With the coronavirus pandemic upending large gatherings over the last few months, Pride month was already going to look different this year.

Since the 1970s, Seattle’s LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations — LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning, with the + denoting everything along the gender and sexuality spectrum — have drawn thousands of people to parades, festivals, gatherings and marches, but it became clear this spring that COVID-19 would not allow for mass gatherings in 2020 (outside virtual meetups). Then came the police killing of George Floyd, and a resurgence of outraged civil unrest about the killing of Black people at the hands of the police.

While coronavirus is forcing Pride into uncharted territory, the Black Lives Matter movement in America seems to be bringing Pride back to its roots.

Pride 2020

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The first Pride event, after all, was not a celebration, it was an anti-police riot. The Stonewall riots, credited as the beginning of the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, started June 28, 1969, and it is their anniversary that led to modern Pride celebrations.

In light of this legacy, Seattle LGBTQ+ organizations and individuals are celebrating and reflecting on what Pride means to them, and how the community can come together now — distantly but meaningfully.

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What Pride 2020 means to Seattleites

With the swell of protests against police brutality targeted at Black people, Seattleites are taking stock of how Pride has left too many behind. What does it really mean to celebrate a movement that was born from trans women like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera when far too few white, cisgender LGBTQ+ people fight for those same trans women of color?

For some, happiness itself is a form of Pride protest.

“My joy is internally and energetically constant. It cannot be trampled on, reduced, shot at, lynched or betrayed,” says local artist and activist Anastacia-Renée. “Celebrating Pride without acknowledging the blood on rainbow flags feels wrong. I want to live in a country where I can safely wrap the rainbow flag around my Blackness in the streets, and know that my wife, children and communities will be able to breathe.”

While white cisgender gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have made civil rights progress and gained a more acceptable standing in American society, queer and trans people continue to be left behind.

As trans women of color, and especially Black trans women, continue to be murdered at disproportional rates, the connection to bigoted policies and racist cultural frameworks is clear. As people celebrate Pride, leaders say it is vital to remember that the LGBTQ+ community is not as white and sanitized for the dominant culture as Pride’s corporate face would like it to be.

That context frames this year’s Pride in a sharp, bright light.

“As a leader who is also Black and queer, I celebrate Pride every day by centering trans and queer Black people in my organizing for health justice,” says Jaimée Marsh, a Seattle multihyphenate activist, a former Q Center associate director at the University of Washington and now the executive director at FEEST Seattle. “Pride is also about reclaiming joy,” she says, which she does by creating Black Lives Matter chalk murals around Seattle with her “soul partner,” Priya.

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“We pick a new neighborhood each week to make art, dance and converse with our neighbors,” she says. “We make the neighborhood beautiful and keep joy alive!”

Seattle artist, activist and  educator Jaimée Marsh has been making chalk  murals around Seattle during Pride this month — like this one outside South Park’s Resistencia Coffee — in a celebration of Black queer and transgender life. (Courtesy of Jaimée Marsh)
Seattle artist, activist and educator Jaimée Marsh has been making chalk murals around Seattle during Pride this month — like this one outside South Park’s Resistencia Coffee — in a celebration of Black queer and transgender life. (Courtesy of Jaimée Marsh)

Fred Swanson, executive director of Gay City, which provides a wide array of year-round services to the local LGBTQ+ community, said Stonewall was a turning point for queer and trans people.

“It’s hard not to draw parallels to the Stonewall uprising” as protesters take to the streets demanding accountability for police and an end to systemic racial oppression, he said. “The magnitude and power of the protests this month are already forcing changes to the way cities across this country are funding community alternatives to policing, and how we support Black communities. We may be finally seeing another overdue turning point for our city and country.”

As Seattle celebrates Pride 2020, the LGBTQ+ community here is reflecting on what it means to hold joy and anger at the same time, on how Pride started and how it will move forward from here.

Organizing against institutional violence is one of the most important ways in which marginalized communities take care of each other, and this year’s Pride is a potent reminder of that.

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“I couldn’t be more proud to be living in this moment, when the organizing we’re seeing will ultimately impact the next 20-50 years of collective liberation,” says activist Ray Corona of Somos Seattle, the organization behind Seattle Latinx Pride. “Organizing can be difficult, but right now people are focused and dedicated to seeing the interconnected problems of police brutality, criminalization of immigrants and incarceration … we want to make progress in collectively coming up with solutions.”

