How Leaders of the LGBTQ+ Community Are Celebrating Pride at Home
With the spirit of protest pervading 2020, there’s no stopping LGBTQ+ organizations and individuals from expressing Pride and promoting equality—even amid a global pandemic.
BY BARRY SAMAHA
JUN 23, 2020
Pride was born out of protest. As the legend goes, it started with the throwing of a brick by a trans woman of color who was exasperated by the status quo. Her name was Marsha P. Johnson, and like all the patrons at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969, she was fed up with the constant persecution of the LGBTQ+ community by the New York City Police Department. Her act of defiance would spark an uprising that would lead to demonstrations calling for justice and equality for her marginalized community—a rallying cry that 51 one years later is all too familiar.
“Pride started out as a revolt against police brutality,” says Cathy Renna, a spokesperson for NYC Pride and Global Pride, among others. “That’s eye-opening for some people. The Stonewall Riots with Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera throwing bricks is the Hollywood version. The truth is that our community at that time was constantly harassed, beaten, and arrested by the police. It’s very much the way we see Black Americans today. Tying those things together and helping people understand that our shared history is very similar has really helped contribute to what we’re seeing in the streets, which is a hugely diverse group of people.”
The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks—much like that fateful day in 1969—prompted the public to unite and demand an end to systemic racism. The Black Lives Matter movement has been reignited, but unlike its first iteration in 2013, the whole world has now taken notice of the racial prejudice that runs through all institutions.
Moreover, the movement began to shed light on Black trans people and the alarming amounts of violence inflicted on their community—statistics that have only now received the public attention they deserve. “We have been trying to get the media to cover the murder of Black trans women for years,” says Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. “In fact, we even wrote a media guide several years ago to bring this to the forefront, to get attention. This has been an epidemic in our community.”
The undermining of trans people reached a fever pitch with the Trump administration’s latest attempt to repeal health care protections implemented by the Affordable Care Act—and was compounded by the recent deaths of Riah Milton, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Tony McDade, and Nina Pop. All this incited additional gatherings in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with protesters collectively calling for the Black Lives Matter movement to account for all Black lives and not just those of conforming genders.
“There are issues related to racism in the LGBTQ community, and homophobia and transphobia that exist in communities of color,” Renna explains. “It is important for those of us who want to move forward, make progress, educate, and unite people to elevate that, to bring it out. I think that it’s incredibly important that we all get out in the streets for all of those affected. I have a friend in Washington who is a trans man and is afraid to go to the protests, because he might be targeted—not just by the police, but other folks who might be in the crowd who are anti-trans.”
Still, LGBTQ+ organizations are remaining unified in their campaign against all forms of bias. As Ellis expounds, the community is composed of individuals of all creeds, colors, and races—people who are indigenous and with disabilities. “We encompass everyone, and we must fight for all those that are marginalized,” she says. “Until everyone in this world has full protections, full acceptance, we are always fighting.”
This is why celebrating Pride is crucial. In memory of the Stonewall Uprising, June has been designated the month when the LGBTQ+ community and its allies take to the streets to celebrate. For more than five decades, people from all walks of life have marched in parades filled with colorful floats, banded together behind the rainbow flag and its message of diversity, and waved banners and worn outfits that pronounce their identities proudly. It is a collective demand for acceptance; a time to remember the struggles of the past, honor the achievements made over half a century, and highlight issues that still need to be addressed. In essence, Pride is as much a party as it is a political statement.
“It is like a Rorschach test,” says Renna. “Pride is different for everyone, but it is absolutely a form of protest. It is a platform, quite frankly, to make sure people understand what our issues are and the work we have to do. It is a place where anyone can celebrate who they are, surrounded by their tribe. It is about visibility, which is one of the most powerful things we have to show our political clout, to show the world that we are very deserving of equality.”
Topics regarding same-sex marriage, anti-crime, and, more recently, job protection have been central themes at past Prides in the United States. And though these hard-fought rights have since been ratified by the Supreme Court, they only scratch the surface. “We need the Equality Act that has been sitting on the desk of [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell for almost a year if not longer,” says Ellis. “Right now, we’re piecemealing protection together. We need full, comprehensive protection as a community. This piece of legislation needs to be passed.”
