Updated: Jul 1
As the 50th anniversary of Pride comes to an end during historic social unrest and protests, the similarity of the times -- from when it first began to now -- cannot be overlooked. Despite the complications posed by COVID-19, June has been a month full of demonstrations and artistic expression, both for the Pride community and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The history of Pride is rooted in protest, and this year has proven to be a return to those roots. The first Pride was the anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, which began June 28th, 1969. It was a head-on clash between cops and LGBTQ+ patrons, including transgender women of color, at the Stonewall Inn, located in New York City. The event became a catalyst to protests and civil unrest for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans, and helped pave the way for decades to come.
Stonewall was as much about racism as it was a fight for LGBTQ+ rights and against police brutality, so it’s no surprise that the demonstrations this June have been a flash-point for Pride and Black Lives Matter.
With the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, Elijah McClain, -- and countless others -- at the hands of police officers, Americans have had to confront our racist history and the continuous violence police have inflicted upon Black communities for hundreds of years.
In just one of dozens of protests in Portland, thousands gathered on Burnside Bridge on June 2 to participate in the "Burnside Bridge Die-In", where protesters laid on the bridge in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time now-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd's neck, which resulted in Floyd's death. (Photo by Andrew Wallner)
As with all cultural movements, art often goes hand-in-hand with protests. There are the sometimes elaborate or insightful rally signs themselves, but large social gatherings like Pride usually also feature performances by LGBTQ+ artists.
In the absence of live events due to COVID-19, organizations like Pride Northwest have adapted to livestream events.
“We have had to change a lot, both in response to the pandemic and in pivoting to a virtual Pride effort,” said Debra Porta, the executive director of Pride Northwest, Inc. “We are a staff of two and a half, all working at home since around March 23rd. Just the logistics of that really impacted our approach to everything.”
Pride Northwest is a Portland based non-profit known for their Pride parade celebration, which is typically held each year at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
“At the same time, we were already in the height of Pride season, (s0) registration for the parade was already sold out and the festival exhibitor spots were not far behind,” she explained. “So, we had to full-stop, and then go in a whole other direction.”
The events organized by Pride Northwest ranged from live music by LGBTQ+ artists, readings of personal stories and histories, and even a livestreamed performance from legendary drag queen Darcelle XV, who since 2016 holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest drag queen on the planet.
In place of the usual parade, a recording of Pride 1999 was streamed June 14th.
“For the peak of our virtual efforts (June 13-14) the ‘Evening at Darcelle's’ received the most viewership and engagement,” Porta Said. “All of our content received positive feedback, but I think the intense personal connection to many in our community elevated the Darcelle broadcast. The ‘Parade Like It's 1999’ was also very well received.”
However, groups like Pride Northwest say they want to find ways to highlight LGBTQ+ stories while not overshadowing the BLM movement, which has dominated the national landscape. As such, Pride 2020 has focused on Black artists in the LGBTQ+ community and providing spaces for them to speak and be heard.
“Specific to the virtual content, we devoted the majority of our programming to centering and lifting up black queer and trans representation," Porta explained. "Saturday the 13th was exclusively black queer and trans artists and other voices.”
Additionally, she added, “On Sunday, we ‘disrupted’ the virtual parade broadcast to stop and honor the names of dozens of black folks killed by police in the last 20 or so years. It was pretty intense.”
Every corner of Oregon, from rural communities to metropolitan centers, has seen protests and demonstrations related to Black Lives Matter. At many of them, speakers and demonstrators have shown solidarity with Pride 2020 as well, linking the two causes together during this cultural flashpoint.
The protests in Portland alone have drawn tens of thousands and have continued for 30 days. During demonstrations, protesters there have chanted the names of Black transgender men and women who have been murdered, including Tony McDade, a 38 year old Black transgender man killed by Tallahassee police on May 27th of this year.
Protesters and activists have also called for the case of 31 year old Titi (sometimes spelled Tete) Gulley, a Black transgender woman who's death was deemed a suicide back in 2019 by the Portland Police Bureau, to be reopened. (Some sources indicate PPB has reopened the case.)
Signs and chants of "Black Lives Matter" and "Black Trans Lives Matter" have been at every night of protests.
Large murals and graffiti downtown, featuring "BLM" and portraits of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, can be seen on massive boards covering the Apple Store in Pioneer Place.
At a Salem March For Tomorrow event at the State Capitol on June 27, local musician Emmett Wheatfall made a point during his set atop the steps to say that the fight is for equality for all minorities.
“We’re out here fighting for change, systemic change,” he said. “For equality for all people: for all the LGBT folks and all the people of color and all the women out there.”
Pride Northwest is still working to find the best way to navigate how these times will impact Pride moving forward. Social distancing requirements, even conversations about police reform, may likely carry over into next year, too.
“That is an evolving conversation,” Porta said. “We have been engaged in these issues for some time and see the current environment as an opportunity to be part of moving our community forward, in a way that many may not have been ready for, previous to this.”
Porta explained that the Pride movement is more than events, and the work that needs done can’t end when the celebrations stop.
She continued, “That said, contrary to what the focal point often tends to be in the telling of our history, Pride ... has always been a celebration and claiming of our rightful place in the public sphere.”
Images by Curbside Press from the March For Tomorrow this weekend:
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