Update: On May 27, Diné Pride canceled their in-person Pride festival. However, like many other organizations, they will be holding virtual events online between June 22 and 26.Every year, revelers around the world take to the streets in June to promote and celebrate the dignity, equality, and visibility of the LGBTQ+ community. Last year, 2.5 million gathered at New York City’s World Pride for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the rebellion against anti-queer policing that Pride commemorates. A record number of people — 150,000 — marched down 5th Avenue.
There will be neither street-based revelry nor a parade in NYC this year, though. That city, like many across the globe, has canceled its in-person pride amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But few, if any, LGBTQ organizations are letting the virus keep them from celebrating and connecting with the communities they represent.
The Four Corners Alliance for Diversity, which hosts the Durango Pride Festival, has canceled the event for this year, but that doesn’t mean the local LGBTQ community isn’t busy. While there won’t be any physical events, Durango will be able to party it up in cyberspace.
Jake Riggs, who recently retired from the board of the Aliiance, says the group plans to host a digital Pride dance on Friday, June 26. Details are still being worked out, but it will feature a local DJ live-streaming over either Zoom or Facebook Live.
This will be followed by a digital drag show hosted by Durango drag royalty Scarlett Ultra on Saturday, June 27. The current plan is for the cast to perform the show at a single venue that will hold just them, while the show is broadcast live via YouTube, Scarlett said. An early setlist lineup includes local comedians Mary Quinn, Kate McLachlan, and Allie Wolfe, and drag queens Aria PettyOne, Auspicious Behavior, Charlize Darrwyn, and Toffee Fae.
Outside of the shows, the Alliance is looking into things they can do to increase visibility in the community while social distancing, including Facebook photo banners and yard signs, Riggs said. The group is also looking into doing Movie Mondays in June using Netflix Party to stream LGBTQ movies.
It’s important to continue having Pride events in places like Durango because people are so isolated, even if they’re just digital, he said.
“I think if you look at any statistics, you’ll find isolation is a major contributor to depression and even suicide in the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “So we really try to push the fact that Durango and the whole Four Corners is a loving area. An area where people can come and move here and they’ll feel welcome and they’ll feel like they have a place here.”
Behind the scenes, the Alliance is working on creating a guidebook for its internal operations so that as new generations of people take over they know how to book venues and find talent and the like. And with good reason: the group is actively looking for more volunteers and board members. More information can be found at 4calliancefordiversity.org.
Elsewhere in La Plata County, the Ignacio-based Southwest Rainbow Youth group has put out an offer of assistance to the LGBTQ and two-spirited youth and families of Southwest Colorado.
With the help of a Google form on the group’s website, swry.org, it has provided food and cleaning supplies and limited utility assistance to about 10 families in Ignacio and Towaoc. SWRY typically offers this kind of assistance during holidays when young adults in the community may be away from home or secluded, said founder Precious Collins. It seemed appropriate to roll that over for the coronavirus pandemic as well.
Like the Alliance, Southwest Rainbow Youth has used the internet to connect with its community — often through short videos checking in on people and letting them know they’re not alone, and other videos related to May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, said Precious’ partner and fellow SWRY founder Trennie Collins. The group is currently figuring out the specifics of what it will do for Pride Month.
In the meantime, both belong to the Ignacio COVID Mutual Aid Group, part of the grassroots Four Corners Mutual Aid Network, where they bring a spirit of inclusivity and visibility to the work they’re doing. They’ve put up a sign at the site where they distribute food and supplies on Saturdays, welcoming people regardless of race, color, gender, or sexual orientation.
“I think it’s important that people see that,” Precious said. “And it’s even better that people see me and my partner out there, because hopefully we can start changing people’s perceptions about what lesbians look like. ... I’m hoping we’ll break down some of those barriers out here.”
LGBTQ and two-spirited individuals are stigmatized in the rural and deeply Catholic areas of Southwest Colorado, she said, and as a result, they are often harassed and can go overlooked when resources and assistance are being distributed. By participating in both SWRY and coronavirus relief efforts, people like Trennie and Precious Collins can look out for those groups and serve as role models for the community.
Denver Metro areaDenver is still planning on holding almost all of the events that make up its two-day PrideFest on June 20 and 21, albeit in an online format. In one way or another, Virtual PrideFest will include a parade, a 5K, dance parties, a drag show and other entertainers, exhibitors, and a job fair.