This year, however, the most prevalent issue is the Black Lives Matter movement, and many LGBTQ+ organizations are making sure that the message of racial inequality gets communicated loud and clear—even amid a global pandemic. “This moment in time, in the environment that we’re in right now, the culture that we’re living in right now, it’s critical that we use the platform of Pride to lift the voices of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are people of color,” says Ellis.
Indeed, the coronavirus outbreak has affected all public-facing events. Several weeks ago, government officials enacted stay-at-home orders and closed all nonessential businesses in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19; though recently, restrictions have been lifted state by state, with virus cases still on the rise in some areas but subsiding in others. Nevertheless, Pride organizers are not taking any chances. “The health and safety of the community is always going to be the first concern,” says Renna, who traditionally facilitates two of the most visible events during Pride Month. “This is why keeping them virtual is really important.”
For NYC Pride, in particular, it wasn’t a question of if organizers were going to host events this year, but how. Their solution was to transfer the myriad in-person events to an online setting and create programming that could both educate and entertain. Already, the organization has partnered with GLAAD for Black Queer Town Hall, a virtual discussion led by drag stars Peppermint, Bob the Drag Queen, and Jaida Essence Hall. Toward the end of the month, it has arranged a virtual rally with trans activists Ashlee Marie Preston and Brian Michael Smith, a human rights conference, and a special broadcast that will spotlight Janelle Monáe, Deborah Cox, Billy Porter, and Dan Levy.
In addition, Procter & Gamble and iHeartMedia created Can’t Cancel Pride, the Los Angeles LGBT Center sponsored Trans Pride, there’s the Frameline44 Pride Showcase, and cities from Chicago to Seattle are hosting their own virtual Pride parades. On the international front, Global Pride has corralled more than 40 personalities from the worlds of politics and entertainment—including Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, singer-songwriter Adam Lambert, and actress Laverne Cox—for a 24-hour event that focuses on the Black Lives Matter movement.
With the spirit of protest pervading 2020, there’s no stopping the LGBTQ+ community from celebrating Pride and promoting equality. COVID-19 may have changed the format—temporarily putting a suspension on parades and limiting gatherings to those hosted by close friends and family—but many plan on keeping the party going while also practicing social distancing. “Pride is the ultimate opportunity for expressing who you are,” says Ellis, and that doesn’t necessarily require taking to the streets.
So for Pride 2020, BAZAAR.com is asking members of the LGBTQ+ community to demonstrate just that. From fashion designers and filmmakers to singers and drag superstars to artists and social media influencers, vanguards of disparate industries relay their most memorable Pride event and express why dressing up for the occasion—even while at home—is important. Some re-create their old looks, while others come up with new ensembles that best represent their feelings this year. Either way, all let their true colors shine through.
Bob the Drag Queen
What was your most memorable Pride event?
My first Pride event was when my mom took me to Piedmont Park. This was back when Pride was actually in the summer in Atlanta. It is now in the fall, because all the activity was killing the grass. I went down there, having no idea where my mom was taking me, and next thing I knew, I was at Pride. The first stop was at Mellow Mushroom near Piedmont Park, where, for the first time, I saw a gay couple holding hands in public. I was probably in ninth grade at the time.
How are you celebrating Pride at home this year?
This year, I’ll be celebrating Pride at the Black Queer Town Hall with my dear friend Peppermint. This is an event where we get to celebrate, rejoice. We get to mourn, we get to heal, we get to learn, and, most importantly, we get to pay Black queer artists, thinkers, performers, and community leaders what they deserve.
Who gives you Pride, and why?
At this moment, full disclosure, I’m pulling a lot of pride from Alex Newell, Shea Couleé, Peppermint, and BeBe Zahara Benet. These are people right now that are giving me a lot of Black queer pride.
How do you express Pride through fashion?
I don’t think I get dressed without expressing Pride. Out of drag, my style is pretty androgynous. A lot of people say that out of drag, I look like a lady who teaches African-American studies at a community college. It’s a very earthy, Black aunt vibe. And in drag, to be honest, it’s not that much different. Because my presentation is so queer, even out of drag, I think that my clothes are always a Pride statement. And not just a Pride statement, but a Black queer Pride statement specifically. Work.