Mashable is celebrating Pride Month by exploring the modern LGBTQ world, from the people who make up the community to the spaces where they congregate, both online and off.
Whatever your celebration usually looks like — music blaring, rainbow flags, joyful crowds everywhere — it probably didn’t look anything like that last year.
In June of 2020, while the world was still adjusting to a new, reality, Black Lives Matter the nation following George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis. The protests built upon generations of activism, and they’re thought to be the largest movement in U.S. history.
They also changed Pride. In years past, Pride organizations had been critiqued for their overwhelming , , and the resulting deviation from the celebration’s radical as a protest against police violence in queer bars in New York City.
Now, it’s “the rubber meets the road time.”
Last year, though, as the BLM demonstrations coincided with Pride Month (and the pandemic), the trio of events sparked important conversations about privilege, the nature of protest, and . That’s been crucial to the way Pride committees are thinking about their celebrations this year, according to official leaders like , the president of San Francisco Pride’s board of directors.
LGBTQ organizations (as well as businesses, schools, and individuals) made significant commitments to racial justice initiatives last year. Now, it’s “the rubber meets the road time,” says Wysinger. “It’s the ‘seeing if the commitments that were made in 2020 were real’ time. That’s where we are now in 2021.”
So, after a year of both tumult and growth, what are Pride committees doing on now? What have they learned — and how can we learn from them? We checked in with the organizations’ leaders to discuss how they’re keeping racial justice central to Pride.
Last year, due to COVID-19 precautions, the majority of official Pride parades and festivals went virtual. This time around, many Pride organizations are moving away from one-day celebrations, not only as a precaution in the continued pandemic, but also as an intentional corrective to the idea that Pride is just a fun, glittery weekend, as opposed to a radical protest.
For many, like Princess Murray, who founded in the racially diverse neighborhood in South Los Angeles, that’s a welcome, if overdue, shift. She started Compton Pride in 2019, offering an alternate model of how Pride events can incorporate racial justice goals — even before the galvanizing events of 2020.
More than a decade ago, Murray was working at an adolescent care center, planning special events for kids in the foster care system. A supervisor asked a simple question one day: “Is there anything you’d like to do?”
Murray had a vision she had been thinking about “her whole life:” A kid-friendly Pride festival in a low-income neighborhood populated by predominantly Black and brown folks. She remembered the struggle of traveling to West Hollywood from South LA to attend the city’s official Pride celebration as a young person: Accessing transportation was difficult and she couldn’t afford food or admission, so she and her friends would sometimes jump the gate to get in. Though she describes the experience of attending Pride-related events in West Hollywood as a “breath of fresh air,” she maintains that they could be exclusionary — from everything to the music played to the police presence while getting to and from West Hollywood.
Compton Pride was her solution: It brings resources to those who need it in Black and brown communities and is free and family-oriented. There’s no police presence; security guards keep everyone safe.
“We’re going to celebrate, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to party…but we’re going to leave here with resources.”
“We’re going to celebrate, we’re going to have fun, we’re going to party…but we’re going to leave here with resources,” Murray says of her vision. At Compton Pride, that means the presence of health organizations, violence intervention programs, and mental health programs focused on the LGBTQ community.
Murray’s glad to finally see more and more Pride organizations adopt a similar ethos this year.
As some major Pride organizations have moved away from the virtual events of 2020 — and the single weekend Pride celebrations of years past — they’ve organized sustained, community-oriented programming, not unlike the work Compton Pride was already doing.
“In the presence of a pandemic, you start to realize how dependent your whole organization is on one, two-day event,” Wysinger, of SF Pride, says of the traditional weekend celebration. She explains that SF Pride has long hosted performance stages celebrating Black, Latinx and Asian American communities. When the organization explored the ways programming could be expanded during the pandemic, however, the team wanted to replicate these identity-based efforts in a new way, partnering with community organizations to keep the momentum going outside of Pride month.
In March, for example, SF Pride teamed up with the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco to host the city’s first Chinatown Pride, a fundraising event that brought community groups together at an especially traumatic time for the AAPI community. Building on a Marsha P. Johnson rally SF Pride hosted last year during pride month, the organization is also partnering with the African American Art & Culture Complex for a “Black Liberation Event” on the eve of Juneteenth.