“The origins of Pride are rooted in a collective lived experience,” Corona continues, “but with a dose of reality. The reality is, we need to support each other as we move toward collective liberation.”

How are Pride events being celebrated?

Seattle’s Pride celebrations have expanded over time to include a vast array of events, and they don’t only take place in June — a nice reminder to keep the fight going outside Pride.

And, of course, the theme this year: virtual celebrations.

The official Seattle Pride parade, PrideFest Capitol Hill, Trans Pride Seattle, Seattle Black Gay Pride, and the Run/Walk With Pride are all going virtual this month, with a slew of events spread across this weekend. Seattle Latinx Pride (July 11) and Pacific Northwest Black Pride (Aug. 20-23) are working on programming with the potential for in-person gatherings, but indicators don’t necessarily support optimism. A virtual Bi Pride happened in April.

The diversity of events is part of what makes Pride, and the LGBTQ+ community, so vibrant here in Seattle and around the world — even when they gather physically.

“In the movie ‘But I’m a Cheerleader,’ the main character is coming to terms with her sexuality and asks where lesbians live and what they eat,” said Nellie Waddell, vice president of Seattle Frontrunners and race director for Run/Walk with Pride. “The reply is, ‘There’s not just one way to be a lesbian.’ Pride is an annual reminder of the beautiful spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community and that there’s not just one way to be gay.”

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Nellie Waddell, vice president of Seattle Frontrunners and organizer of the annual Run/Walk With Pride in Seattle, stands with shirts from previous Pride runs in front of her Seattle home, June 12, 2020. Waddell, the walk and Pride itself are all adapting to COVID-19, social distancing and civil unrest in the United States. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Nellie Waddell, vice president of Seattle Frontrunners and organizer of the annual Run/Walk With Pride in Seattle, stands with shirts from previous Pride runs in front of her Seattle home, June 12, 2020. Waddell, the walk and Pride itself are all adapting to COVID-19, social distancing and civil unrest in the United States. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

On a pragmatic, race-running level, Pride this year is about social distancing.

Run/Walk With Pride, organized by the Seattle chapter of Frontrunners every year since 1984, is going virtual this year. Runners or walkers can complete any 5-kilometer or 10-kilometer distance between June 26 and 29 to become a finisher. All of this year’s proceeds from the $35 registration fee go to Peer Seattle, a peer-to-peer emotional, employment and housing support organization.

Waddell said they just kept rolling with the punches (and got some help). “Brooks Running is providing us shirts for participants and Broadcast Coffee is donating enough to cover the mailing of shirts. We were also able to retain our longtime sponsor HomeStreet Bank. With those sponsorships, we should be able to donate 100% of our event registration fees to Peer Seattle.”

No matter where and how the celebrations occur, solidarity is one central goal.

“Pride celebrations are an opportunity for bisexual people to come together and see and be seen by each other and the queer community as a whole,” says Jayne Shea, organizer of Bi Pride. Sad about the loss of in-person events, Shea said, “I decided to host Virtual Bi Pride as a way to provide a bit of that experience online. From the participation throughout the day, I’m happy to say that we were able to do that.”

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And the community spirit that is bringing Pride events into new formats is also making them more accessible to many people, too. Seattle Pride is collaborating with PrideFest and Gender Justice League (the organization behind Trans Pride Seattle) to create a similar virtual event on the weekend of June 26-28. The programming will involve speakers, drag performances, films, workshops and even tabling and vendors, like one would see at in-person events.

Elayne Wylie, co-executive director of Gender Justice League, said the organization is using EventHub as a virtual meeting space, and content will be streamed through a software called Whova. Registration for the official Seattle Pride virtual weekend can be found at togetherforpride.org.

“The software we’re using allows us to have an entire parallel track of workshops and films that people can engage in,” Wylie said. Three Dollar Bill Cinema is supplying a selection of films, Wylie said, and there will be local films put on by Blanket Fort Films. With the workshops, performances and speakers, Wylie said “it’s going to be an action-packed, content-rich environment.” And it’s completely free.

A Pride that is entirely accessible, for free, with no more than an internet connection is a novelty, a silver lining. But the current climate of civil rights unrest in the United States, and the way the Seattle LGBTQ+ community has responded to these current crises, pays proper homage to Pride’s radical origins, the legacy of the LGBTQ+ community, and especially the trans women of color who started the movement at Stonewall in 1969.

Truly, a disrupted Pride 2020 might be more meaningful than ever.