LGBTQ Pride at 50: Focus shifts amid pandemic, racial unrest

FILE - In this June 30, 2019, file photo, marchers participate in the Queer Liberation March in New York. This year's Pride events were supposed to be a blowout as LGBTQ people the world over marked the 50th anniversary of the first parade to celebrate what were then the initial small steps in their ability to live openly, and to advocate for bigger victories. Now, Pride is largely taking a backseat, having been driven to the internet by the coronavirus pandemic and now by calls for racial equality that were renewed by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
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LGBTQ Pride is turning 50 this year a little short on its signature fanfare, after the coronavirus pandemic drove it to the internet and after calls for racial equality sparked by the killing of George Floyd further overtook it.

Activists and organizers are using the intersection of holiday and history in the making — including the Supreme Court’s decision giving LGBT people workplace protections — to uplift the people of color already among them and by making Black Lives Matter the centerpiece of Global Pride events Saturday.

“Pride was born of protest,” said Cathy Renna, communications director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, seeing analogies in the pandemic and in common threads of the Black and LGBTQ rights movements.

“Trans women of color have been targeted in what has been called an epidemic, and the Stonewall uprising happened in response to police harassment and brutality,” Renna said in an email.

The first Pride march took place June 28, 1970, a year after the 1969 uprisings at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, which were led by trans women of color.

A few other commemorations took place that year and later spread until 50 years on, there’s scarcely a patch on Earth that doesn’t host some type of Pride event.

New York’s is among the largest, but social distancing measures to check the spread of COVID-19 everywhere from Scranton to Sao Paulo made cancellation or postponement a certainty.

Global Pride is billed as a 24-hour stream of music, performances, speeches and messages of support. It is being hosted Saturday by Todrick Hall on his YouTube channel, on iHeartRadio’s YouTube channel and on the Global Pride website.

It will feature activists and politicians, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and entertainers such as Betty Who, Deborah Cox, Laverne Cox, Jake Shears and Martha Wash.

“Trans folks, particularly the LGBTQ-I folks of color, have gotten discrimination from the larger systems of white supremacy and on racist terms, and then also have experienced transphobia and homophobia within our own communities,” Laverne Cox, the pioneering trans actor who starred in “Orange Is the New Black,” told The Associated Press in an interview this month.

“And so, part of what the Black Trans Lives Matter movement … is acknowledging that communities of color still have a lot of work to do to fully reconcile our history of transphobia, specifically, and homophobia as well,” Cox said.

In Minnesota, where Floyd died last month at the hands of Minneapolis police, it was immediately clear that Pride as usual — one of the nation’s largest — would be inappropriate, said Twin Cities Pride board member Felix Foster.

Instead, the backbone of this year’s Twin Cities Pride will take the form of a solidarity march called Taking Back Pride: Justice4GeorgeFloyd DefendBlackTransFolks, honoring the memory of Floyd and others killed by Minnesota police, including Jamar Clark in 2015.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, the group Queer NEPA is hosting online events and supporting others held by Black activists after rallying in previous years in nearby Wilkes-Barre and raising a rainbow flag at Scranton City Hall.

“Some people would say Pride is canceled, but I would say it has evolved,” said board co-chair Em Maloney. “This year is different because more people have a better consciousness of white privilege and of the problems surrounding racial justice.”

Maloney was heartened to see a big turnout at a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Scranton, describing it as “everyone coming together because of the belief that nobody will be free until everyone is free.”

The Pride website for Philadelphia, a two-hour drive south, notes that events planned earlier in June were canceled — and it shouts BLACK LIVES MATTER! before advising of online alternatives.

Philadelphia in 2017 introduced a new rainbow flag that featured a black and a brown stripe above the usual colors of the spectrum, to highlight people of color. It was instantly polarizing, but critics have largely come around and the design is now common around the world.

“Our flag helped start a global conversation and it’s brought me to tears to see it everywhere during this pivotal time in our country’s history,” Amber Hikes — who worked for the mayor’s office when she revealed the design and who is now the American Civil Liberties Union’s first chief equity and inclusion officer — said in a Facebook post.

“We’re never going to stop letting ourselves, each other, and the whole damn world know that our liberation has always been led by BIPOC queer and trans folks — and when we do get free, when we get free together, it will be with Black and brown queer & trans folks at the front.”