By Melisa Szymanski
In front of us is the Sacred heart church 520 Graydon Avenue Norfolk, Virginia 23507, a location that has been imperative to the recovery of many gay men and lesbian women who suffer from alcoholism. This church was erected in 1894 and was the second parish established in Norfolk. Sacred Heart celebrated its centennial in 1994, and is dedicated to continuing the sharing of faith through service, community involvement, and fellowship for many years to come (sacredheartnorfolk.org).
Many within the LGBTQIA community have been, or will, find themselves alcoholic and/or addicted to some substance due to societal or familial expectations, stress, and/or unacceptance of the lifestyle by loved ones, and this is reflected in the need for AA groups to be established geared towards the gay and lesbian community. The Sacred Heart Church provides a safe space to discuss matters unique to being LGBTQIA and the disease of alcoholism. One of the first AA meetings dedicated to the gay and lesbian community in the Tidewater area was established in 1982 at this church and was started by members of the AA community (GSO Archives Tidewater). In fact, they still have a meeting here in the Rectory every Thursday at 7pm.
Here is where a unique group of gay and lesbian alcoholics could come together to help and support each other. While these gay friendly AA groups were connected through the commonality of sexual and gendered identities, they were and continue to be all inclusive and embracive of anyone, regardless of identity, who need help with the problems as they relate to alcohol.
Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. 1 in 25 who join AA will find recovery in the long term. And the copious number of LGBT that have addiction is remarkable. In 1979, alcoholism was the number one health problem in the gay community. Although data on the rates of substance abuse in gay and transgender populations is sparse, it is estimated that between 20 percent to 30 percent of gay, lesbian, and transgender people abuse substances, compared to about 9 percent of the general population (Redding, 2014).
AA works as a support group channeling the experience, strength, and hope of others who are or have addiction and perpetuate the focus of AA by sharing it with others with the hopes of recovery on a day to day basis. And alcoholics have found help in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous since the origin of AA in 1939. In big metropolitan cities with a large gay population, gay men and women came to Alcoholics Anonymous as early as the 1940’s and the numbers have increased exponentially since then.
AA sparked many sister groups to be established, including CODA, all of which tackle addictions using the same format and ideologies of AA. It is imperative to acknowledge and identify places such as this Church, not only to showcase the tremendous strength, solidarity, and support within the LGBTQIA community, both past and present, but also recognize the existence of these groups as there are 4 AA meeting dedicated to the LGBTQIA in the Norfolk area.