By Sophie Main ’21
Pride Month in New York City is a time like no other. Culminating in the annual NYC Pride March, the month of June is packed with queer celebrations. People of all identities come together to honor those who have fought and continue to fight for LGBTQ+ rights, and, of course, to revel in the colorful festivities.
Nearly two million people attend the NYC Pride March each year. In 2019, New York became the first American destination to host WorldPride and drew a group of five million participants. From cycling in the Pride Ride to watching Melissa Etheridge perform at the Closing Ceremony of Pride Fest, Pride Month provides thirty days to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community.
However, social distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced New Yorkers to reimagine Pride as they know it. June 2020, the 50th anniversary of the Pride March, did not look anything like they had hoped. The brightly colored floats, massive crowds, and joy that overwhelmed New York City only a year before all disappeared. Still, in the midst of a pandemic and the surge of the Black Lives Matter movement, members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies knew that Pride must go on. Organizers and participants were left with an ever-growing list of questions. How should they make Pride safe in the age of COVID-19? How should they honor the 50th anniversary of the Pride March without a parade? And, most importantly, how do they make sure Pride recognizes its unpayable debts to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) while including all members of the LGBTQ+ community?
Though much was lost through the virtual format, NYC Pride rose to the occasion, providing a slew of events throughout June. Highlights included a 5K race to support the Callen-Lorde LGBTQ Community Center, National Queer Theater, and Dixon Place’s Criminal Queerness Festival, the virtual Human Rights Conference, and the Special Pride Broadcast event in partnership with ABC. While these events were attended by many, they did not carry much weight in a virtual format; distracted by the nostalgia for past Pride marches or the two-dimensional nature of the offerings, the LGBTQ+ community didn’t latch onto these formal events.
Instead, many found that the more profound moments were those separate from NYC Pride. Smaller gestures provided more intimate and introspective opportunities for the queer community and allies. While not heavily publicized, these events provided an excellent alternative to branding-driven productions with endless sponsors, as well as a closeness that many are missing in the age of COVID-19. Organizations of all kinds created virtual spaces for LGBTQ+ celebration and joy. Earl Mosley Diversity of Dance, for example, hosted a “Love All Ball” over Zoom with guests Indya Moore and Dominique Jackson. Alongside founder Earl Mosley, the two Pose stars judged contestants in categories ranging from “Virgin Vogue” to “Arms Control,” accompanied by a $250 prize.
Virtual drag shows became popular events as well. Wilson Seiler, Nightingale ‘21, attended some of these performances in early June. He attended a drag show run by Philadelphia company Beyond the Bell Tours, which was called Drag Me Along with Eric Jaffe. “Every Saturday in June, they held a little 45 minute-long drag show,” Seiler said. “They played some iconic club songs, a few slower ones, and they even played some songs on their ukulele! I can’t say it was much like an in-person drag show, but it was really fun!” The performance did not only provide the joy and entertainment of Pride; all funds raised by the show were donated to Philadelphia bail funds for protesters.
These intimate events felt surprisingly new and different for many queer people, and it is easy to see why. Through social media efforts or virtual discussions and events, the world began to remind itself what the true goal of Pride should be: to fight for equality for each and every queer person. Over the past years, the LGBTQ+ community has ignored how much they owe to its BIPOC members. Large Pride celebrations have become more about merchandising than fighting the injustices committed against queer people today. Instead of highlighting the need to protect and fight for targeted groups like trans women of color, a strong corporate atmosphere was present. Even at Youth Pride, where many teens have their first Pride month experience, materialism was rampant. Zoe Sperduto, Nightingale ’22, wrote: “I'll enjoy any event centered around Pride, so I had a great time, but… all there was to do was to interact with the companies, and it felt more about marketing than about supporting the queer community.” This feeling is shared among many queer people. A study done by Her, a social networking app for LGBTQ+ women, revealed that 31% of women felt uncomfortable or unwelcome at Pride events. For those who have attended these overwhelmingly commercialized celebrations, this is not surprising; being white, cisgender, and gay seems to be a prerequisite for being an authority at Pride. Therefore, the push for the representation of all queer people at these events has been strong; organizations like No Justice No Pride have been fighting to make sure queer people, especially queer women of color, feel welcome and heard at Pride. Though we have yet to see widespread change, the increasing relevance of these organizations and BIPOC rights have helped us realize the true breadth of exclusivity in Pride. While we appreciate the opportunity to celebrate our identities, we understand that the power of the original Pride march has been lost. Looking back to the inaugural march 50 years ago, we understand that we must regain the fighting spirit that does not simply praise change but makes it happen.
Though many may feel the loss of what was supposed to be a month of celebration and joy, 2020 Pride has given us an opportunity to look inward. In a time where so many injustices are coming to light, the LGBTQ+ community has been given an opportunity to reflect on those it has excluded for far too long. We can reexamine Pride and how it truly behaves in our society: a tool for queer representation, yes, but not representation for all. With this in mind, we must begin to reinvent Pride, as well as the community as a whole. If we are to honor those who spent their lives fighting for the rights we now take for granted, we must create a space that celebrates us all.