While the meaning of Pride is always influx, the past year has transformed the LGBTQ+ demonstration in ways that would have been unimaginable to those Stonewall Inn demonstrators over 50 years ago. In 2020, celebrations around the world were either canceled or shifted to virtual events to fight COVID-19, with drag performers and LGBTQ+ artists showcasing skills virtually via Zoom.
As plans altered online, cultural events also intervened. Last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests intersected with June, galvanizing thousands of LGBTQ+ folks from Los Angeles to New York City to leave quarantine and take to the streets in solidarity against police brutality. Support for Black transgender lives became an even louder rallying cry, as violence against that community escalated even higher in a pandemic year. And not every Pride happening was positive. Party promoters in Atlanta, for example, took advantage of the growing frustration with lockdown to plan unofficial parties in unsafe underground settings.
To say the least, it has been a “challenging” year for LGBTQ+ gatherings, says Jeff Consoletti, the founder and principal of JJ|LA, a prominent event company behind L.A. Pride. Amid this upheaval, JJ|LA engaged in its own seismic shifts for survival. The business invested in its ability to create online content and production as gatherings that were once anchored in a ballroom transitioned to digital spaces.
The results of its efforts demonstrate how there can be diversity, innovation, and fun in digital spaces. At Equality California’s Golden State Equality Awards last fall, for example, JJ|LA created “cinematic, documentary-style” videos chronicling how the organization’s grassroots work changed in a pandemic. Hosted by Pose’s Angelica Ross and featuring honorees Pete and Chasten Buttigieg and Norman Lear, it also expanded the organization’s message and reach. Held statewide for the first time, the fundraiser promoted the election of progressive candidates while raising over $1.7 million.
Another JJ|LA event, Point Honors Los Angeles, was designed like a “video game.” Guests could virtually tour “Point Foundation University” and learn about the foundation’s mission of helping LGBTQ+ scholars. Angelenos even had at-home meal delivery, a tasteful combination of in-person and virtual experiences.
While the tools have changed, the aim is the same. “An event is really a story,” Consoletti shares.
As vaccinations ramp up and restrictions ease as June nears, real-life gatherings will return in some form. But events will forevermore be different, predicts Consoletti. New pandemic rituals like menu QR codes may become the norm. And Pride, in a new hybrid form, will march on, as it must. “I think that there is a huge need for Pride to come back in some capacity,” he says.
In 2021, many smaller Pride celebrations will undoubtedly be canceled. It’s an ideal time to donate to beloved Pride organizations to sustain them during this arduous time. But larger Pride events, like those in New York and Los Angeles, are persevering with plans that change alongside city guidelines. There will still be virtual celebrations. But this year, it’s possible for several vaccinated friends to gather and experience them together. Notably, Adam Lambert (our cover star) will “curate” Pride’s Stonewall Day, selecting musical performances and special appearances for the streaming June 6 fundraiser.
Some Prides will have an official in-person element, Consoletti predicts. However, don’t expect a return to packed parades. Participants must have “a little more patience” and expect a different, spaced-out experience, like drive-in drag shows and screenings, to avoid a “super-spreader event.” Proof of vaccinations may even be a requirement for some events. But respect for the health of others (and one’s self) is still paramount. Mask up, follow local guidelines, and practice gratitude for the resilience of Pride, in whatever form it takes.
This past year has “allowed us to reflect and learn in different ways,” Consoletti says. “I kind of appreciate [Pride] again.”