Nancè Headley and Chris McGuire
Russell Freeman Foundation opens Pride House sober living facility for LGBT people
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 21 million Americans age 12 and older battled some form of substance abuse disorder in 2014. And the relapse rate among those battling addiction ranges between 40 and 60 percent. Add in the mix an addict’s struggles with issues around sexual orientation and gender identity, and the LGBT relapse rate may well be even higher.
But studies have also shown that those in recovery who stay within a “recovery community” are much more likely to stay clean and sober. Still, even these “recovery communities” can be problematic for LGBT people in recovery if they don’t feel safe to be open about the truth of their lives.
But now, LGBT people in recovery in North Texas have an option: the Russell Freeman Foundation’s Pride House Sober Living residence.
Pride House owner and co-founder Chris McGuire said that he has been in recovery for 13 years, but getting to this point wasn’t easy. Being in a sober living house made all the difference for him.
“Before, I always felt like I wasn’t good enough. I had a lot of self esteem issues. But then when I moved into the sober living house, I finally felt like I was part of something good.”
But, he said, on his one 13-year road to recovery, he had noticed that LGBT people in those facilities had a rougher time.
“It just seemed like, if someone was gay or transgender or whatever, I’d see a lot of harassments and discrimination toward them,” McGuire said. “That certainly wasn’t going to help them in recovery.”
McGuire already owned other sober living houses, but decided he wanted to open a house specifically for LGBT people. Then he met drug and alcohol counselor Nancè Headley at a party and realized he found someone who shared his goal.
So the two of them set out to open Pride House, operating it as a program of the non-profit Russell Freeman Foundation — named after Headley’s brother who had struggled with addiction and died of AIDS two years ago — so that they could make it more accessible to people who might not be able to afford other recovery living facilities.
Headley is executive director of the foundation as well as cofounder.
Kyle Infante, who is himself in recovery and works with Infinite Recovery, an Austin treatment center for those in recovery, is a volunteer and board member with Pride House. He said that he chose to volunteer with Pride House because, in his experience, “sober living is the most critical part of the recovery process.”
He also noted the lack of LGBT-specific sober living options in North Texas.
Infante said that while some sober living and recovery agencies in the area claim to have LGBT programming, what that usually means is that they have procedures and policies in place addressing LGBT clients, and maybe they have some LGBT people on staff.
But until now, McGuire said, there has been “no true LGBTQ sober living [facility] in the Dallas area.” But that is exactly what Pride House is: All the residents will be LGBT, and the staff — if not all LGBT themselves — will be specially trained to help LGBT people in recovery.
In a successful sober living house, McGuire said, “you’ve got individuals living in a house, acting as a family and learning together to live drug- and alcohol-free. When you are living together that way, you get to know each other. You can identify when someone in the house is struggling and hopefully work together to help prevent a relapse.”
But often, for LGBT people in recovery, there are distinct issues that can come into play in the recovery process. So often an LGBT person’s idea of community can be rooted in the bar scene — gay bars have long been the LGBT community’s ad hoc community centers. The LGBT community has been, at least in the past, “a culture rooted in the bars,” McGuire said. And in bars, he added, drug use is often as prevalent as drinking.
In addition, for many LGBT people, burdened by society’s disapproval of who they are, especially their sexual identity, their sex lives are often bound by unhealthy ties to their substance abuse.
For those reasons and more, learning to trust and learning to develop healthy intimate relationships, which are almost always difficult for people in recovery, can be even bigger hurdles to overcome for LGBT people in recovery.
Those are just a few of the reasons, the Pride House founders said, that a sober living residence specifically for LGBT people can help them be more successful in their recovery.
McGuire and Headley said that while there have been agencies in the DFW area that offered recovery services specifically to LGBT clients, Pride House is “the first [service] of its kind in the Metroplex. And since DFW is a major hub for the LGBT community in Texas, we believe it is very important” to have this kind of sober living option available here.
McGuire said Pride House, with room for eight residents, will have a live-in house manager to help residents with the day-to-day issues and activities, like leading the morning meditations and the weekly house meetings. There will also be a recovery coach to help residents, and regular support groups meeting at the house. He said they are looking for people from the LGBT community who can come in and lead meetings and workshops to help residents develop the variety of skills they need to live successfully in recovery.
McGuire said residents must be alcoholics or addicts, and the cost to live in Pride House is $1,500 a month, which pays for the room, food, utilities, internet service and group leaders that come in to assist residents. It is, he noted, significantly less that the $3,000 to $5,000 similar sober living residences usually charge.
McGuire said the main reason he and Headley chose to make Pride House part of a nonprofit foundation was so that “we could do fundraising to get money for scholarships to help people who need to live there but can’t pay the $1,500 by themselves.”
That’s important, Infante said, because those starting their recovery journey have often hot rock bottom financially as well as in other ways. “I know that when I first got sober, I sure wasn’t coming in on a winning streak,” he said.
Headley and McGuire said their board of directors has 12 members, six are LGBTQ and six are not. LGBT activist and fundraiser Deiadra Burns is the foundation’s board chair.