How To Be Inclusive This Pride (And Every Day)
The following is a guest post from Tracy Murphy, who runs LGBT Teetotaler. In her words: "A place for queer and trans people in all forms of recovery to be able to share their experiences as well as a space for me to share my story, ideas and, art related to my recovery and what I’m learning about how to create a truly inclusive and intersectional recovery community." We encourage you to visit her site and to follow her on IG @MurphTheJerk.
Pride season is fast approaching and with that, a slew of images will surely be flooding our social media accounts depicting all of the happy, celebratory, queers. Pride has come to be known as a season to celebrate the rights we've gained and protest for the ones we don't already have, often with a drink in hand. Head to your closest Pride celebration this year and right alongside the booths for LGBTQ services and banners for pro-gay and trans ballot measures, you'll find sponsorship by alcohol companies and bars. You'll find block parties selling $10 Bud Lights, packed with half naked, drunken queers. You'll find a not so subtle message that says "drink up for liberation!"
The history that the LGBT community has with alcohol is long, sometimes dark and sometimes beautiful. I can't sit here and pretend that gay bars (and by association, alcohol) weren't and aren't fantastic places. Gay bars have historically been the places queers could go to feel safe. They're where we were able to build new families after ours disowned us. They're where we were able to dress the way we wanted, act the way that was natural to us and, meet potential life partners or one night stands. Gay bars were freedom for queers before homosexuality was mostly socially accepted and they still are freedom from a society that only, truly, wants to accept us if we assimilate.
Pride itself was borne out of the gay bar scene, the origins being the Stonewall uprising. In 1960's New York City, it was dangerous to be gay. Not only was it illegal to serve gay patrons alcohol but, it was illegal to be gay at all. The mafia stepped in and created an unlikely partnership with the gay community by opening gay bars. These bars were run on the cheap; The Stonewall Inn didn't even have running water behind the bar. Glasses were "cleaned" by dunking them in buckets of dirty water. The queers didn't care, they were glad to have a place of relative safety, off of the streets, where they could spend time together as a community.
Though the mafia did make payments to the NYPD in order to limit the frequency of raids, that didn't stop them all together and the raids at the Stonewall Inn were often violent affairs. Law enforcement wasn't in any way concerned with the safety or wellbeing of the "criminals" they arrested.
On June 28, 1969, having had enough of the raids and the beatings and being treated like they weren't worth anything, the patrons of The Stonewall Inn fought back. Led by trans women of color and street kids, they took to the streets, fighting back in a way that the police never expected "sissies" to fight. These riots went on every night for five nights, ending on July 1st. This display of resistance was the spark that was needed to light the fire of the Gay Liberation Movement (as it used to be called.)
Since 1969, the LGBTQ+ community has made great strides but, things aren't really all that different. Sure, I can get married if I want to but, the overwhelming feeling for too many queer and trans people that we need to hide something about ourselves to be safe is still there. We still live in fear of being attacked or murdered because of who we are. We still have to worry about being refused housing, hotel accommodations, and even medical care in many places. We have to worry about being kicked out of our homes, disowned by our families and, ostracized by our communities.
LGBTQ+ youth are coming out younger and younger, but that doesn't mean the harassment from their peers and other community members has ceased, or the shame and confusion that often accompanies that harassment. Substance abuse is about 20-30 percent higher in LGBTQ+ youth than it is in the general population,and the highest rates can be seen in the transgender community and among bisexuals.
As we get older, things don't get much better. Queer people, especially women, have disproportionally higher rates of both binge drinking and heavy drinking than their heterosexual counterparts. It's hard to find any specific statistics on trans people and alcohol because many studies that include trans people lump them in the LGBTQ+ umbrella, even though we know that trans people are at a higher risk for addiction, suicide, poverty, abuse and, murder than the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.
Knowing all of this, it would seem like the recovery/sobriety community would be a place that we'd be able to find our people and be accepted but, it's much harder than you'd think. I had been searching for an online community, a blog or a real life meet up for sober queers for ages and, though there are plenty of LGBTQ AA and similar meetings out there, for those of us who are not interested in meetings there are really no alternatives to speak of.
I have found great communities in my search that are run by mostly hetero women but, having to do the work to find out if they're welcoming, continuously testing the waters and, feeling left out is exhausting. For people who run recovery/sobriety spaces, doing a few things to actively show that you are a space for LGBTQ+ people can make a huge difference for newly sober queer and trans people.
