Last week Pride. This week shame.
For queer delegates, the Alcoholics Anonymous conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on the weekend from June 30 to July 3 was the ultimate emotional swing.
One of the hardest parts of "working the 12-step program" for gay members of AA is the forgiveness step - members are asked to make a list of persons their alcoholism has harmed and try to make amends to them.
It takes courage to forgive and be pissed off at the same time. As Peter L. from Lompoc, California, tells me, "They [his family] harmed me for being queer. That they couldn't handle. With being a drunk they were fine."
It's surreal to be among so many NASCAR-loving AA members who could have come from a Republican party rally - expect they're all sober.
But then I remember that George W. is a reformed alky who used the 12 steps to vault himself into the White House. Will GWB make amends to all the dead soldiers and Iraqi civilians? Somehow I doubt it. Better to gay bash.
But at the AA conference, no queer-bashing goes on. Instead, there are special meetings like Living Sober: For Gays And Lesbians.
More than 200 people attend that one. Most exit tired and emotionally drained from listening to stories about the realization that their drinking and their sexuality were tied to shaming by their parents and peers. And that they are powerless to control that shaming unless they first control their drinking.
Rain, a 24-year-old purple-haired dyke, tells me, "The big question is, 'Did you come out first or stop drinking first?' For most of us, the drinking had to stop first."
The gay contingent wear rainbow flags on their badges. But still I find a few for whom the coming-to-terms is not all roses. Tricia confides that she "fell off the wagon" the night before and has just been told by her sponsor that she's "fired." She looks desperate and, in a sea of comfort, can find none.
A few gay delegates tell me AA is a first step in coming out, and helped them set up support groups more focused on queerness than on drinking problems.
Dyane M. from Des Moines, Iowa, reveals: "For many fags from small towns, the only place to talk safely to other fags is in AA groups. Some don't even drink."