Last June, about 2.5 million revelers flocked to WorldPride in New York City for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the rebellion against anti-queer policing that Pride is meant to commemorate. The atmosphere was joyous, the parade most notable for its scale: a record 150,000 people marched down 5th Avenue, past the Stonewall National Monument, and through Manhattan. Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Kim Petras were among the many performers who played in festivals throughout the week — all in celebration of the progress LGBTQ people and rights have made over the last half-century.
But this year’s Pride will look much, much different. Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s just no way to facilitate in-person festivals for the foreseeable future.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that NYC Pride — along with every other mass gathering event in the city in June — will be canceled. This follows a larger pattern of other cities around the world forgoing in-person Prides this year.
“Over the last month, we’ve had now about 280 Prides globally that have canceled or postponed because of Covid-19,” said Steve Taylor, board member of the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA).
Pride organizers say the show will go on, though — albeit in a much different format. The EPOA and InterPride, a consortium of local Pride organizations in the US and internationally, are organizing a massive, worldwide Pride event to be held exclusively online.
BREAKING - NYC Pride, along with all other "non essential permitted events in June" -- CANCELED, Mayor DeBlasio announces. #abc7NY— Derick Waller (@wallerABC7) April 20, 2020
The plan is to hold a rolling 24-hour online Global Pride on June 27, the anniversary of Stonewall, which will feature musical performances, speeches, and other Pride-related content each hour. While it’s too early to say who exactly will be a part of the online Global Pride — InterPride also organizes a WorldPride every few years in different cities — Taylor said that organizers have partnered with national Pride networks in the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and the UK, as well as organizations in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Oceania region. The hope is to coordinate it so that local Prides — from Sydney to San Francisco — will have 15 minutes of their own based on their time zone.
“We’re going to start from the East and obviously make our way to the West,” said Julian Sanjivan co-president of InterPride. “It’s going to be a very interesting production. We are looking at not just entertainment pieces but human rights components [as well].”
But the over-the-top celebrations that have become synonymous with Pride are only one aspect of its mission. Another huge part of Pride month is advocacy. Smaller LGBTQ groups often depend on fundraising from Pride-related events to help serve their communities throughout the year. And now amid the pandemic, many are afraid their efforts may get lost in a sea of online need this year.
“Right now, nobody knows what to expect,” said Mahdia Lynn, executive director of Masjid al-Rabia, a small Muslim community center in Chicago that was founded by and for trans, queer, and disabled Muslims. Last year during Pride month, Masjid al-Rabia collected about $10,000. But this year, the organization won’t be able to hold any in-person fundraising events.
“We have lowered the expectation of how much we’re going to raise,” said Lynn. “Our original goal was to increase the fundraising that we had last year by at least half and ideally to double it, and now instead, our plan is to just aim to maintain what we raised last year.”
But while fundraising goals stay the same, need among the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community will grow as the pandemic stretches on because the LGBTQ community was already suffering from higher rates of unemployment, food insecurity, and lack of insurance before the pandemic. Visibility — of not just celebration but for community support — will be more important than ever.
The importance of — and complications in — taking Pride online
The folks behind this year’s online Pride felt it was important not to skip a year as Pride can be important to queer people who are attending for the first time.
“Every Pride organizer that you talk to will have a story about someone that has come to their Pride, whose life has been changed by Pride,” said Taylor. “It might be the first time in their life that they felt safe, that they felt part of the community, that they felt valued and loved or that they felt surrounded by people who are like them rather than feeling like an outsider. It’s really critical for Pride organizers — because we believe passionately in our movement and its transformative effects on people — that we find a way to deliver that event in a safe way [during the pandemic].”
Organizers admit that it won’t be the same as previous in-person celebrations, but they also hope that the online format will bring Pride to countries that are actively hostile to the existence of LGBTQ people, such as Poland or Saudi Arabia.
“One of the really good things about Global Pride is that it will allow people in, for example, Subsaharan Africa or in the countries in the Middle East where being LGBT either is illegal or even attracts the death penalty, it will allow them to take part in Pride,” said Taylor.
