Pride is all about celebrating queerness alongside your chosen family and local LGBTQ+ community. Typically, you and your crew would spend months crafting Instagram-worthy fits with festive hairstyles and shimmery makeup on deck. You'd agonize over who'd host the pre-game, how long you'd linger downtown, and what queer tomfoolery you'd get into afterward. Sadly, this year you're probably surrounded by unopened tubes of body glitter and unworn iridescent crop tops, thanks to COVID-19. If you're a newly-out person, and Pride cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic have put a damper on first experience, you're not alone. There's a reason it feels so personal.
Todd Baratz, a licensed psychotherapist and member of the LGBTQ+ community, says that celebrating Pride is important for both personal and political reasons. Queer people who've fought to overcome trauma related to homophobia, transphobia, and LGBTQ+ discrimination use Pride as a way to celebrate triumphing over these social and political obstacles. It provides an opportunity for queer people to express themselves in a freeing and empowering way, Baratz tells Elite Daily, which is "often the antithesis" of their lived experience.
"Pride celebrates resistance to the oppression of heteronormativity and cis-normativity. At its best, it's a safe place to be celebrated as an individual, for an aspect of one's identity that can experience profound oppression and trauma," Courtney Watson, a licensed therapist whose practice focuses on queer and trans people of color, tells Elite Daily. "Someone's first Pride can be a reclamation of yourself from the shadows, and a celebration of being seen as you are."
With this in mind, a newly-out queer person's disappointment as they miss what would have been their first official Pride is understandable. Alex*, 25, wanted to officially come out as non-binary this summer and start using both she/her/hers and he/him/his pronouns. He was set on celebrating in New York City, but because of the pandemic, the NYC LGBTQ Pride March and NYC Pride were both cancelled for the first time in the events' 50-year history. "Because I don’t see people and I'm not going out and about, I’ve decided not to [come out]. It sucks and it’s just like, I guess I'll wait until we have some normalcy," he tells Elite Daily. "I feel so disconnected from queerness and like I’m a teen again."
Jess, 24, who's non-binary and bisexual, tells Elite Daily they wanted to attend NYC Pride in 2019, but ended up staying home. "I was feeling really confused about my gender and had recently moved to New York, and didn’t have any queer friends nearby for the first time since before I was out as bi," they say. "I felt lonely and was experiencing what I didn’t recognize as [gender] dysphoria." But 2020 was going to be different. Jess had made more queer friends and started dating a bisexual man. "Having that community and support system as I discovered my gender made me feel like I could once again experience Pride this time — fully as myself," they say.
Pre-pandemic, Jess and their boyfriend planned to celebrate at both NYC Pride and Washington, D.C.'s Capital Pride. In March, organizers postponed Capital Pride and have yet to announce new dates. "It has been disappointing and frustrating to miss the chance to come out again and embrace myself," Jess says. While they haven't been able to attend any queer-centric Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd, they have attended some smaller, non-queer-centric BLM demonstrations. "Although," they add, "Protesting police brutality and celebrating Pride are essentially the same thing."
Pride month originated in response to police harassment and brutality against the LGBTQ+ community in New York City. A 1969 police raid on queer bar The Stonewall Inn led to six nights of unrest that today are known as the Stonewall Riots. The uprising was led by Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, a Black trans woman and a Latinx trans woman, respectively. Following the riots, more vocal, unapologetic gay rights groups like Gay Liberation Front formed — arguably paving the way for queer activism during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and the decades-long push for marriage equality. New York City had its first official Pride parade on what was known as Christopher Street Liberation Day in June 1970.
Fifty years later, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the queer community may not have its traditional Pride celebrations, but it does have an enduring spirit. Many celebrations have transitioned online. Capital Pride is hosting queer arts and education programming, and NYC Pride is holding a virtual rally on June 28. Likewise, Philly Pride and Portland Pride went virtual, and Boston's #WickedAndProud content is also available online.
Still, it's understandable that logging on for a virtual event can make anyone feel discouraged. Alissandra, 25, a pansexual non-binary person who was planning on celebrating their first Pride in 2020, tells Elite Daily that while some events in their state of New Hampshire have gone digital, they "still feel pretty sad and isolated without an actual gathering."
If you're a queer person feeling like Alissandra, there are still ways you can celebrate, even in the midst of the pandemic. Baratz suggests doing a deep-dive on queer history. "This may actually be more liberating than a parade," he says. "Queer people will be forced to learn about their queer family and the specific political history that exists within any marginalized or oppressed community — especially queer Black folks and Black trans folks." In that vein, you can also donate money to queer black organizations, like Black Transmen or The Marsha P. Johnson Institute.
A socially distant Pride gathering can be another safe way to celebrate. Coordinate a Pride picnic for your friends. Drag those mesh body-con dresses and face jewels out to the park, and start brainstorming the perfect LGBTQ+ Pride Instagram caption now. Showing your Pride on social media and connecting with other queer folks on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok can all be liberating, celebratory options.
Even though this year, there's no Diana Ross, Lady Gaga, or Hayley Kiyoko blasting from an ostentatiously gay float; even though the sweaty, glittery glory of a packed nightclub is temporarily on hold; and even though queer events at your local library, favorite brunch spot, or community recreation center have been tabled, that doesn’t mean you have to shelve Pride 2020. In fact, let this year remind you to cling to your identity and your history tighter than ever. Remember why you celebrate Pride, not just in June, but every single day.
* Name has been changed.
Courtney Watson, LMFT, therapist and founder of Doorway Therapeutics
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