June is LGBTQ Pride Month, and while it’s traditionally brought a flow of rainbow-hued dance parties, concerts, festivals and parades marked by revelers packed cheek-by-jowl to celebrate all that’s been gained and to fight for what remains, the coronavirus pandemic had other plans for Pride 2020.
This year, the massive and much-anticipated lineup of events — across the nation and around the world — has, like pretty much every other social event, been moved online. And while there’s been no shortage of planning to ensure that displaced LGBTQ folks can find community and plug in to the happenings — from panel discussions and film screenings to drag shows and DJs helming digital dance blowouts — it’s important to pause and acknowledge, say many in the community, that the shift to online, coupled with the racial unrest now paining the nation, is calling for an adjustment that will be difficult for many.
“It’s a huge sense of loss people are feeling when we’re not able to come together physically to celebrate Pride,” says Julian Sanjivan, co-president of InterPride, a global consortium of Prides, and an organizer for Global Pride 2020, this year’s virtual main event, happening at the end of the month. “For many, Pride is an opportunity to come out for the very first time. It’s also a time to protest and a time to celebrate, and now that’s taken away.” (Although there are at least two exceptions to this year’s rule: the All Black Lives Matter Solidarity March in Los Angeles and the Reclaim Pride Coalition’s Queer Liberation March for Black Live and Against Police Brutality in New York City, happening in real life on June 14 and June 28, respectively.)
Longtime New York City Pride volunteer organizer, Donna Guzzardi, of Brooklyn, N.Y. has found herself struggling over the loss of in-real-life Pride this year. “I’m very sad, because I was gung-ho to do this,” she says. “But the health and wellbeing and safety of our community is priority.”
It doesn’t mean this year’s loss doesn’t sting. “To me, it’s that feeling you get, especially when you are a volunteer…and make the day happen,” she tells Yahoo Life. “It’s work that you feel pride in, so it extends your feeling of pride just to see everyone’s joy and their smiling and dancing. They feel free and you feel so powerful because it empowers you to see it going on and know that you helped it happen.” And though Guzzardi has been helping to make Pride happen since 1996, her enthusiasm hasn’t waned — it’s gotten stronger if anything.
“It’s even more important in this day and age because we have someone in the White House who doesn’t support anybody,” she says. “So, the fight still goes on. As far as we’ve come, we still have a long way to go.”
“It is really sad that it’s been canceled in person,” echoes Chazzie Grosshandler, 14, of Chicago, and co-founder, with her parents of GenderCool Project, a youth-led movement of kids who identify as trans or non-binary. This year would have been her first big LGBTQ Pride event ever, and she had planned on marching in NYC.
The young people are whom Bernie Delia, a longtime volunteer for Capital Pride, in Washington D.C., is thinking of right now.
“I’ve been involved in the community for 35 years now — since I came out — and it is important to me, because every year is someone’s first Pride,” Delia tells Yahoo Life. “I still remember my first Pride, in 1987, and what a wonderful feeling that I had just by finding all of these other likeminded people, striving for equality and acceptance, and it was very affirming… I feel it is our obligation to help out those around us and especially those who are coming after us. Someone paved the way to get us to where we were when I came out, and it’s my responsibility to continue to do that for others.”
Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force and an organizer for the ambitious, daylong Global Pride broadcast, echoes the sentiment that Pride is vital for so many. “Pride’s about feeling like you’re a part of something bigger and that you’re not alone. It breaks my heart to think about [participants such as] SAGE,” she says, referring to the LGBTQ senior organization whose New York City Pride crowd-favorite float always consists of a festive, double-decker bus filled with waving revelers. “They wait all year for this, and the people on the sidelines go bonkers when they pass,” she says. “You can’t replace that virtually. How do you recreate that camaraderie?”
It will be difficult. But still, Renna and a fleet of others are giving it their best try.
“A lot of thought has been put into it… and with Global Pride, we wanted to come up with one full day of celebration around the globe,” says Sanjivan, noting that the blockbuster event will present a combo of offerings “kind of all rolled up into one,” including speeches by world leaders, celebrities offering uniting messages, local talent, drag queens, vocalists, spoken word artists, and, all in all, a mix of celebration and protest.”
Plus, the event will double as a fundraiser, as many small Pride organizations rely on annual events to stay afloat, and are now in serious danger of shutting down. “This is a common story we are hearing,” he says.
But the online offerings, while they require making a huge adjustment — and major learning curve on the part of organizers — do come with plenty of silver linings, say many involved.