“I think probably the biggest part of it is we’re going to try to do an online virtual Pride Parade,” said Rex Fuller, CEO of The Center on Colfax, the organization that puts on Denver’s festival. “Instead of people submitting parade entries like a marching unit or a float or something like that, we’re asking people to submit short videos. They will put together a short 30- to 60-second video, and then our regular parade host will be live and introducing the videos lined up kind of like a parade that people can watch online.”
The organizers are also setting up an online marketplace where people can shop for the goods they would usually find at booths at the festival. Similarly, the Center is working with DJs to translate the four stages that would have been at the in-person Pride into online dance parties people can tune into.
(In case you’re wondering how the 5K works, participants run a 5K individually near their homes and then submit their times — and they get a commemorative t-shirt for participating.)
Delaying the Pride festivities until later in the year isn’t an option for The Center. Denver’s festival is the largest in the Rocky Mountains, drawing nearly a half-million people over the weekend. As such, there is no chance they’d be able to compete with other large-scale events and reschedule later in the year, even if the coronavirus abated and it became safe to do so, Fuller said.
Moving online has allowed the organizers to add new elements they haven’t had in previous years. For instance, they will be streaming a couple of videos on LGBTQ history, as well as presenting LGBTQ authors talking about their work and the like. In response to the surge in unemployment caused by COVID-19, they’re also creating an online job board.
“We hope to kind of have a life after PrideFest where we can be a resource for LGBTQ-friendly employers. I think that there’s so much need in the community with people being out of work ... that we are trying to help provide a way for people to connect with employers, and LGBT-welcoming employers specifically,” Fuller said.
One of the silver linings of the current crisis, he said, is that The Center has been forced to move many of its in-person programs online, including ones for older adults, youths, and trans individuals. Whereas these programs would have been inaccessible to people living outside of the Denver Metro area before, these resources are now available to people anywhere, including the Four Corners. Details about The Center’s programs and Denver’s Virtual PrideFest can be found at lgbtqcolorado.org and denverpride.org.
The Navajo NationAs of mid-May, the Navajo Nation has more COVID-19 cases per capita than almost any other place in the United States. As such, the Diné Pride Board of Directors plans to meet on May 27 to decide whether it will postpone or cancel the Navajo Nation’s official pride festival. It was originally planned for June 26 through 28 in Window Rock, Arizona.
Alray Nelson, the executive director of the organization, said he thinks the board will lean toward postponing the event until the fall, as the organization has raised a lot of money and done a lot of planning for the event over the last eight months.
Each year, Diné’s Pride chooses a new theme and focuses on a different group within the LGBTQ community. Last year, the theme was “Sacredness before Stonewall,” acknowledging the long history of two-spirit and LGBTQ rights among Native Americans before it became a national issue. The 2019 Diné Pride highlighted trans individuals as its featured group.
This year’s theme, “Sovereign Sacredness,” was chosen to talk about the issue of suicides among Navajo youths. The empowerment of LGBTQ and two-spirit young people is the focus of the event. One day of the festival involves a symposium, an expo fair, and a film showing, and for 2020, the organization planned the first-ever youth summit for native young people who identify as LGBTQ.
“Young people across Indian Country, across Native America, were really excited about Diné Pride this year because they knew that everything from the festival to the guest speakers to our scholarship fund to even the drag show — everything that we were doing was going to focus on young people,” Nelson said. “I don’t want us to let down this generation of young people right now, especially those that are graduating from high school or moving on. We want to make sure that we do something that celebrates that particular part of our community and really uplifts them, so I can see an actual event happening this year.”
Diné Pride, which was founded in 2017, is working closely with the Navajo Nation on the guidelines around hosting what was planned to be the largest indigenous pride festival in the country, Nelson said. If the group does hold the Pride festival this year, it will likely occur in September or October.
Nelson also emphasized that if and when Diné Pride Does occur, everyone is welcome.
“The common questions from people that are not Navajo or Diné are ‘Are they welcome onto our nation?’ and ‘Are they welcome to our events?’ and that is a definite yes. And we’re really happy that Durango Pride was one of our partners and sponsors last year — it’s pretty awesome to feel like regional Pride events really share in the spirit of teamwork with our events.”
More information about Diné Pride can be found at navajonationpride.com.