Gay and Sober is a matter of Pride

Photo credit - Calvin Fleming
Photo credit - Calvin Fleming
Photo credit – Calvin Fleming

BY ALANA MILLER  |  On Friday, June 10, thousands of LGBT people and allies will flood the streets of West Hollywood to celebrate LA Pride. Since 1970, the event has been a cornerstone of liberation and celebration for the LGBT community.

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Pride has always embodied the arc of the LGBT journey; some years have allowed us to vent our rage while other years, especially lately, have been sheer celebration.

Pride can be a place of wild celebration — one in which drugs and alcohol is front and center. For some people, especially those in the early stages of recovery, it’s a little overwhelming.  

Pride can be a sobriety challenge. But it can also be a welcoming place where everyone can celebrate.

In 2011, Robert Gamboa, West Hollywood Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board Member and Jimmy Palmieri, West Hollywood Human Services Commissioner, approached Christopher Street West, the producers of LA Pride, about creating a sober zone within the Pride festival.

“We wanted to create a place where those in recovery could have a safe place to celebrate LGBT Pride and still be part of the community celebration — all of us deserve to be at the table without fear or judgement,” said Gamboa, who is also the Project Manager for the West Hollywood Project of the Institute for Public Strategies (IPS).

“Some people don’t want to go to Pride because it’s a trigger,” Gamboa shared. “We felt there was a need for everyone who wanted to enjoy pride free from alcohol, drugs, including families, those in recovery, and anyone who simply chose not to consume any substances that weekend.”

In 2012, the City of West Hollywood helped to cosponsor, along with the LA LGBT Center and Christopher Street West, “Bill’s Café.” It was meant to be a subtle nod to the recovery community and a warm welcome to everyone. The café was a sober zone in the Pride Festival offering a mini-refuge from the alcohol-fueled revelry nearby.

The following year, a plush and refined Bill’s Café returned with the added feature of Recovery Row, a resource fair made up of local nonprofits. The idea was to bring prevention, treatment and harm reduction agencies together that wouldn’t ordinarily be able to participate in Pride due to the expense.

All these agencies proudly serve the LGBT community and this opportunity enabling them to do outreach to their target audience.

Later in 2013, the Institute for Public Strategies, the Tweakers Project and the Crystal Meth Recovery Services of the LA LGBT Center came together through the West Hollywood Project to produce “#BOOM! — An Alcohol and Drug Free New Year’s Eve Extravaganza” in West Hollywood.

“We noticed that especially during the holidays and during Pride season, we saw many of our LGBT brothers and sisters commit suicide, relapse, overdose, isolate or fall into depression. We wanted to try to change that,” said Gamboa. #BOOM! turned out to be a smashing success!

Bill’s Café was rebranded as “#SIZZLE! — A Carnival of Attraction!” and turned into an all out carnival experience — complete with prizes, games, popcorn, and more. Recovery Row was integrated right into the space and the participating agencies then did outreach.

The concept was new and the idea was threefold: 1) Bring agencies and volunteers together to showcase that people can celebrate Pride without drugs and alcohol; 2) continue to be the safe refuge as hundreds of volunteers come together to be of service and help each other through the weekend; and 3) give agencies the opportunity to immediately engage with their target communities.

#SIZZLE! is designed to support alcohol and drug free lifestyle choices. Its tagline, “A Carnival of Attraction” is borrowed from the 12-Step slogan, “a program of attraction, rather than promotion.” #SIZZLE! 2016 will be just inside the LA Pride Festival at the intersection of Melrose Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard.

Each carnival activity is staffed by LGBT-friendly resource organizations dedicated to health, wellness and/or sobriety.

“I’ve had people tell me they would never have come back to LA Pride if it weren’t for #SIZZLE!,” said Gamboa.

The West Hollywood Recovery Center is next door and people are able to attend meetings there through the Pride weekend. “We are happy to escort them right to a meeting if needed,” said Gamboa.

The goal of #SIZZLE! and the West Hollywood Project is to reframe what it means to be LGBT. Being gay does not have to equal a lifestyle that includes alcohol and drugs. Rather, #SIZZLE! seeks to send a message to the LGBT community that it is ok to be gay and not participate in drugs and alcohol.

In fact, it’s fun to celebrate who we are just as we are!

“It’s a slight change in the social norms we have become so accustomed to, but I want people to experience that they don’t need substances for social lubrication. We are providing a vital alternative and blazing new trails of hope,” said Gamboa.

Before Bill’s Café and ‘#SIZZLE!’, Jimmy Palmieri, the founder of the Tweakers Project, hunkered down in a little corner of the City of West Hollywood’s large Pride booth. The City of West Hollywood has always been extremely supportive of the recovery community. Councilmember John Duran has helped push through city support in many ways for Tweakers Project, Bill’s Café and now for ‘#SIZZLE!’ and ‘#BOOM!’. Today, those struggling with substance abuse no longer have to suffer isolation. There is a vibrant and large community of people who are LGBT and sober or choose not to engage with alcohol or drugs.

‘#SIZZLE! is just one of many drug and alcohol free events produced by the West Hollywood Project.

For more information on ‘#SIZZLE!’, ‘#BOOM!’ and other exciting new adventures for West Hollywood, check out www.wehoproject.org or follow the project on Facebook at

https://www.facebook.com/WEHOPROJECT and Twitter at https://twitter.com/WeHoBOOM.

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