Pride and Recovery as Acts of Resistance
May 31, 2019
Every June, LGBTQ communities all over the globe plan marches, rallies, and events to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1969. Stonewall was by no means the first act of queer resistance, but it remains a watershed event in the evolution of the LGBTQ social and political movement that has heralded action around civil rights and public acceptance.
The Stonewall Inn was a mafia-owned gay bar that experienced frequent police raids and customer arrests. On June 28, 1969, the mostly working-class patrons, fed up with continual police harassment, fought back in protest. Following this initial skirmish, word of mouth circulated around the Village and the original protesters were joined by scores of community sympathizers, culminating in several days of demonstrations.
Stonewall was a game-changer, ushering in a refreshed resistance and bolder activism and giving exposure to communities that had long operated as secret societies. As coming out of the closet became a community priority, mechanisms for organizing and building community served to create a grassroots infrastructure of social support, services, and advocacy. Since that time, the LGBTQ movement has achieved major milestones and accomplishments: challenging oppressive laws and legislation, confronting stigma and discrimination in health care policy, changing hearts and minds around the world, and creating inclusive culture and community for all queer-identified people.
This year’s Pride Month takes on heightened proportions, as it marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. This is a big deal – no, a huge deal – as communities around the world have planned cultural events, gallery and museum exhibits, and educational and commemorative activities in addition to the usual events that take place annually. Many of these events will focus on history, paying homage to the community elders, both living and dead, who took courageous action before Stonewall, during the actual rebellion, and in the community-building activities that followed. This is tremendously important for younger generations who have inherited the benefits of historical struggle, without realizing the full extent of its significance.
Pride Month holds special meaning for me, because I stopped using alcohol and other drugs on June 28, 1992. Although my recovery journey began a full two years before that, my sobriety date began on Pride Sunday in New York City. My personal pride as a gay man has been built on the foundation of my recovery, informing the way I choose to present myself in the world and the ways in which I engage with my fellow citizens. A quest for honesty, clarity, and humility – gained through a daily practice of self-reflection – has helped me develop a strong sober queer identity and a belief in the power of my authenticity.
Prior to Stonewall, public “gay life” was largely illegal and took place on the downlow: in bars, nightclubs, and house parties. At such venues, social life and community gathering were hinged on the consumption of alcohol and other drugs. This legacy of community life is still current, as many individuals’ first entry into the LGBT community is through the portal of a bar or club and substance use constitutes a community norm. This legacy, combined with the trauma that many community members have experienced in their lives, points to a greater prevalence of substance use consequences – including addiction – than is witnessed in the greater population.
More important, there is a greater legacy. As LGBTQ communities have historically faced abuse and neglect from mainstream systems and services, we have created infrastructure to take care of our own. Particularly, we have constructed brave spaces – from LGBTQ-proficient addiction treatment and harm reduction to queer-identified mutual aid groups – that support recovery from addiction and ensure a strong, sustainable queer recovery community. I am proud to be a member of this community,
standing on the backs of queer men and women who have forged the path before me. They have demonstrated what my life as a gay man in recovery can be, shown me how to do it, and continue to support me in my journey.
Considering the advances of the past 50 years, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our accomplishments are not dismantled. It is important to remember that there are people in this world who would like to see queer people wiped off the face of the planet. Twenty years ago, I was involved with a LGBT recovery advocacy group that defined recovery as “anything that manifests a desire to live.”
Keeping this in mind, every queer person in recovery can be considered an activist and every experience of queer recovery can be viewed as an act of resistance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Hill, MSW, joined the National Council for Behavioral Health in March 2017 as Vice President of Practice Improvement. Mr. Hill previously served as a Presidential Appointee in the position of Senior Advisor on Addiction and Recovery to the SAMHSA Administrator. Mr. Hill is frequently sought out as a national thought leader in the addiction and recovery field; his personal experience of recovery from addiction spans two decades. Reflecting his commitment to the goal of long-term recovery for individuals, families and communities, he has also served on numerous boards of directors, advisory boards, committees and working groups. Mr. Hill is a valuable member of the Ammon Foundation Advisory Council.
The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our two core programs – Ammon Recovery Scholars Program and Ammon Empowerment Workshop Program. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here.