In a normal June in Seattle, there’d be rainbows everywhere — chalked on sidewalks, printed on banners and posters. And at the end of June you’d find them papier-mâchéd on floats and painted on faces at the annual Seattle Pride Parade.
There’d be music and dancing, and the powerful, pervasive scent of SPF 50 sunscreen as the crush of a half-million people being out and proud took over the Capitol Hill neighborhood during the annual Seattle Pride festivities.
For many, the celebration commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion marks summer in Seattle, and after it went virtual last year due to the pandemic, the community was looking forward to an epic, in-person celebration this year.
However, Pride will be held online again this summer.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent announcement that the state will lift COVID-19 restrictions and open up 100% by June 30 (just a few days after Pride weekend on June 26-27) came a little too late for Seattle Pride’s organizers, who based their decision to hold Pride virtually on the state of the pandemic back in March.
That said, Seattle Pride has learned a great deal from last year’s virtual pride and the organizers have a lot of new things in store for attendees.
“It’s not going to be boring,” said Krystal Marx, Seattle Pride executive director. “This is going to be something you have to strap in for.”
Marx described the virtual experience as “a sort of ‘choose your own adventure.’”
From a central virtual lobby, through the online events platform Hopin, attendees can choose to go to different virtual stages to experience speakers, musicians or group activities, like “Bedroom Bing” with local drag personality Cookie Couture or styling tips for newbie drag artists from local drag artist Aleksa Manila.
Political representatives, sponsors and reps from different organizations will be available in video chat rooms like virtual “booths.” There will also be networking opportunities where an attendee can choose to be randomly matched with someone else for a video chat (a digital security team will be on hand to prevent or address any virtual attacks).
After feedback garnered from attendees of 2020’s virtual Pride indicated that community members strongly valued the advocacy events they held, this year’s organizers amped up the advocacy component. That’s part of the reason this year’s theme is “Resilience.”
Usually, the main events of Seattle Pride are the parade and music festival. Although in the past there have been some advocacy events and talks the night before the parade, this year organizers are offering a virtual voter drive and panels on topics like “Reimagine Policing” and “Galvanizing a Global Movement to End ‘Conversion Therapy.’”
Of course, there will be music, too! In fact, this year’s headliner will be Queen of Bounce music, Big Freedia. There will be plenty of special guests, including mxmtoon and Mary Lambert, as well as several Seattle-area artists.
Marx has no illusions that the virtual celebration will be the same as being in person with friends and community.
“In person, you get to just be, and be surrounded by your community. You’re there, people around you are dressed up, the parade itself is a celebration of our community, there’s food nearby and everyone is saying, ‘Happy Pride,’” said Marx. “That feeling is hard to replicate.”
It may not be the same as the in-person experience, but Marx says the virtual celebrations have allowed the Seattle Pride organizers to offer a lot of elements that were missing from past years.
“We didn’t used to have a big advocacy component in any of our events. It was more a celebration and a remembrance of the struggles we’ve all gone through in the community,” she said. “But now we have an opportunity for folks to acknowledge, celebrate and equip themselves with tools for the future. I think that’s the really hopeful spirit that Pride puts forward.”
In that future, Marx says, Seattle Pride might continue offering a virtual component to keep advocacy an important part of the celebration.