Every June, cities across America host Pride Events that celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ people and movements. This year, a combination of factors, including the need for social distancing measures and widespread #BlackLivesMatter protests, led to a very differnt celebration of Pride. From Virtual Pride events to lone rainbow flags, submissions to the COVID-19 archive provide insight to Pride's "new normal."
Thanks to the contributions of Arizona State University Professor David Boyles and Arizona Hip Historian Marshall Shore, curators at the COVID-19 archive were able to document emerging virtual LGBTQ events, including the first annual Virtual Arizona Pride. When Phoenix Pride was cancelled, activists like David saw an opportunity to create a virtual space that could appeal to LGBTQ people across the state of Arizona. Utilizing virtual technology like Zoom, Facebook, and Instagram, the event included activist workshops, virtual drag shows, and even a documentary screening. Held in April, #VirtualAZPride was among the first virtual Pride events held in the United States.For more on Virtual AZ Pride, see the Arizona LGBT+ History Project panel below.
Pride Across America
In comparing several state responses to COVID, a more clear picture of Pride emerges. As coronavirus numbers continued to rise, Pride events were almost universally postponed. The idea that in person Pride could simply be postponed suggests that organizers expected infection rates to lower over time. Contributors, however, remained skeptical. When writing about Utah Pride, for example, curator Lawson Miller quipped, "I wonder if pride events rescheduled for later in the year will end up being cancelled due to a second wave of COVID-19." This caption proved a wise prediction, as the most recent COVID numbers suggest it is still likely too dangerous to hold in person events for the forseeable future.
In the absence of in person events, many organizers turned to virtual spaces to establish a sense of community. Phoenix appears to be the first of many Virtual Pride Events. Larger Pride Events, such as the 50th Anniversary of San Francisco Pride, received considerable coverage, as SF Pride events were available on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and even broadcast on CBS. Small informal and formal Pride events, such as a drag livestream organized by Milwaukee gay bar This Is It or virtual breakout groups hosted by Ogden Pride in Utah, are also reflected in the archive. Contributor's often reflected on the positive impact of virtual Pride events. As Lawson wrote about Utah Pride, "The uncertainty is scary, but the sense of community that is being fostered by Pride events helps alleviate some of the stress of feeling uncertain or disconnected."
Pride 2020: Social Distance & Social Justice
COVID-19 not only impacted the format of Pride, but it changed the emphasis of Pride as well. Looking at the submissions, two unique themes emerge from Pride 2020: Social Distance & Social Justice.
Virtual Pride Events are one of several indicators of the centrality of social distancing at Pride this year. Contributors also included photos of themselves in isolation, as is the case in "Quarantine Pride." The sale of rainbow flag face masks by the Human Rights Campaign represents an interesting item that speaks to both consumerism at Pride and the role of social distancing; LGBTQ non-profits used PPE to generate revenue even as fundraising events were limited due to COVID.
While a discussion of virtual Pride Events was the overarching theme of submissions from April and May, as #BlackLivesMatter shook the nation in June, contributions began to reflect an emphasis on social justice. The link between anti-racist activism and gay rights organizing should be clear to those familiar with the history of gay liberation, but too often these are treated as separate issues. Yet in June of 2020, many began to treat the two causes as interrelated. In person Pride events, cancelled just a month or two earlier, were suddenly reorganized as Unity Marches for #BlackLivesMatter. The protests bear the signs of a COVID event, including face masks and social distancing guidelines. These new anti-racist Pride marches also gave LGBTQ people an opportunity to reflect on racism in LGBTQ spaces.For insight into anti-racist activism and Pride, see the San Francisco Pride TikTok below.