnant? There’s also the notion of camaraderie that alcohol can offer: the toasts at weddings, the stories of that one wild weekend in university, the ball drop at New Year’s. But sober curiosity, and the growing number of LGBTQ people who are choosing not to partake, are turning the tide.

Last year, Vice wrote about all the various Pride celebrations for sober people: “Sober people will walk in The March, complete with a DJ, followed by a sober river cruise. The Houston Pride organization hosts Skate Sober, the official dry Pride night where you can skate substance-free. In Denver, there’s a specific Queer n’ Sober Dance. In San Francisco, the Castro Country Club Sober Stage features a drug- and alcohol-free space to enjoy a picnic and some music. However, these events are still outnumbered by those where alcohol may be present.” They also offered tips for enjoying Pride sober, which mostly centred on the notion of putting yourself first (it’s okay not to succumb to peer pressure, to leave when you want to rather than when your friends want you) and finding sober friends to enjoy Pride with.

Of course, that was last year. In March this year, the City of Toronto cancelled all events until June 30 (Pride was scheduled June 26-28). Pride Toronto was on board, saying: “The decision by public health authorities to cancel permits through the month of June is a necessary one. Any future programming will be in alignment with the recommendations of the public health authorities and the communities we serve.” Toronto’s decision was echoed across the country: Vancouver cancelled theirs in April, as did Montreal. Even Calgary’s Pride Parade, which happens later in the season in September, has been cancelled. Now, that is not to say these municipalities won’t be doing events, or add to their online programming, but the notion of an in-person Pride will have to wait until at least 2021.

Being stuck in lockdown has increased queer loneliness, which is usually cited as worse than for the heterosexual cis population. Interviews with queers who talk of their loneliness frequently mention increased alcohol and drug use. With national anxiety at seemingly ever higher levels, being able to find sober companions when you’re not supposed to leave the house is more important than ever.

But queers are resilient: even in this lockdown, they are finding their people, online. Queer AA and NA meetings have proliferated over the internet. One story in Them mentions the non-profit Gay And Sober, whose CEO, Christian Cerna-Parker, says, “Many people are telling me, even after the corona crisis ends, they still want to keep doing these meetings over Zoom.”

This is maybe the best year to give a sober Pride a try, since all events are virtual, which will help eliminate some of the pressure to drink or do drugs that giant throngs of people can have. Pride Toronto will host a sober event over Zoom this year: a 1½-hour “refreshing virtual oasis for the sober community.” It’s not as long or robust as some of their other online programming, but a great way to celebrate Pride, virtually, with some like-minded queers and allies.

Of course, there are some downsides to sober Pride: you can still have a bad hookup (online, at least!) or embarrassing dance floor moment (also online!), but unfortunately, you’ll remember them clearly instead of hazily. Perhaps a small price to pay for a fatter wallet, a healthier liver and more memorable moments.

FRASER ABE is a Toronto-based writer. His work has been published in Toronto Life, The Globe and Mail, Sharp Magazine, NOW Magazine and more. When he’s not busy writing, he’s shrieking Gia Gunn quotes at his boyfriend, Colin.

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