Pride is going to look very different this year. Without the public marches and festivals, some will say Pride has been cancelled. Queer visibility will be reduced without group settings and the tangible interactions between community members and our allies will be missed, but Pride will never be cancelled. What folks don’t know or perhaps have forgotten is that Pride celebrations were born from riots, violence, secrets, and pain. If anyone can see the value of finding joy and the need to fly our flags higher and kiss the ones we love even in the middle of hardship, it is the queer community.
Pride is celebrated in June each year to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which were led by Marsha P. Johnson in 1969. During her years of advocacy work, she made it very clear: “No Pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.” Liberation can not happen seasonally. We celebrate and fight year-round because if we wait to do it all in June, the other 11 months of the year are too heavy; we will forget what we are fighting and living for.
And if we allow the effects of a pandemic to pause celebrations, I am worried there will be a backslide in the equal rights movement, and we’ll have even less to celebrate down the road. Kids have been in unsupportive homes for too long. Adults who are too afraid and too financially strapped to leave relationships and turn their lives upside down in order to come out will stay. The inclusivity work I and other advocates do in schools and workplaces will be suspended indefinitely because of budget constraints.
All of this is part of the two-steps-forward, one-step-back routine the LGBTQIA+ community has always known. Harvey Milk paved the way for bisexual Oregon governor Kate Brown and transgender Virginia delegate Danica Roem. The killings of Matthew Sheppard and James Bryd Jr. initiated the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And Sylvia Rivera and Billy Tipton made living in fear and secret easier for Laverne Cox and Jacob Tobia. Each generation will push the boundaries given to them. Progress will be made but never without heartbreak. It will always be this way. Still we dance.
Few other communities know resiliency the way the queer community does. The ongoing fight for basic civil rights while navigating systemic racism, police brutality, HIV/AIDS, conversion therapy, and homelessness can’t happen without our creativity, humor, social intelligence, and love of brunch and a good party.
Every day we celebrate coming out stories and we grin and blush over first queer kisses. We cheer for the transgender folks who change pronouns and names. We cry happy tears for the kids who were given access to hormone blockers. We scream for the folks who can finally afford hormone therapy. We jump up and down for the gender marker changes and gender affirming surgeries. We weep at videos of same-gender proposals and weddings. Yes, this marginalized life is hard at times, but the joys of living authentically need to be seen and celebrated year-round.
Being queer is already an act of bravery and resistence; being queer during a pandemic takes a new layer of courage and grit. The economic shutdown and overtaxed medical system have exacerbated existing economic disparities and mental health struggles; LGBTQIA+ folks, myself included, have been hit hard by COVID-19. LGBTQIA+ folks are poorer than the general population because of housing, medical, and employment discrimination. Even in the best of times we struggle to make rent and bridge the gap to affordable and affirming health care. COVID-19 has stopped or drastically slowed down our ability to access the resources we need to live. Sadly, while hospitals can’t get personal protective equipment for their medical care providers, lawmakers are putting their energy into stopping transgender folks from participating in sports and changing their gender marker on their birth certificate.
The LGBTQIA+ community has never not been under attack. From internalized phobias to assaults and death at the hands of bigoted, homo- and transphobic assailants who become the judge, jury, and executioner of our right to love, we have had to fight for our right to happiness and freedom. The self-righteous people who can’t see beyond themselves will always allow fear and religion to convince them that our identity, our families, our relationships are a threat to their own. We are not a threat. Ignorance and discrimination are part of our fabric, but so are courage and authenticity. Parades or not, we show up and fight and celebrate every day. COVID-19 has not cancelled our pride and it will not distract us from injustice.
There is never a perfect time to celebrate Pride — it’s always the right time. Even when all of the events have been cancelled or turned into virtual drag shows, online silent auctions, Zoom parties, and Facebook Lives, the LGBTQIA+ community knows better than anyone how to pivot. Representation, visibility, and awareness are absolutely essential to our civil rights gains and societal acceptance. We will lose some ground this year in those areas. But we will find strength within ourselves and within our small circles and the community as a whole. We will continue to learn what it is in ourselves that makes us proud to be queer even when no one seems to be watching.