With June upon us, suddenly we are being bombarded with rainbow colored alcohol ads, images of glittery parades, and block parties celebrating Pride Month. But what about those of us LGBTQIA+ people who are introverted? Who like quiet? Who are sober?

Those are the exact questions Josh Hersh was asking himself when he founded Queeret in October 2018.

Hersh was no stranger to creating mindful spaces for members of the LGBTQIA+ community. While living in Chicago, he hosted a monthly meetup called The Thoughtful Gay Man, a discussion group for gay men to talk about issues important to them and their community. Though Hersh drank alcohol, these meet ups were an alcohol-free alternative to strictly socializing at bars, clubs, and boozy brunches.

In the September of 2018, about two years after he had left Chicago for New York City, Hersh attended a Club Soda event hosted by Ruby Warrington. The event was called “Psychedelics and Sobriety,” and it was there that he was inspired to start seriously thinking about the place alcohol had in his own life.

Where DO the quiet gays go?

In late 2018, when he decided to experiment with his sober-curiousness and not drink for the holiday season, the nagging question that Hannah Gasby posed in her Netflix special, Nannette, crept back to the front of his mind: Where DO the quiet gays go? “I feel like questions are the most powerful instigators for change and I think that question she asked was just… it stuck in my mind and I was like — I have to figure out the answer,” explains Hersh to The Temper.

Historically, the places queer and trans folks have had access to gather and express ourselves have been bars. Dark, hopefully unnoticed, and oftentimes run by less than honorable individuals who were looking more to make a quick buck than to create a space for queer and trans folks to feel safe. It took courage to enter these establishments because for the amount of comfort and relief they offered, there was also a looming sense of danger — never knowing when they’d be raided by law enforcement.

The uprising at the Stonewall Inn happened 50 years ago this summer and, in that time, the landscape of queer events and socializing has somehow changed dramatically while also remaining eerily similar to the way things were. We may not be hiding our queerness but the default meeting place is still bars, it’s still not safe to be queer in a lot of places, and alcohol is still the constant companion of any LGBTQ event. “This has been our history for the past 50 years,” Hersh says, “but 50 years from now, what do we want our social lives to look like?”

The start of Queeret and alcohol-free events.

The answer to both questions was Queeret and the monthly qalm events that began in November 2018, specifically designed for queer introverts to gather in a quiet setting and make connections with each other, sans alcohol.

When Hersh was planning his first qalm event in November, he wasn’t sure if there were even any other queer introverts in NYC who would want to attend, but he soon found out that there seems to be a shift in the way people these days are wanting to connect with each other and, less than six months later, the NYC qalm event was selling out in a matter of hours.

Not only did sober people show up, there were people who were too young to drink, people who weren’t interested in going to bars, queer and trans people of color who didn’t feel particularly welcome at gay bars or events, and people who just wanted a break from the bar scene. “I think it’s cool to see people who aren’t even sober wanting that sort of space as well,” says Hersh.

More cities, more meet-ups for queer introverts.

As it turns out, these people don’t only exist in New York City — beginning in May 2019, there are events planned in six cities worldwide with 15 others in the planning stages.

“There are so many people reaching out from these midsized cities and I think that’s what excites me,” Hersh says, “Because so often queer people can be like ‘Oh, New York! L.A.!’ you know, these big cities, but that’s not where most of us live.” Hersh himself grew up in Kansas, so he’s more than aware of the challenges there are in finding community outside of the major metro areas in the U.S.

“I just think the introverts and the people who are quieter, they really deserve a public space to go.”

Not only can it be hard to find queer community outside of a major city in the U.S. but there’s a shift away from intoxication culture among younger people as a whole; taking its place a desire for deeper connections. While many people are creating DIY spaces via meetups and community centers where they can connect, support, and have conversations with other queer folks that don’t center alcohol, Hersh reminds us that it can be fun to be able to go out as well. “I just think the introverts and the people who are quieter, they really deserve a public space to go,” he says.

So, if you’re interested in a quieter, more meaningful way to connect with other queer folks this Pride season (or any time), check out Queeret to find an event near you! Or, if there isn’t a qalm event in your area and you’re interested in hosting, reach out to Hersh for details.