Virtual Pride keeps flame alive despite virus

24 hours: Hosted by Todrick Hall (left), the event will feature artists including Taylor Swift. © Getty

Is Pride more important than ever this year? As evidence emerges showing LGBTQ+ people suffer disproportionately during the lockdown, the event tomorrow will keep celebrations alive.

Last year, the crowd in New York was five million-strong. People came from across the US to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the tradition they began: Pride.

On 28 June 1970, exactly one year after the uprising, the Gay Liberation Front organised the world’s first Pride – the Christopher Street Day Parade. It was the beginning of a vital tradition for LGBTQ+ communities worldwide, celebrating queer lives and commemorating the dangerous work of protest.

But, this year, the streets will be empty. Covid 19, now surging back across the USA and Europe, has had an enormous impact on Pride celebrations, with hundreds of marches cancelled or postponed worldwide. In response, things are going online.

Tomorrow, 300 million people are expected to tune into Global Pride 2020.

Hosted by Todrick Hall, it will see performances streamed from across the planet for 24 hours. Its organisers aim to counteract the “devastating impact” the coronavirus has had on Pride organisations.

But for a tradition so centred on the political importance of joyfully and defiantly taking up space on the streets, can it be the same?

“It’s more important than ever,” says Cathy Renna of America’s LGBTQ+ Task Force.

The pandemic has hit LGBTQ+ support networks hard. The text-message support service, Shout 85258, has reported 4,500 extra conversations with LGBTQ+ texters in the UK during lockdown – often young people “unable to express themselves fully at home”.

Bringing Pride online will go some way to ensuring that a sense of connection is not lost. It may also prove more inclusive – those who live in repressive countries or remote locations will have the chance to take part and feel safe.

And the Black Lives Matter protests have given new urgency to Pride’s roots in dissent. Trans women of colour, such as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, were among the activists at the vanguard of the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms, and they have suffered and died to a disproportionate degree.

Outrage at ongoing injustice has spilled onto the streets in the form of Black Trans Lives Matter protests. Global Pride is taking Black Lives Matter as its focus.

So, is Pride more important this year?

Taking pride

No – it’s as important as ever. “No matter what, there is a need to connect,” says Chris Frederick, former director of NYC Pride. Pride has always been an incredibly significant moment for LGBTQ+ people – a space in which to feel safe from prejudice and hatred, surrounded by community, and unified in diversity. That is no different this year although it will be taking place online, not on the streets.

Yes. Lockdown has had a disproportionate effect on the LGBTQ+ community. People have been cut off from support networks, more vulnerable than the majority to wider impacts of the pandemic – unemployment, eviction, and other consequences of inequality. The visibility and solidarity created by Pride, together with the refusal to tolerate injustice and oppression, is more needed than ever.

You Decide

  1. Can an online event match the power of a march through the streets?
  2. Is it unethical to attend a protest given the dangers of catching the virus?

Activities

  1. Prepare your own special backdrop and outfit for tomorrow’s virtual festivities.
  2. Using the Expert Links and your own research, create a timeline of the last 51 years of LGBTQ+ activism.

Some People Say...

“I’m not missing a minute of this. It’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002), Latina American gay liberation and transgender rights activist, at the Stonewall riots

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last year’s Pride celebrations, 50 years after the Stonewall riots, were some of the biggest-ever, with five million taking part in New York, 1.6 million in Madrid. and 1.2 million in Cologne. Bi-sexual activist Brenda Howard is known as the “Mother of Pride” for her role in organising the 1970 Christopher Street Day Parade. During lockdown, LGBTQ+ support services have seen use go up significantly.
What do we not know?
The true positive impact of Pride for LGBTQ+ people, particularly those who grew up in isolated places, far from a sense of community, can never be quantified – although the testimony of LGBTQ+ people makes its importance plain for all to see. More sombrely, it is hard to tell what the lockdown’s lasting negative impact may be for LGBTQ+ people, or how quickly social support can build back up as lockdown eases.

Word Watch

Stonewall riots
On 28 June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a lesbian and gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. When the police became violent, those at the bar fought back. The uprising is widely considered to be the start of the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the US.
Gay Liberation Front
The name of the group formed immediately after the Stonewall riots in 1969 to demand an end to the persecution of gay people by the police and by the public. Other movements elsewhere in the world subsequently took on the name Gay Liberation Front.
Dissent
A strong difference of opinion on a particular subject, away from what the majority or the government think.
Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera
Two trans women who took part in the Stonewall riots and were prominent activists and community organisers in New York in the 1970s. They set up Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a radical collective that provided support to homeless, queer young people in the city. Marsha disappeared in 1992 and may have been murdered.
At the vanguard
At the front; leading the way.
Disproportionate
Too large in comparison with the norm.

Subjects

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