In June, we celebrated Pride. We celebrate the strength in diversity and the joy and mental wellbeing that come from connecting with our authentic selves. This year, Pride also serves as a celebration of the resiliency of the LGBTQ+ community, and it provides the broader community with the opportunity to step up and step out in bold acts of alliance. Unfortunately, our state is less welcoming and affirming for the LGBTQ+ community than it was last year. This is heartbreaking when understood in terms of outcomes. The data demonstrate that discrimination against LGTBQ+ youth leads to higher-than-average rates of homelessness and suicide; that members of the LGBTQ+ community are 2.5 times as likely to experience substance use disorders than their heterosexual counterparts (NSDUH, 2020), and individuals who are unsure about their sexual identity are five times as likely to develop a substance use disorder (SAMHSA, 2015).
While these statistics are bleak, the help for the LGBTQ+ community is bold. The LGBTQ+ community and its healers have long paired self-help with community-based organizing and advocacy. We help each other connect to needed recovery and healing resources, while also working to create communities where future members of the LGBTQ+ community will be embraced, so that they may grow into healthy, whole humans whose authentic selves are recognized as valuable and worthy. National Organizations like the Trevor Project, which connect queer youth aged 13-24 with trained counselors; the LGBT Hotline, where local resources can quickly be searched; SAGE Elder Hotline, and TransLife Line all deal with behavioral health crises for members of our LGBTQ+ community. And, with national no-wrong-door policies, anyone can phone without fear.
The LGBTQ+ community, much like the recovery community, has a long history of being left to heal and help its own members. Relegated to bars and church basements, respectively, these groups have helped their members survive and, in the process, they have thrived. This sort of peer support remains essential, yet, this is the year for allies to boldly join in and alliances to intentionally and explicitly be formed in solidarity with the healers and leaders of the LGBTQ+ community. The record numbers of attendees at St. Pete’s Pride Parade, many of whom were allies, has a healing effect of its own. The “Free Hugs from a Mom” marcher brings tears to my eyes every single time I see her. The presence of Recovery EpiCenter, the Rays and Rowdies, and St. Pete Free Clinic lets the broader community know that, despite real risk of retribution, these organizations remain unafraid to stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ community. And, the pledge of our St. Pete Police Chief to keep that parade safe amid rising hostilities and real threats helps to heal historic hurts and create a stronger and broader community.
LGBTQ+ community members do recover and create lives for themselves that are second to none. Last year, I shared my story of recovery with you. In many ways, I have been touched by grace at many points in my climb from the street to the state legislature — and now to head this important work. My desire is that you take the hope you get from the many individual stories of recovery and expand this into an intentional plan of action to create a state in which diversity is no longer a threat and those most marginalized are no longer political fodder. Because this year, the story of recovery must be about our broader Tampa Bay Community and how we collectively come together to celebrate, support and protect all of us in our communities who connect and celebrate their authentic selves.
Jennifer Webb, Executive Director