Pride Celebrated in Digital Realities

Across the globe, LGBT pride celebrations offer opportunity to celebrate, unify and become more visible. In the current pandemic environment that dynamic shifts but hasn't gone away. Virtual pride celebrations are being put together and providing the chance to include more people digitally than through traditional in-person marches, hopefully to return again soon...

Virtual Pride Celebration COVID-19
Illustration by Kate Dehler for The Washington Post

The Washington Post reports: On a cloudy Friday last June, a congregation of around 25,000 transgender people and allies marched through Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Decked out in bright pinks, blues and whites, the cheery crowd repeated chants such as “Trans rights are human rights” as they stepped toward Cal Anderson Park, where a rally culminated one of the largest such Pride gatherings in recent history.

“Our march is typically only a few blocks long, but it’s powerful,” said Elayne Wylie, co-executive director of the Gender Justice League, the organization behind Trans Pride Seattle, which has grown into a marquee event during Seattle Pride weekend. As similar festivals nationwide broke attendance records in 2019, it was a peak moment for LGBTQ tourism: An estimated 5 million people visited New York City for its Pride weekend, contributing to the around 20 million people who attended U.S. events overall.

Organizers, venues, performers and companies were expecting to ride that wave of enthusiasm into this June, which will mark a half-century since activists assembled for the first-ever gay-pride marches through the streets of New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Instead, because of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 475 Pride events have been canceled or postponed. Now, to go on at all, Trans Pride Seattle and dozens of other celebrations are scrambling to digitize.

It’s a frantic, unprecedented effort — and, organizers say, a critical one.

“If you’re queer and from [a] far-out community, you might keep your head low because maybe you don’t feel welcomed or you’ve seen a lot of discrimination,” Wylie said. “Pride offers you that opportunity to surround yourself with people who get you and lift you up.”

“The idea of a year without Pride was unacceptable,” said Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force and an organizer for the most ambitious online project of all, a sweeping broadcast called Global Pride. But the conundrum facing organizers like her and Wylie is daunting: How do you keep such a massive event, one that’s as celebratory as it is political, from turning into just another long-winded Zoom call?

An International Tour

For Global Pride, announced in early April and slated for June 27, answering that question, among others, is a work in progress.

The organization behind the event, InterPride, likens its concept to New Year’s Eve broadcasts, which cycle through time zones with fireworks and fanfare. So far, about 350 Prides have indicated their desire to participate, allowing organizers to spotlight queer hot spots like Sydney, Tel Aviv and Rio de Janeiro, as well as less-covered events in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Along the way, the event will feature political speakers, musical performances, celebrity cameos, stories from locals and possibly, to encourage engagement, at-home videos shared by participants.

Organizers also, Renna said, intend to incorporate a relief fund for struggling queer communities. The economic ramifications of a year without Pride could be devastating, as the survival of queer community centers, small businesses and independent artists depends heavily on each Pride season. Smaller Prides might not be able to endure a year without the associated revenue, either, planting “a real fear that this could be a setback,” Renna said.

With so many disparate elements and contacts, the team’s challenge is considerable, from the time crunch (“This was an idea on a napkin not even a month ago”) to the deeper logistics (if the broadcast pivots from time zone to time zone, what should they do for the Atlantic Ocean?). But InterPride is “inundated” with eager volunteers — and Renna is confident.

"If any community is going to do this, it’s us,” she said. “We’ve harnessed the power of the Internet to deal with isolation as queer people when we thought we were the only one. The Internet’s been a lifeline for people who thought they were alone to find information, connection and community.”

A Local Rush

New York City, perhaps unsurprisingly, is thinking big, too: Last week, NYC Pride announced that singer Janelle Monae and “Schitt’s Creek” actor Dan Levy would be among the headliners of a virtual June 28 event, which will be broadcast on local TV and streamed on ABC News Live.

Digital Gay Pride Celebration Illustration
Illustration by Kate Dehler for The Washington Post

Most U.S. cities — from San Antonio, Tex., to Kalamazoo, Mich. — won’t have quite the same caliber of names at their disposal. So local organizers are getting creative, fast.

Wylie and Trans Pride Seattle, for their part, are quickly trying to crowdsource talent from within their own community: finding people who have live-event production experience, locals with a “powerful message,” and singers a