by James Whitely -
SGN Staff Writer
On May 18, Seattle Counseling Service (SCS) and Gay City Health Project partnered with the Hazelden Foundation, a non-profit organization with seven facilities nationwide that treat chemical dependency, to host 'LGBTQ and Addiction,' a one-day conference on addiction within the LGBTQ community, held at Seattle's Renaissance Hotel.
SCS and Gay City have a 'long and illustrious relationship,' said Ann McGettigan, executive director of SCS, but this was the first time the two organizations had partnered with Hazelden to put on an event like this - a conference specifically designed for members of the health care profession to better understand addiction in the LGBTQ community.
Attendees ranged in experience, in both their time in the profession as well as their knowledge of LGBTQ issues, but all had one thing in common - a desire to better serve their LGBTQ clients.
The conference opened with a panel of three people sharing their personal journeys of addiction and recovery.
'Addiction was all around me,' said the first panelist, a Gay man, about his childhood. 'It [then] gave me the opportunity to drown out all of the pain of the AIDS epidemic.'
'It wasn't until I was able to let go of my shame that I was able to stop drinking,' said the second panelist, a young Lesbian who, in addition to her meth use, spent time behind bars because of a car accident while driving under the influence of alcohol.
The third panelist spoke of the 'glamorous' time, just before the grim realities of the AIDS epidemic set in, when drugs went hand-in-hand with going out to clubs. He then talked about how the nature of his addiction changed as he became withdrawn after the death of his partner due to AIDS.
As the panelists spoke, it became clear that their sexual orientations were linked to, although not necessarily the cause of, their addictions. As they fielded questions from the audience, all three stressed the importance of dealing with the underlying traumas and issues related to their addictions as the key to their recovery.
After the opening panel, the conference offered multiple tracks. Attendees could get a crash course in LGBTQ history and learn cultural considerations of working with LGBTQ clients, or get an in-depth look at meth use, specifically in urban communities among Gay men. Attendees learned about Gay City and SCS, and the services they provide, such as the Needle and Sex Education Outreach Network (Project NEON).
Another presentation addressed using technology, specifically the Internet, to better serve patients, discussing such topics as when it's appropriate to host online AA or NA meetings. Hazelden has pioneered a program called 'My Ongoing Recovery Experience,' where former patients can go online at any time and log in to see how long they've been sober, while getting customized information for where they are in their recovery process.
The session also looked at how the Internet can perpetuate or feed an addiction, such as through Craigslist or Facebook. One important step for many in recovery in the age of Facebook is 'cleaning,' or deleting friends, photos, and posts related to one's addiction.
Afternoon sessions offered insight into the 'layered oppression' of LGBTQ patients who are also people of color, or undocumented, etc. On the panel was a longtime staff member at Gay City, Luis Viquez, who shared the story of his struggle to become a legal resident of the United States.
Another session, facilitated by McGettigan and the deputy director of Gay City, Peter Jabin, stressed the importance of building healthy relationships while in recovery.
Although some of the subject matter was quite heavy, the personal stories were touching and the event was overwhelmingly positive. Health care professionals from Tacoma to Bellingham who attended likely took back much with them to better serve LGBTQ clients in their communities.
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