Many men and women who identify as LGBT have an acute sense of feeling judged by society, and whilst that judgement does not necessarily carry over into AA, although it can at times, the structure of AA gives them the freedom to set up meetings they feel safe with, and as importantly, in control of.
History of AA Meeting structure
When AA first started in the 1930’s, a meeting would be held once a week to which everyone was invited. Members tended to be white, male and middle-aged, a trend which continued for some time thereafter.
This was in part societal, as many people at the time did not believe that women could be alcoholics, and many people hid their sexuality as a result of prejudice, severe legal restrictions and penalties.
Gay AA Meetings
As AA membership grew, so did its normality in terms of people who attend meetings. People of colour, women, gay men and lesbian women, agnostics and atheists began to attend meetings, and much improved AA’s ability to reach out to newcomers who were suffering from alcoholism.
At first, all meetings were open to everyone who considered they had a drink problem. This was a principle established by the third tradition, which states that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. This was meant to establish AA as being as inclusive as possible, never exclusive.
At some point in its history, AA began to develop meetings that were called special interest groups, a slightly patronising phrase, but one much in use at the time.
What this meant was that certain groups of people, mainly women and gay and lesbian men and women, felt the need to have their own meetings, which whilst open to all, would, by their very nature, be focused on their own needs. These meetings would be in addition to regular all-inclusive meetings.
These so-called special interest group meetings caused much controversy in AA, and in some areas still do today. They were seen as a threat to the principle of all inclusive meetings.
AA and Inclusivity
Much of the controversy was rooted in almost a theoretical debate that was more about dogma than practicality. As time went on gay meetings and groups, commonly referred to now as LGBT groups, continued to start-up and flourish where there was a need for them.
People who objected to these groups existing often failed to understand a basic principle around AA – that meetings start and continue where there is a need for them, and will fold if that need dries up, or does not prove to be enduring.
This is a fairly basic principle around AA meetings, and underlies the freedom that meetings exist for.
It is often said that the only requirement for an AA meeting is one person and a coffee pot, or one person and a resentment. It says nothing about race, gender or sexuality. There are no rules or regulations as to who can start a meeting, who can attend it or who can shut it down, which is really at the heart of the freedom that AA gives its members.