Even in countries considered “progressive” or safe, LGBTQ rights has a way to go. Last Friday, news broke that the Trump administration was finalizing an Affordable Care Act rule that would allow health care discrimination against LGBTQ people. The community also waits for Supreme Court decisions on whether employers can, under federal civil rights law, legally fire people for being queer or trans.
In the UK, Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss gave a speech to Parliament’s Women and Equalities Select Committee on April 22 indicating that the country’s Equality Act could be revised to keep trans women out of women’s spaces and trans teens could be barred from accessing any gender-affirming health care.
The internet isn’t immune to homophobia and transphobia, and there are security concerns to consider when taking Pride online. While plans are still in the early stages, organizers told Vox that they hope to partner with a larger platform, like Facebook, in order to facilitate Global Pride. They envision the rolling entertainment format alongside a chat box or comment system that allows participants to send messages or photos.
But that opens the door to potential brigading from trolls. Swarming a third-party online event is nothing new, but it has seen a resurgence during the pandemic. Reports have emerged of “Zoombombing,” where uninvited trolls crash a video call in order to harass participants with racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic hate speech.
Global Pride organizers are trying to prepare for that possibility. “We’ll have people from the community moderating those comments so that we don’t get trolls posting transphobic or biphobic or homophobic comments,” said Taylor. “Obviously, it’s slightly more difficult on social media, but certainly in terms of the livestream, that will definitely be moderated. It will be a safe space as much as we can make it, the same as it was the same as any Pride would be.”
The corporatization of Pride versus protest
The first Pride march in 1970 was relatively small and community-based, and meant to commemorate the Stonewall Riots from the previous year. Many of the earliest Prides were more overtly political than the annual rainbow extravaganzas seen now, advocating for the decriminalization of homo- and transsexuality.
But over the years, Pride has become a way for corporations to virtue-signal their support for LGBTQ people. Last year’s WorldPride celebration in New York City featured many official corporate sponsors (T-Mobile, L’Oreal, and Hyatt Hotels), and Pride marches from Portland, Maine, to Seattle, Washington, are filled to the brim with corporate floats and cisgender heterosexual allies marching alongside.
In 2017, the protest group No Justice No Pride disrupted DC’s Capital Pride, an InterPride partner, in part because of the parade’s support for police marching in the parade, but also over its corporate focus.
“When we targeted them, we were targeting a power structure and we were targeting the symbols that build up that power structure within Capital Pride,” said Emmelia Talarico, director of No Justice No Pride. Talarico said that Capital Pride feels the need to cater to corporate interests because organizers get a raw deal on funding from the city, which benefits from the thousands of tourists Pride draws every year.
While specific sponsors haven’t yet been announced for Global Pride, corporate interest is expected to follow the move online. “These things have to be paid for; it’s very difficult to pay for a Pride without corporate income,” said Taylor. “Actually, it’s better that corporates pay for it than the people who attend Pride pay for it. Even if it’s only $10, as soon as you have to pay to attend a Pride, it’s going to exclude people.”
Taylor said that corporate support for Pride gives multinational corporations a chance to show support for their LGBTQ employees, “as long as it sits within an ethical framework.” But therein lies the problem for protesters, who say that many of these companies do not operate ethically. This is how you end up with Lockheed Martin Pride floats at Capital Pride in 2018, supporting white and Western queers while profiting off the bombing of the same Middle Eastern countries Taylor hopes his online Pride will reach this year. Meanwhile, T-Mobile, a presenting sponsor for NYC Pride in 2019 and 2020, has been criticized by LGBTQ union rights group Pride at Work for its anti-union actions.
Moving in-person Pride online could result in a nonstop corporate lovefest and leave less room for the visibility of everyday queer people, advocates worry. In years past, many protests have shut down or delayed Pride marches that had strayed too far from the original mission. In Toronto in 2016, Black Lives Matter protesters halted the march for several hours to object to the presence of police at the parade. But with strict online moderation, advocates wonder: How many queer voices of protest will be shut out this year?
