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Pride during a pandemic: Why visibility and connection still matter

By Talid Magdi and Leroy Ah-Ben, CNN

Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT) June 25, 2020

(CNN)Each year, in cities around the world, LGBTQ community members and their allies take to the streets to celebrate Pride -- uniting around the movement's message of self-acceptance and inclusion.

But this year, the coronavirus pandemic is keeping many celebrants around the world inside.
Since the first official marches, which took place in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco in June 1970, Pride has become a global movement. Last year, at least 150 official Pride festivals and events took place around the world.
2019 saw the largest Pride celebration in history. According to Chris Frederick, former executive director of NYC Pride, an estimated five million people flocked to New York City to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the police raid on New York's Stonewall Inn, which sparked the beginning of the gay rights movement in the US. With more than 150,000 participants from six continents marching in the parade, it took more than 12 hours to complete the route, Frederick says.
"It was such an overwhelming experience," he says. "To see the world coming together for this one singular moment was awe-inspiring, life-changing."
As many Pride celebrations go virtual this year because of Covid-19 social distancing guidelines, organizers and activists say the core mission remains the same -- providing visibility and unity in safe and inclusive spaces.
"No matter what, there is a need to connect," says Frederick. "Whether it's virtually or it's in person, that's what Pride is all about."
In June 2019, millions of people celebrated World Pride in New York City, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Miss Peppermint, an entertainer and transgender rights activist in New York, agrees. "Finding and seeking out community in any way that you can is essential," she says. "It's lifesaving."
On Saturday, over 300 million viewers are expected to tune in for a 24-hour live stream Global Pride celebration, event organizers say. It will feature musical and artistic performances, and speeches from activists and world leaders, including presumptive Democratic US presidential nominee Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The organizers claim it is the biggest of the many Pride events happening online this year.

Fighting for equality

LGBTQ rights campaigners say that Pride is so important because the community's push for equality is far from over. Being part of the LGBTQ community is still socially stigmatized in many parts of the world. According to ILGA, an international LGBTQ advocacy group, homosexuality remains illegal in more than 70 countries.
In Hungary, a new law has banned people from legally changing genders. Transgender lives, particularly in rural areas, are in constant danger, says Jojó Majercsik, a board member and spokesperson for Budapest Pride. "I'm very privileged living here in Budapest," she says. "I live with my girlfriend in the city center, but it's not the same for people who live outside of Budapest, especially for a transgender person. It's very difficult."

Danger persists even in countries where same-sex marriage has been legalized. Brazil had 130 reported murders of trans and gender-diverse people between October 2018 and September 2019, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring project. "It's not easy to live as LGBTQ in Brazil," says Julio Moreira, a Pride parade coordinator in Rio De Janeiro. Members of the community face even more discrimination if they're Black or poor, he says.

That's why it's imperative to keep celebrating Pride, even during a pandemic.

"Whenever the LGBTQ community is faced with a challenge or adversity, that's when we have a chance to shine and create something new," says Bodhi Calagna, a 43-year-old DJ and artist who grew up in Dubai and now lives in Denver, Colorado. Calagna, who prefers the pronoun 'they,' said it would have been their first Pride as openly trans non-binary, but they don't see this as a lost opportunity. In fact, "Pride just radiates even more," Calagna says.
Carlos Castaño Rodriguez, a member of the LGBT Spanish Federation, says Pride gives members of the community who have a platform the opportunity to reach those who are facing challenges or are less visible. That way "those who do not have that privilege, may feel less alone," he says.