For LGBTQ pioneer Karla Jay, 73, who traces her activism to the dust of an uprising at the Stonewall Inn, Pride has always meant “not changing to be accepted.”
For Chazzie Grosshandler, 14, who eagerly awaited a community embrace at her first-ever march this summer, Pride is a pledge that “you are valid and you are loved.”
Similar sentiments, decades apart.
The veteran and the newcomer share something else: Along with millions across the globe, this year they will partake in a Pride Month like no other.
The 50th anniversary of Pride – an often rollicking and visible celebration of the LGBTQ community during June – has been relocated to the internet because of a pandemic that has scrambled daily life. It comes as turmoil over police brutality and racial inequities has shaken the USA to the core.
Yet moving Pride events online is in many ways fitting for a community for whom the dawn of the digital age provided a safe space for connection and coming out. The accessibility of the online experience at such an unsettling time couldn't be more critical, advocates say.
“I knew I was gay when I was 5,” said Cathy Renna, interim communication director of the National LGBTQ Task Force. “But I grew up with a super accepting family. For others, it was very hard.”
In recent decades, “the internet has been a lifeline for so many LGBTQ people,” particularly those who are transgender or nonbinary, people of color, youths and rural residents, said Renna, who is helping coordinate Pride events this year. “It’s almost impossible to not be able to connect with the information, if not the community itself.”
'A year without Pride is inconceivable'
When COVID-19 sunk its claws into the USA this spring, the pandemic instigated a chain reaction of cancellations, including hundreds of Pride marches and events. “But a year without Pride is inconceivable,” Renna said. “The queer community said let’s do this online. There was an immediate pivot to virtual, and immediate support from artists and sponsors.”
June is packed with digital events, capped by Global Pride, a 24-hour virtual festival on June 27.
“What we are trying to do at this difficult time is find a way to celebrate who we are as a community,” said Julian Sanjivan, co-president of Interpride, which is leading the event June 27 along with the European Pride Organizers Association. A digital platform won’t replace in-person Pride events, “but we are trying to come close.”
Sanjivan is excited about the opportunities Global Pride offers: musical and artistic performances and addresses from activists and public figures in a 24-hour livestream of diversity that will roll across continents New Year's Eve-style.
Global Pride will offer access in the corners of countries where LGBTQ people are often criminalized, and it will open a window into lives in other time zones. “You can enjoy content whether it’s a speech from a world leader or entertainment by a drag queen,” Sanjivan said.
There is no denying Pride Month is taking place amid unease, Sanjivan said. Beyond the health crisis and a devastating economic climate, the death of a black man at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer has catapulted issues of race and police brutality to the forefront – issues very familiar to LGBTQ people who battle for inclusion.
Pride marches in the past have allocated sections for people of color, particularly transgender women of color, Sanjivan said, and Global Pride will reinforce messaging on racial issues. “Pride organizations are always fighting for equality. Race is always an integral part of who we are and what we fight for.”
'A rebellion against the policing of our lives'
Pride had its roots in “a rebellion against the policing of our lives,” said Jay, an author and activist who was at New York’s Stonewall Inn during a revolt against police harassment in 1969, when LGBTQ people were regularly tormented by tear gas and batons. “That is very germane today in the wake of killings of so many African Americans – in the policing of their lives.”
Stonewall was a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and a year later, Jay helped organize the country’s first Pride marches in New York and Los Angeles. Organizers tangled with police departments over permits and demands for bonds for liabilities. “As gay men and lesbians, we were felons in the eyes of the law. They saw us as degenerates, sodomites,” she said.
One Los Angeles police chief said if he allowed a Gay Pride march, “the following week he would have to allow a parade of thieves and burglars,” she said.
Jay recalls feeling wary before the L.A. event. “We didn’t know what would happen when we marched, whether people would be supportive or throw things.” Onlookers packed in 10 deep at some points. “It was really exhilarating.”
Since then, she has attended dozens of Prides, including many “Dyke Marches.”
Though canceling in-person Pride events was the right thing to do, Jay fears for older, single LGBTQ people who “are going through this pandemic in horrifying isolation. Many people I know are quite depressed and fearful.”
Renna said that’s what makes the digital Pride experience even more key. “So many of us are in isolation. I know so many people who are alone, kids living in homes that are not accepting or where families are rejecting,” she said. “This is a way for them to connect.”
'I always feel excited about Pride'
Chazzie, who identifies as transgender, is one of the faces of GenderCool, a youth-led movement that works to enforce positive experiences of young people who are transgender and nonbinary.
The Chicago teen, who has a passion for volunteering and an interest in languages and other cultures, had been thrilled with the chance to attend her first Pride in New York this summer.
When the in-person events were nixed, she took it in stride. “With all that is going on … we just have to except these changes, and we have to move on,” Chazzie said.
The teen has signed up for several digital events, one of which includes discussions with her LGBTQ “elders.”
“I’m going to be able to connect with more people in the community,” she said. “I‘m excited to be doing it virtually.”
Eevee, who identifies as transgender and goes by one name, is a GenderCool member from the Los Angeles area who also had been looking forward to the New York march this year.
At 12, she is a pintsize veteran, having attended a PFLAG march in 2017 and a few other events. Still, “I was super excited about it, and then I was super bummed out” when the New York march was scrubbed.
Eevee, who has appeared in theater productions since she was 4, does stand-up monologues and competes in an array of sports, shifted seamlessly to a digital Pride.
“l always feel excited about Pride,” she said. “By having it online, people can join from other places all over the world … from states or countries that may not be supportive. It’s equality for everyone.”
Both young women look at Pride 2020 – taking place during a pandemic and against the backdrop of racial angst – through a lens like wise, old souls.
Chazzie is eager for the learning and teaching opportunities digital Pride presents. "By educating people, we are changing the world together."
Eevee said, “I think having this all coinciding will bring us together more.”