by Erin Bates June 21, 2020
June is pride month, which typically means a month of celebration amongst the LGBTQ+ community. While pride is (and should be) a massive party honoring the progress, visibility and diversity within the community- it can also be a struggle for those who don’t drink alcohol.
The pride movement itself has been historically rooted in drinking culture. Pride is celebrated in June because the month falls on the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprisings, which stemmed from a bar raid after police in New York started to crack down on gay bars in the city. These bars served as community centers early on, and evolved from underground venues to now mainstream nightlife. Queer bars continue to serve to the masses, but there are downsides to drinking within the LGBTQ+ community. The community faces a higher likelihood of substance abuse disorders and a greater rate of binge drinking than the general population. Alcohol abuse can be amplified by stress and stigma, as well as from limited resources and discrimination (though if you do need help, here’s a great place to start). Yet festivals like pride are often viewed as big day parties, with parades and parties all weekend long.
While this year’s pride may look a bit different due to COVID-19, we wanted to learn more about what the community can look like for those who want to avoid alcohol. We reached out to our friends Kelsey and Heather Pearson to learn more about their experience getting sober and being involved in the LQBTQ+ community. Kelsey and Heather are recently married and have started a sober lifestyle blog and youtube channel together. We sat down to ask them about how they met, their sober journey together and how to celebrate pride- without any alcohol.
How did you both meet each other?
In 2015 I [Heather] graduated college from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and started an online personal training website where I coached clients. My first client ended up knowing Kelsey, and Kelsey tagged along one day and did the workout with her. Kelsey asked the friend where she got this workout program from and was referred to me—via social media of course. So Kelsey slid into my DMs on August 9, 2015 to inquire about purchasing a workout program.
After a few days of talking back and forth, virtually all day long, I told Kelsey that we would need to keep things professional until the program was over. Kelsey basically said “forget the program then.” 2 weeks later, I packed a bag with enough clothes for a week and drove 6.5 hours to meet Kelsey in Cleveland, Mississippi. We met on August 28, 2015 and I asked Kelsey “So are you going to be my girlfriend or what?” that same night and we’ve been together ever since.
Why did you both choose to go sober?
Kelsey had been wanting to give up alcohol for a couple years. Her dad struggled with alcoholism and ultimately passed away in July 2018 from End Stage Liver Disease. It was really hard on us to see him deteriorate and die to such an ugly disease. After he passed, Kelsey started talking more seriously about wanting to give up alcohol. We would tell each other that it was “okay that we drink because we don’t have a problem.” So then more months would go by. There would be nights where Kelsey would just break out in hives and big red splotchy rashes on her chest, back, and up her neck after a night of drinking. First we thought it was due to tequila, but then it started happening with red wine, so we were like “okay, now you’re getting actually allergic to alcohol.” We joked that her dad was trying to tell her to stop drinking.
Finally on November 26, 2019 we just decided we were ready to give up alcohol completely. Just days prior, we each had an individual session with someone we and all of our friends call “Healer Katie”, who is a certified nutritional counselor and energy healer. At Kelsey’s session, she had a long discussion on alcohol and worked out that it wasn’t for her highest being in regards to her anxiety, mental health, adrenal glands, and physical health. It was just the last sign she needed to say “OK, I’m done.” When we talked about our sessions together and Kelsey told me, I said “OK, I’m done too.” We both went sober from that moment and we are so thankful we were able to do that from a healthy place.
Has anything changed since you’ve gone sober?
Kelsey feels healthier and better about herself. She realized how easy it is to not need alcohol at all. I feel so great and thankful for each day without hangovers. I think our relationship has gotten even more intimate since giving up alcohol because we feel like we have more time together! No more time wasted being drunk and then hungover. Our relationship is stronger than ever.
What have either of you noticed about alcohol consumption within the LGBTQ+ community?
We have witnessed first hand that many within the LGBTQIA community are heavy drinkers! A lot of times people within the LGBTQIA community have been made to feel different and not accepted, and are struggling with their own identities, so they often turn to alcohol to cope. Or on the opposite side of that, Pride parades and celebrations are often times strongly associated with getting drunk as quickly as possible and staying that way the entire day.
Studies show that the rate of alcohol dependency in LGBTQ communities could be as high as 25% (compared to 5-10% of non-queer folks) - Do you see alcohol as a problem in your own community?
We are definitely not surprised by those numbers, and we are deeply saddened by them. We think there is a correlation in alcohol consumption with those who have had a really hard time coming out, feel isolated and unsupported by loved ones, and struggle with their mental health in addition. Alcohol is a scary thing because even we had to stop and say “wait, why haven’t we stopped drinking? Are we scared to? We don’t have a problem…do we?” Because we had talked about going sober so many times but hadn’t followed through. To be frank, we’d go as far as to say alcohol is a problem within every community.
It definitely seems like drinking and the LGBTQ community go hand in hand. How do you deal with this while living a sober lifestyle?
We are very motivated in our decision to go and remain sober for the rest of our lives. We are proud to represent being a sober, married, lesbian couple. Sober does not mean boring! We still go out (pre-COVID19) to bars and restaurants and parties with friends, but choose to drink mocktails! Sometimes a place will have a specialty mocktail menu; other times we will ask the bartender to make us one and sometimes even give flavor profiles that we’d like in that moment (i.e. sour, sweet, bitter, spicy) and they’ll surprise us. While at home, we now know how many non-alcoholic drink options there are out there like beers, prosecco, whiskey, gin, and even tequila. It’s so fun getting to experiment with making fun drinks, and it’s even more fun to make them for friends and family to show them how much fun being sober is.
What does pride mean to you both?
Pride to us means being true to ourselves and standing up for what we believe in. It's the opportunity for us to honor those that fought for equality before us, and an opportunity for us to continue fighting for those who can't. Pride is a celebration of how far we've come as a community, and a stance on the changes that still need to occur. Acceptance comes with exposure. Exposure leads to understanding. Understanding guides others towards empathy and love. Pride is a time for everyone within the LGBTQ+ community to come together, to be seen, to be heard, and to be celebrated. Pride is being PROUD of who we are, loving that which makes us "different", and celebrating our truth.
Any tips on celebrating pride without alcohol?
Get some Grüvi! Make some mocktails! There are tons of recipes online (try searching on Pinterest) and have fun with it! Pride is so much more fun when you can remember it all.