“I realized just how persistent and how resilient we are as a community, figuring out a way through this. That resilience is something I really, really admire,” says Sanjivan. With over 100 volunteers from all over the globe — in Africa, South Africa, Europe, the U.S. — all working together while navigating different time zones, “it’s just impressive,” he says. “Of course, we wish this was a physical event, it’s different, but it doesn’t change what we are going to be bringing to the table. That itself is a silver lining, to see what we can do despite all the challenge.”
For Guzzardi, “The virtual planning has been a lifesaver — not only for myself but for everyone. We could never cancel Pride. We always have to have something in place.” While Guzzardi is “not a tech-savvy person,” she has had a powerful realization about the upside of Pride online: greater opportunity.
“There are people in other countries who maybe wouldn’t participate in a Pride event out of fear — but now, virtually, can attend an event,” she says. Even just recently, while taking part in a Pride lead-up event online in May, she recalls, “Someone said in a chat, ‘This is my first Pride ever,’ and my insides just, like, melted.”
Adds Delia, who is hard at work helping to figure out the particulars of what D.C. hopes will be a roving Capital Pridemobile Rainbow Blast, “Change is constant, this is a change that it is… going to make the most of things.” And now, he notes, in addition to the pandemic, “we have all of the racial unrest as a result of the most recent series of murders of members of the African-American community. It would’ve been difficult even without the pandemic to simply go ahead and engage in an otherwise celebratory month for us because this is now occurring. And we have to recognize and stand with members of the African-American community in calling out for an end to discrimination and police brutality.”
Pride being virtual, he adds, “is a recognition that we’re simply not going to be able to do things in the same way… So, from the standpoint that we’re learning something new and doing things in a different way, this is a chance to grow.”
While Yahoo Life has compiled (and is continually adding to) what aims to be a complete guide to Pride 2020, below are some highlights of what’s to come:
Between LA Pride 50, Global Pride, SaMo Pride at Home (from Santa Monica) and NYC Pride, there are almost too many names to wrap your head around. Just a sampling: Dan Levy, Janelle Monae, Deborah Cox, Billy Porter, Wilson Cruz, Margaret Cho (from NYC); Alex Newell, Neve Campbell, Megan Hilty, Bob the Drag Queen, Lance Bass, MJ Rodriguez, the cast of The L Word: Generation Q, MJ Rodriguez, Sandra Bernhard (from L.A.). Catch them online or right on prime-time TV (via broadcasts in L.A. and NYC)— and, online via Global Pride, hear from the one and only Olivia Newton-John, as well as world leaders including President of Costa Rica Carlos Alvarado Quesada, Prime Ministers of Norway Erna Solberg and of Luxembourg Xavier Bettel, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of India.
You’ll be dancing by yourself — but also thousands more, right in your living room through the power of Zoom and other online platforms — as Prides from Santa Monica, Washington, D.C., Toronto and more put beloved DJs at the helm of virtual get-downs. That includes DJ Tracy Young, a Grammy Award-winning producer and remixer (including for Madonna), at Prides for Santa Monica, Santa Fe and Washington, D.C.
Between the NYC Human Rights Conference (part of NYC Pride) on June 25 — which last year featured discussion from Janet Mock, Raquel Willis and Prince of Rajasthan Manvendra Singh Gohil — and Capital Pride talks about resilience, racism, the pandemic and more, there will be opportunities for thinking and processing aplenty.
In addition to noteworthy drag performances from Prides across the country and the world, there’s a wigged-out blowout: Pride 2020 DragFest: A Weekend to Support our Queens, featuring 100-plus performers over three days, streaming on NYC Pride’s and GLAAD’s Facebook pages. It’s all brought to you, in part, by Marti Gould Cummings — the NYC drag performer and City Council candidate who was recently arrested (out of drag) while partaking in peaceful protests against racism. Queens to watch for: Shequida, Sherry Vine, Jiggly Caliente, Pissi Myles and Honey Davenport. There will be plenty of opportunities to donate to support the drag performers who have been out of work over the past few months due to the pandemic.
Virtual parades and rallies
Finally, there’s the hardest-to-reproduce-online part of it all: The monthlong Toronto Pride, though, is hosting a virtual Parade, Trans Rally and Dyke Rally, for which you can register online. Details about how it will all go down are still to come. And NYC Pride has a virtual Rally, hosted by activist Ashlee Marie Preston and trans actor Brian Michael Smith.
See the full lineup of virtual Pride activities here.
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