It is true that LGBTQ people were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, both in terms of health and in terms of economic wellbeing. However, even admist tragedy, LGBTQ people continued to find moments of normalcy and hope. Our intention in showcasing these moments of laughter and love is not to glamorize or romanticize quarantine or coronavirus. Rather, when read in conversation with the more grave emotions in the archive-- including anxiety, isolation, solemnity, and disappointment-- a complex historical picture emerges.
Some emotions captured in the LGBTQ Item Set include:
Joy & Solemnity
"Before this whole crisis began, [My Partner and I] had just started a conversation about moving in together. The 39 days apart provided some clarity: We wanted to take that leap as soon as it was safe to do so. As we looked at the stacks of boxes on my kitchen floor, we decided that some could be stored in her apartment. It was strange, because when 2020 began I had this vision of us packing up my stuff and moving in together. Here it was happening, but it wasn’t this joyous event, it just felt solemn."
Anxiety & Faith
"In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, we encounter the anxiety of the Israelites when Moses is delayed in returning from Mount Sinai. Some of the Israelites demonstrate their anxiety by acting out and seeking the unhealthy alternative of worshipping a golden calf and then there were others who despite their fears acted in faith waiting for a return to normalcy. I have great compassion for both sets of people, but I know which ancestors I seek to align my behavior with."
Happiness & Disappointment
"While the couple had to do away with dinner, a cake, and a bouquet toss, they were still able to provide popcorn and champagne, served by theater staff wearing masks and gloves... There were some bittersweet moments during the happy day, too. 'It was crushing to not be able to hug my parents,' Lindsey said... Bri’s 3-and-a-half-year-old son, Atlas, was also unable to attend the ceremony... Still, the couple said the impromptu wedding was better than they ever could have imagined."
Isolation & Support
"As the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted a lot of students into an online format, it also posed a unique opportunity to organize students.. LGBTQIA students face unique challenges and it's important that we are able to connect with our peers and community even as we must maintain social distancing. I created the LGBTQIA Sun Devils and Allies organization... The idea is to connect students from all of ASU's campuses in a safe and inclusive environment."
"A Mask is the New Smile": Exploring Queer Joy at the COVID-19 Archive
While many items reflected the emotional completixites of navigating the pandemic, submissions focused on joy posed unique curatorial questions. On the surface, these items reflected both hope and joy. Upon further investigation, the submissions were far more complicated, embodying expressions of fear, uncertainty, discomfort, furstration, defiance, and ultimately resilence.
"Celebrating trans pride in quarantine."
"Celebrating trans pride in quarantine."
"Photo taken by my girlfriend while I shave my head after not having access to a barber in over a month."
"A couple of gay, trans college kids going to the park and shotgunning from a mini bong because it’s the only way to get out of the house and have fun these days!"
"One of the things my partner and I are doing to maintain a sense of normalcy is modifying our old hobby of playing Pokemon GO... With some patience and persistence, we've found places to play that are both safe and allow us small moments of joy."
"I included this video from the end of our Pokemon adventure as we went back to the car. I like the video because it bears the obvious signs of Summer (sweat, traces of sunscreen smudges on my glasses, tank tops), the obvious signs of the pandemic (face masks, empty campus), and the obvious signs of two people dating (smiles, jokes, joy)."
The first two photos come from New York City in March, shortly before the shutdown. Despite the shutdown and national reports of mass death, the contributor's are shown smiling and the descriptions for both items read "Celebrating trans pride in quarantine." The ability to celebrate in the midst of fear and uncertainty carries a feeling of resilience.
The third photograph comes from Arizona in late April, as a contributor poses in front of a mirror, tongue out, clippers poised at the ready. The caption reads, "Photo taken by my girlfriend while I shave my head after not having access to a barber in over a month." The caption and the expression together suggest a type of playfulness even as the contributor's description seems to indicate frustration at being unable to get a haircut.
The fourth photo from May features two college age kids kissing in a park with a mini bong and lighter visibly at their feet. The caption reads "A couple of gay, trans college kids going to the park and shotgunning from a mini bong because it’s the only way to get out of the house and have fun these days!" The caption and the photograph carry a sense of defiance, as the contributors refuse to let COVID derail their ability to have fun.
In the last two photos, shared by curator Carolyn Evans, a queer couple adapts their hobby of Pokemon GO to be compliant with social distancing measures. The longer description from Carolyn's contribution contains references to several emotions: patience, persistance, fear, joy.
These contributions provide extraordinary insight into the way LGBTQ people forged new sources of community, laughter, and love even in the face of overwhelming loss.