New alcohol-free event offers all the excitement of Vancouver Pride — minus the hangover
Matthew Taylor, left, and Giuseppe Ganci, middle in yellow shirt, celebrate with other members of the Vancouver recovery community as they prepare for the upcoming clean, sober and proud party - the first such officially sanctioned Pride event.
Photograph by: NICK PROCAYLO , PNG
Giuseppe Ganci doesn’t remember much of the Pride celebrations of his youth — despite the fact that he’s participated nearly every year since the age of 16.
Pride is nothing if not a big party, and for much of Ganci’s life, that meant getting blackout loaded.
“It simply was, you know, what am I going to do to party this weekend,” he recalls.
So when he quit drinking and using drugs, Ganci felt like he no longer fit in at the biggest event of the queer year.
“Over time, as I started to get into recovery in my 30s, I was having a real difficult time (figuring out) how to celebrate Pride because everything has a beer tent at the end of it.”
That prompted Ganci to introduce a Clean, Sober and Proud parade float five years ago, along with a team from the Last Door Recovery Society, where he’s director of community development. The move proved popular with the recovery community, but once the parade was over there was no place for those avoiding drugs and alcohol to continue the party.
But this year, the first Clean, Sober and Proud party will offer all the glitz, glamour and fun of Pride minus the hangover. The event includes all the necessary ingredients for a bumpin’ dance party, from DJs to bands to drag queens — and all performers are part of the recovery community.
According to Ganci, the event is the first sober evening event to be officially supported by any Pride society in North America. While many Pride parades offer safe drug- and alcohol-free spaces during the day for those feeling triggered or overwhelmed by the often-debauched festivities, Ganci said it’s equally important to have a place where the sober community can let loose.
“Just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean your life is boring,” he said. “You know, we’re not patients, we’re just people who want to have fun.”
Offering a place to party is hugely important for the gay recovery community, said Matthew Taylor, a performer at the event. As a program manager with the Health Initiative for Men, a non-profit dedicated to promoting mental, physical and sexual health for gay men, Taylor said the prominent club and bar culture within the LGBTQ community means substance abuse is a reality for many people as they come to terms with their sexuality and sense of self.
“My own experience was that I was looking for validation and I was looking for acceptance in my life,” says Taylor, who is seven years sober.
“In the gay community I think it’s even more pronounced just because (we’re) looking to belong, looking to fit in and a lot of our community centres around entertainment and bars and dancing and clubs and the nightlife. And that’s neither good or bad, it just is.”
Taylor said people who do choose to mark Pride, or other elements of gay culture, by indulging in drugs or alcohol shouldn’t be judged. But those who decide that’s not a healthy option deserve somewhere else to go.
“It’s so important to tell people, ‘Hey, it’s OK, you have a choice.’ ”
Introducing a sober party at Pride is an overdue addition to the annual affair that furthers its mandate of inclusion, said Vancouver Pride Society president Ray Lam.
“It’s obviously really necessary,” said Lam, acknowledging the majority of Pride parties take place in or around bars or nightclubs. He said the Pride Society decided against adding a beer garden last month to its East Side Pride events — which kick off the run-up to Pride — to ensure at least one outdoor festival remained alcohol-free.
The Pride Society is also contributing financially to the Clean, Sober and Proud party to ensure ticket prices aren’t a barrier to entry.
For Ganci, who admits he felt like “a loser” at his first sober Pride, going alcohol-free has allowed him to see all the shades present in Pride’s rainbow.
“Pride’s about unity, Pride’s about activism, Pride’s about love, Pride’s about education, Pride’s about celebrating everything that there is about life, but it’s hard to know that when your main goal is to drink and use drugs.”
The Last Door Society’s Clean, Sober and Proud party takes place Sunday, Aug. 4, at the Vancouver International Film Festival Vancity Theatre. Tickets are $10 in advance, $15 at the door available at Cleansoberandproud.com.