TIPS TO BE MORE INCLUSIVE TO LGBTQ+ PEOPLE
Here are a few tips that I have to be more explicit in your inclusion of LGBTQ+ people (this is not an all-inclusive list as there are endless ways to promote inclusion and help people feel welcome.):
1. Don't ever assume heterosexuality
When speaking to an audience, addressing a group of people or, having a conversations one-on- one - NEVER assume the person you are speaking to is heterosexual. Even if they have a partner or spouse who is a different gender than they are. One of the most invisible and marginalized groups in the LGBTQ+ community are people who are bisexual/pansexual/queer. Since most people assume that sexuality is binary and people are either gay or straight, someone who is bisexual is often assumed to fall in one of those two categories based on the gender of their current partner. Because of assumptions like these and the feeling of invisibility they create, bisexual individuals have much higher instances of alcohol/substance abuse than both their gay or hetero counterparts.
There is also no faster way for someone to express to me that what they are talking about isn't FOR me than by assuming the heterosexuality of their audience, whether that's their intention or not. Generally talking about husbands in a "men, amirite!?!?" sort of way to relate to your audience is fine but, if you are inclusive of queer people, don't do it.
I'm not saying that it's not okay to share personal stories, it totally is! I'm just saying that using your heterosexual relationships or identity to relate to or foster a connection with a group of people can and will alienate some people. Speaking about your partner specifically and then using gender neutral terms to relate to the audience will keep more people with you and engaged.
2. Language matters
When in doubt, use gender neutral words. In fact, try to always use gender neutral terminology unless you are speaking to someone that you know specifically identifies a certain way. And then, use the terminology they prefer. Listen, I know that it can seem confusing and awkward to use pronouns or words you aren't used to but, doing this is the number one way you can help a queer, trans or non-binary person feel seen and validated.
If you're reading this, wondering what I'm talking about or confused because you aren't sure what to use instead of gender specific terms, here are some examples:
Instead of saying/using…
Folks / Y'all / You All / People / Hey Everyone
Spouse / Partner
Ladies and Gentlemen (or just ladies, or just gentlemen, in perceived single gender groups.)
Hello, Everyone / Good Morning (Afternoon, Evening) / Hello There
M and F as the only two options on a registration or other form
Include: MTF, FTM, Non-Binary and, Other (with the option for a write in)
Don't end there, these examples are not all inclusive! Keep thinking of other words and phrases that are gendered and based in heterosexuality, there are so many.
3. Gendered spaces
Having separate women's spaces and men's spaces can be important to people and, I don't think that we should get rid of these spaces/meetings/groups. What is something that needs to be taken into account is that not everyone identifies as a woman or a man.
I know quite a few non binary people who have had a hard time finding spaces and groups that are safe for them because the options in their area are all divided by binary gender.
If you are creating gendered spaces as part of your work as a recovery/sobriety leader, please consider also creating spaces that are inclusive of or are explicitly for non-binary individuals.
4. Explicitly include LGBT people in your events
Many teachers and leaders think that it's enough to not specifically exclude queer and trans people but, what you may not think of while planning your event is that since the world is inherently for heterosexual people, language, activities and, even venues may feel exclusionary to members of the LGBT community. The best way to ensure you are not excluding queer and trans people is to make sure you are explicitly including them.
When I am planning on attending an event there are a lot of things that I have to look at before I know whether or not I'll feel safe and included in the space. I have to check out the venue, who is running the event/speaking at it, who the sponsors are, etc.
5. Research your venue and sponsors to ensure there is no history of anti LGBTQ+ politics or support. Accepting money from or giving money to organizations who promote homophobia and transphobia means you support homophobia and transphobia.
If you are running an event where there are speakers, whether it's a panel or individual lectures/speakers, be sure to include a varied representation of who you hope to attract to the event. It is not enough to include only one person of color or one queer person, that's tokenism. There should be a variety of people of color and of different sexualities/genders. Only or predominantly featuring cis het white women or men not only insinuates the event is only for cis het white women and/or men but, it severely restricts the perspectives that are presented at your event.
6. When advertising, marketing and, creating FAQs for your event, make sure you use inclusive and gender neutral language. If you start writing something that is cisgender or heterosexual focused, stop and think about how you can make the statement more inclusive.
Shut down homophobia/transphobia/racism and general hate speech in spaces that are under your control.
You've done everything listed above and things seem to be going well, you've been engaging queer and trans people and your space seems to be more inclusive of the queer and trans community. Now what?
Well, now is the time to follow through. In the spaces you control (your social media, retreats, conferences, etc.) it is very important to make sure the conversation stays away from homophobic, transphobic and, racist speech or comments. Set the expectation that it will not be tolerated and clearly state the consequences of hate speech in your spaces (warnings, being asked to leave, etc.) Shut it down when you notice it and, be sure to follow through with stated consequences. Listen to queer and trans people when they say that someone is being homophobic or transphobic because it might not always be something that's noticeable to you. And, finally, if someone does post a homophobic or transphobic comment and another person puts the effort into educating that person, don't delete the comment. Leave it up so others can be educated as well.
Folks, creating spaces where marginalized and oppressed people feel accepted is some of the most important work we can do.
This Pride season, let's do more than hashtag 'love is love' and dance at the parade.