Beyond the Gay Bar: Creating Sober Safe Spaces for the LGBTQ+ Community


Shannon Touhey
Window with candelabra and pride flag. Photo by Tatiana Rodriguez on Unsplash

Bars and clubs have always been popular spots for the LGBTQ+ community to gather, and are notable sites of LGBTQ+ history.

Even if they are far from the only LGBTQ+-friendly spaces in existence, their abundance and importance often mean that LGBTQ+ people consistently interact with their wider community in spaces where substance use is customary.  Many of these spaces are marketed to cisgender gay men in particular, potentially excluding members of the LGBTQ+ community who don’t share this identity. While nightlife is undeniably an important part of LGBTQ+ culture, those who cannot or choose not to participate can feel alienated by a lack of inclusive spaces that don't revolve around alcohol.

The LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately affected by substance use, due to a combination of minority stress, discrimination, and lack of treatment options.  

Safe spaces are important for creating resilience and allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to find relief from many of the identity-related stressors they may face. However, if the only safe spaces available are places where substance use is popular, this could put LGBTQ+ people who struggle with substance use at a greater risk.

Luckily, sober safe spaces have become much more popular in recent years and take a variety of different forms.

Coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants have become a new hub for sober organization among the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+-friendly eateries are a great place for gathering without fear of harassment or discrimination.

Cafes like Cuties in LA create a social environment for LGBTQ+ people to gather in a substance-free environment. Queeret is a movement that organizes sober events for introverted members of the LGBTQ+ community to socialize, often hosted at cafes or coffee shops. For similar spaces, websites like Meetup or online list compilations, like this one put together by Buzzfeed, offer many more options.

Social media has also created great opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community to connect virtually.

Especially for LGBTQ+ young people, private online spaces like Facebook groups or blogs where people can share their experiences can be great places for support. Other LGBTQ+-specific social media sites like TrevorSpace create an online community for young people to connect with one another and explore their identities safely. The importance of online spaces is especially relevant to those who may not live in areas with a vocal LGBTQ+ presence, or those living in non-accepting environments. Social media creates a safe space that can be accessed from nearly anywhere.

No matter the setting, sober safe spaces are essential for the LGBTQ+ community, especially in these times of COVID-19, where bars are closed and parties feel like something of the pre-pandemic past.

Nightlife is an incredibly important part of LGBTQ+ history, but it is equally important to create spaces without substances for social support, especially for LGBTQ+ youth.

Regardless of your place within recovery or outside of it, you deserve a space that embraces the multiple parts of your identity, and your journey to a healthy relationship with substances.

Shannon Touhey is a senior at American University where she studies public health and sociology. She is the health research and communications intern on Shatterproof's ATLAS Team.