As someone involved in a wide array of activist efforts, Wysinger says that, for years, her “big thing” was reminding folks that two trans women of color, and , started the Stonewall protests against police violence — the event that’s commemorated when we celebrate Pride. Building on the momentum from the events they’ve planned so far, Wysinger adds, the team at SF Pride is going to keep looking for more communities to partner with for similar kinds of satellite events.
She sees that kind of work as crucial to centering intersectionality within Pride events, as demonstrated in last year’s emphasis on Black liberation. “One of the things we saw a lot last year with people who were just kind of putting Black Lives Matter in their window, and then when Pride came, they had a Pride sign in their window,” she says. “Those two things belong together. So whenever you’re talking about one, wherever you are, talk about the other.”
Using missteps to grow
As allies tried to support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, there was no shortage of mishaps, , and outright blunders. Pride organizations were no exception.
Last June, Christopher Street West (CSW), the nonprofit behind LA Pride, announced its intentions to host an event in support of Black Lives Matter. Sounded good enough on paper, but CSW hadn’t consulted with Black Lives Matter leadership. Making matters worse, CSW had applied for a permit to use police protection at the event, a decision at odds with the BLM movement’s demands to defund the police in favor of community-based solutions.
Other Pride organizations have since demonstrated what alternate safety measures might look like: NYC Pride announced this year that the New York City Police Department will be banned from the event until 2025, in favor of private security, community leaders, and volunteers.
But at LA Pride last year, all of that added to the longstanding critique of Pride’s general lack of inclusivity. In the end, CSW called in a separate advisory committee for the occasion, and they were handed the reins instead.
Activist Gerald Garth was on that committee, and admits he was in a particularly unique position through it all, as both an organizer and CSW board treasurer. Looking back on that experience, he explains that one of the biggest takeaways for CSW was working on “being positioned to receive feedback and respond.” He adds that one of the most useful parts of the growing process was actively engaging with community leaders so that they could share their thoughts and concerns.
“When people are speaking from a historically passionate place of injustice, it’s not pretty,” Garth says, adding that even if these conversations grow fraught, it’s not something to shy away from. He says that he’s “really proud” of the organization’s ability to “stand in that place of accountability,” while also looking forward.
For CSW, one of the first steps was . Like SF Pride, Garth notes, CSW also “positioned programming to live outside of just the historic Pride weekend.” It partnered with the volunteer group Big Sunday to create a month-long initiative in June dubbed Pride Makes A Difference. Through that program, people in the LA area can find LGBTQ-focused volunteer opportunities around issues like food insecurity and mental health.
“I think the pandemic has opened everybody’s eyes up.”
The organization intends for the program to become permanent, which is in large part thanks to the self reflection and recalibrating CSW did over the past year. Garth stresses the importance of what he calls “mirror moments,” times in which you “take a look at what your world looks like, what your thoughts look like, what your actions look like, what your support looks like, and start there.”
Wysinger says 2020 “brought into focus” the importance of ensuring you’re taking all the steps you can to be an effective ally, regardless of past missteps. “Last year for Pride across the nation, it was a learning [experience] for a lot of folks,” she says. “I may not even still be doing that perfectly. I’ll say that on the record.”
And this kind of self-reflective work has made an impact: Murray says that as a Black member of the LGBTQ community, she’s used to empty promises and hollow displays of solidarity. The fight against white supremacy that gained momentum during the pandemic, from BLM protests to efforts to , however, felt different. “I think the pandemic has opened everybody’s eyes up,” Murray says. “I feel like the time is right now…allow the help to come in.”
This year, she says, an event organizer who has worked with LA Pride before reached out about another Pride event happening in LA, and she’ll be speaking there in June.
Murray calls the gesture “encouraging.” She’s reached out in the past for resources, so to have them reach out felt particularly commendable. “We’re going in the right direction,” she says.
“This is what it is about when we say ‘inclusiveness,'” Murray added in an email. “Some people have privilege that others don’t have. He shared his platform. That’s a big, huge step.”
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