Sober socials: Does the queer community have an alcohol problem?

LGBTQ+ socialising has been centred around alcohol for as long as we can remember. Daz Skubich explores why now is the time for more dry queer events.


This past Bank Holiday weekend, climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion occupied one of the busiest roads in my home city of Manchester for four days. The occupation of Deansgate was advertised as a protest-come-street-party, with a music stage and talks from various speakers. The event was also advertised as family friendly and dry – no drink or drugs were permitted.

I was working at a supermarket over the weekend of the protest. Based on the amount of pre-mixed cans of gin and tonic that we sold, I can tell you that the event was NOT dry. When I confronted a customer about the lack of respect for the no drinking policy, he replied, “But WHY does it have to be a dry event?”. My answer was simple: accessibility.

This event got me thinking about the prominence of drinking in LGBTQ+ spaces, whether those are social or political. As someone who doesn’t drink for a variety of reasons, I’m comfortable socialising around people who are drunk, but many people are not. When most, if not all, events in your local queer community involve alcohol in some way, it can be very alienating. 

Breaking no drinking policies at protests and social events makes engagement inaccessible to LGBTQ+ people who might only feel comfortable attending dry events. Some people have alcohol-related trauma and don’t feel comfortable around drunk strangers. Some people have trouble with social interactions and adding alcohol to the mix might make this worse. A lot of the time, especially in the LGBTQ+ community, people who have issues with alcohol addiction and abuse don’t want to be around alcohol. 

When I confronted a customer about the lack of respect for the no drinking policy, he replied, “But WHY does it have to be a dry event?”. My answer was simple: accessibility.

The presence of alcohol or drugs at an event immediately ensures that it cannot be classed as family friendly. This both excludes LGBTQ+ youth and makes it hard for LGBTQ+ parents to socialise due to childcare issues. Leo @fullofpith on Twitter told me that they had lots of positive feedback from their queer, dry daytime social event because it was wheelchair accessible, family friendly and alcohol free. 

H, a prominent lesbian Twitter user, also spoke to me about the importance of making queer events accessible to all ages. They said, “Queerness and sobriety are two things that rarely get to occupy the same space, and alcohol being so intrinsic to queer socialising can perpetuate the idea that queerness is something that is inherently illicit or adult.”

Beck, who was heavily involved in the LGBT Society at the University of Bristol, had similar thoughts about her experience of queer socialising. “The problem with the LGBTQ+ community [in Bristol] was that to fit in it felt like you had to drink, and it led to people being taken advantage of. It was my first real experience of being very open about my sexuality and being in definitively LGBTQ+ spaces; it really altered my relationship with alcohol and how I perceive queer spaces.”

Research has shown that the LGBTQ+ community as a whole drinks more often, and more than society overall. Nearly half of the trans population drink heavily and sometimes to dangerous degrees. Encouraging drinking as a fundamental part of socialising or organising in queer spaces not only fails to include a large portion of the community, but actively perpetuates these harmful behaviours. 

“Queerness and sobriety are two things that rarely get to occupy the same space, and alcohol being so intrinsic to queer socialising can perpetuate the idea that queerness is something that is inherently illicit or adult.”

H @h_bevs

“Many LGBT+ young people use alcohol to self-medicate from trauma, bullying, family rejection or an internal fear of who they are (especially those who are not ‘out’),” says Amelia Lee, Strategic Director of The Proud Trust. “The LGBT+ Centre in Manchester is a dry space, and it’s really important to provide something different for our communities. Not everyone wants to drink alcohol and some people have bad associations with alcohol. 

“The problem with the LGBTQ+ community [in Bristol] was that to fit in it felt like you had to drink, and it led to people being taken advantage of.”

Beck @Just_Beck_

“It’s also really important to us to be alcohol-free because we have an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) Group at the Centre, so we keep the whole space as a dry space in solidarity. We run youth groups too, so again, it’s important to have a space for young people away from the pressures of alcohol. For too long, the only spaces that have been a home to LGBTQ+ people have been the gay bar in their area.”

Ella, who has struggled with alcohol addiction in the past, told me that it can be really difficult to open up to new people and make friends when you are sober. “It’s definitely something I have thought in the past and struggled with, especially when wanting to engage in queer events or be a part of those spaces while sober! I definitely have felt there are limited sober and queer spaces.”

Amelia also touched on the importance of dry spaces for LGBTQ+ people of faith. “If you are LGBTQ+ and a Muslim for example, you may find it hard to find other LGBTQ+ people because of the over-emphasis on alcohol in our LGBTQ+ community.”

I’m by no means saying that all LGBTQ+ events should be dry. Drinking is a huge part of British culture as well as queer culture and it would be unreasonable, to say the least, to attempt to stop it completely. But if an event states that it is dry, please respect this. As H said, “If an event is meant to be alcohol free, then breaking the rules is not only disrespecting the space but also making the environment unsafe for anybody who needs to be able to socialise without being around alcohol.”

So if you’re looking for an alternative to bars and clubs in your local area, or are looking to start your own dry queer event, here’s a list of events for you to check out!

  • Queers Without Beers – “Queers Without Beers is an alcohol-free LGBTQI+ monthly social. Supported by Club Soda and organised by the LGBT Foundation. QWB is a sophisticated social space for LGBTQI+ queers of all persuasions that doesn’t revolve around booze.” – London and Manchester – @QWB_UK
  • MISERY – “We are a mental health collective & sober club night centering healing 4 queer/trans/nb/intersex BPOC” – London – @miseryparty_
  • Rainbow Pooch Pride – LGBTQIA+ dog walks, “Celebrating the LGBTQIA+ silent support service. The unsung heroes of our rainbow clan.” – Birmingham – @rainbowpoochpride
  • Open Sandwiches – “open sandwiches is a food sovereignty project in manchester” – Manchester – @open_sandwiches
  • Choose Yr Own Adventure – “Choose Yr Own Adventure is a queer+LGBT dance party for ppl who want a nite out without alcohol/intoxicants” – London – @cyoa.ldn
  • Mxer – “Mxer is a relaxed and friendly social space for non-binary people aged 18+, including those who are questioning” – Manchester – @MxerMCR

Follow Daz on Twitter (@paleghosty)

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