“The people who protest against Pride, I think they missed the point,” said Taylor. “Actually, it’s surely better to get behind Pride and celebrate what Pride offers and the human rights that we campaign for and the equality that we celebrate rather than, you know, picking a fight with a few volunteers just trying to create an inclusive event for our community.”
While many major cities will be joining up with Global Pride, some — like Denver, Colorado — are organizing their own local online Pride celebrations. Others have just postponed their Pride parades, hoping the pandemic lockdowns will lift in time to host a celebration this year.
For Talarico, the move online gives her group an opportunity to organize its own space. “In my mind it’s like, okay, cool, let them have their own digital space and we’ll make ours,” she said about Global Pride. “And then that way, ours can be way more focused on the different communities and people who really need this, and theirs can be focused on being white and mediocre.”
LGBTQ fundraising around Pride may take a hit this year
Many LGBTQ organizations — from major movement funders like the Gil Foundation to local queer health clinics — coordinate their annual fundraising efforts around Pride month to hit their fundraising goals for the year. While exact numbers are difficult to calculate, a large percentage of LGBTQ funding is raised during the month of June, when most Pride marches and celebrations are held. Organizations don’t necessarily fundraise directly at Pride festivals or marches, but often hold in-person fundraisers and funding campaigns throughout the month when visibility of LGBTQ people and concerns are at their strongest.
But the Covid-19 shutdown means those events won’t be happening this year and may look dramatically different next year.
Many organizations have already turned to online fundraising campaigns in the hope of stop-gapping their budget holes. The Trans Justice Funding Project, for example, pools smaller donations to make grants for community projects run by and generally benefiting the trans community. In years past, the grant-making process was facilitated through in-person meetings, typically in New York City, where the organization’s grant-making fellows would decide who gets the grants.
This year, however, the organization has moved to online meetings to have those discussions. “As most people have had to pivot to try to figure out how to do things all virtually, we are also experiencing that,” said Foster. But of bigger concern for Foster is how the economy will affect fundraising, rather than the medium the fundraising occurs through. Over the last three weeks, 22 million people have filed initial claims for unemployment insurance. While larger LGBTQ organizations may have institutional funders, smaller groups like the Trans Justice Funding Project generally do not.
“I just really hope that people will support [trans communities] in any way possible beyond Pride,” said Foster. “Then also for the long term, because this is going to be a long haul for us all. And it has always been a long haul for trans communities trying to make magic out of very little, but this is what they have always done.”
Masjid al-Rabia typically raises a large portion of their annual budget in the months of May and June because they tend to coincide with Ramadan and Pride, according to Lynn. This year, Covid-19 has doubled the fundraising pressure faced by the organization.
Last week, they launched Radical Muslim Mutual Aid, a program that directly funds the basic needs of queer and trans Muslims in the Chicago area who are struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. Within the first 24 hours, the program received enough requests to exhaust its $10,000 seed money.
“We’re trying to get more rapid-response funding from foundations, social justice organizations, and trying to just get the money out,” she said. “What is happening everywhere right now in response to the pandemic that we’re in is there is far more need than there are resources.”
Some larger LGBTQ organizations have seen this need and responded with immediate campaigns. On Sunday night, queer media advocacy group GLAAD hosted an online event called “Together in Pride,” which raised money for local LGBTQ organizations and health care providers. The event featured live performances from Barbra Streisand and Pose’s MJ Rodriguez, among many others, and a short message from former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg.
The online Global Pride event will raise money for InterPride’s Solidarity Fund, which goes toward building Pride events in locations around the world that are actively hostile or dangerous for LGBTQ people.
Meanwhile, groups like Masjid al-Rabia just hope they aren’t forgotten about when the rainbow ads, from the groups that can afford them, pop up in June. “The best way that you can trust that you’re serving your community and a community that doesn’t leave anyone behind — not just that gay world that serves wealthy white gays and lesbians — is to give it to small community organizations,” Lynn said.