What will D.C.’s Pride celebration look like this month?
This is the million dollar question as the festivities, both official and not, have all been forced to adapt, hit pause or cancel altogether. This June offers no large gatherings in the form of parades and music festivals. There won’t be hours-long dance parties or panels with live audiences in any auditoriums. The in-person aspect of Pride is at the mercy of the pandemic, as people stay home to protect one another.
However, D.C. residents on both the creative and planning side don’t intend to pause the spirit of the celebration. The LGBTQ community still has ample opportunities to embrace June as Pride Month with a score of virtual offerings, whether they’re intended to entertain, advocate or educate.
“I advise people not to let this diminish your Pride,” says Anderson Wells, better known as The Vagenesis. “Don’t go out and celebrate and do the most, but allow this to be a time where you’re more connected to your community. Educate yourself, connect to people. Whatever it is, try to be who you are and do what you do.”
Wells, who has still been performing as The Vagenesis from the comfort of his home since the pandemic hit in March, has already been stretching his artistry. Though the differences are obvious – no live audience and thus, no crowd interaction – the drag queen says it’s been an exciting challenge to adapt and push boundaries within the limited space of an apartment.
“What’s great about it is the ability to get more creative,” Wells says. “I’m doing songs and looks and performances I couldn’t have done outside of this situation. You see that from a lot of the performers these days. They’re taking risks and trying new stuff. I’m excited to see how that develops and people push their boundaries.”
Wells isn’t alone. In the wake of cancellations, Aaron Riggins sought to help LGBTQ performers and artists via the Queer Artist Collective. Riggins, also a curator and programmer for D.C. bar TRADE, says the collective was meant to help ease the effects of closures and cancellations.
“It was an instant need to help and take care of them, and [to] immediately start brainstorming ways to raise funds for creative people who are part of our family,” Riggins says of the collective. “We did live and prerecorded shows, and assembled episodes from these artists. Each of those efforts were a vehicle to funnel gifts from our audience directly to these performers.”
Both Riggins and Wells speak of an overwhelming sense of community among performers as a diamond in the rough, forged through the pandemic. And because both have been a part of larger events and curated performances, they are hopeful that Pride’s celebration will still be engaging and thought-provoking, despite the absence of physical gatherings.
“I think previously, Pride was a reason to celebrate and express yourself,” Riggins says. “The sense I get is that the community understands the need to postpone the physical celebrations of Pride. We value the safety of each other and we’re taking care of each other. I think you’ll see some very creative efforts to capture that dynamic in safer, digital ways.”
Even before the calendar flipped to June, Makers Lab had already held its own virtual party in space to celebrate the Black LGBTQ community with Black in Space from May 21-25. Makers Lab is a creative collective that supports LGBTQ communities by creating zero-proof experiences that celebrate life, art and LGBTQ culture.
The festivities in “space” included performances by DJs and musicians, workout classes, a movie night, and more.
“Oh man, I’m ready to go back to space right now,” Makers Lab Program Director Patience Rowe says, in light of recent protests caused by police brutality throughout the nation. “[With] June Pride in D.C., a lot of monetization happens and there’s a lot of space for white folks, [but] we definitely acknowledge and appreciate what June Pride means.”
Rowe says Makers Lab is taking a much-needed break after moving their entire lineup to virtual, but hopes to have programming this fall. As for Pride forcing people to be innovative in their approaches to celebrations throughout June, she hopes to see more diversity than in years prior.
“I hope that’s the plan, to make more Black LGBTQ folks visible and uplift us and the work we want to do,” Rowe says. “The virtual shift brings a whole lot of opportunity, and they have to see that and be on board. It feels like a very revolutionary time to work and create space for Black and queer folks.”
All three will make virtual appearances throughout the month: Wells will perform several times across basically all social platforms, Rowe is slated to participate in a Sofar Sounds panel on LGBTQ musicians, and Riggins will produce events at both TRADE and through the Queer Arts Collective.
Open for Business?
While Capital Pride and other organizers curate virtual events, the physical spaces that played host are encountering challenges in their respective industries as well. With restaurants, bars and music venues either completely closed or severely hampered by occupancy restrictions, locations that previously provided space for celebration are also being forced to alter expectations.
The Dirty Goose Co-owner Justin Parker says the weekend of the Pride parade and festival was often his storefront’s biggest of the year. And though the bar is open during D.C.’s phase 1 of its reopening plan, he knows this year’s Pride will be radically different than in the past.
“What we’re trying to do now is figure out a way to celebrate within the guidelines of the city,” Parker says. “We’re planning to open the storefront to get cocktails to-go, but we also want to see the familiar faces of the community.”
Parker notes that the bar recently expanded its rooftop and hopes to have patrons, with safety and precaution, in to enjoy parts of the month there. Despite the limitations on gatherings and in-person programming, he believes the celebration is uniquely important for the LGBTQ community for reasons beyond partying.
“I think it’s paramount,” Parker says. “The biggest message is that nothing can kill Pride. You might be celebrating it differently because our priority is safety. It’s important for us to have events, and for people in the community to see its members. You’re supporting them and they’re supporting you.”
One way The Dirty Goose will celebrate is by having resident DJ Farrah Flosscett perform two bookend sets on June 7 and 13 onsite. Flosscett has been a mainstay performer during Pride for the past few years and will once again take part in the celebration, even though her contribution will look different this year.
“From a DJ perspective, it’s obviously a dream come true,” Flosscett says, reminiscing on years prior. “Pride is literally the most fun [you can have] with your set. I couldn’t even put into words how amazing it was.”
Flosscett has been keeping busy with live streams on Instagram and Twitch, but is excited for the opportunity to perform at The Dirty Goose again. As for those larger events, she’s still holding out hope for future dates in the fall.
As a mainstay in the community, Parker hopes people use this year’s version of Pride as a chance to shine a light and focus on important conversations. While the celebration itself will always be part of Pride, the month as a whole represents a chance to reflect on ways society can improve and grow.
“There have been conversations in the community about how [Pride] became much more of a celebration, and that cuts both ways,” Parker says. “It means you’ve gotten further, and instead of protesting, you’re celebrating. But on the other side of that, there are still parts of the community – the trans community and the Black LBGTQ community – that aren’t as represented. I think by having more of a raw celebration, you’ll be able to bring parts of the community that have been left behind to the forefront.”
Capital Pride Reconfigures
In March, the Capital Pride Alliance, responsible for the aforementioned tentpole events such as the Capital Pride Parade and Festival, canceled all the larger get-togethers that normally come with June (last year’s parade and festival attracted more than 400,000 people). Executive director Ryan Bos says the changes were made swiftly as the pandemic worsened.
“Fairly quickly, we realized that even if things calm down, we would not be able to gather in the same way,” Bos says. “So, we immediately began to take this opportunity to rethink what we do, and that involved creating a variety of virtual and action-oriented programs for June. We’re also relooking at Pride 365, and have begun planning for September.”
Bos says the goal is to be creative and innovate with programming. So far, that includes virtual Pride Talks on June 8, the Sunset Dance Party on June 14 and Capital Pride in the City on June 28. Capital Pride is also launching its first iteration of the Capital Pridemobile Rainbow Blast on June 13, which involves a mobile party vehicle to be driven to all eight wards of D.C., featuring performances by local drag queens and kings, DJs, and an interactive livestream.
“This is a way for us to take Pride to all eight wards of the city,” Bos says. “We will be documenting our city and how we have painted the town in Pride. And on June 13, we’ll be taking Pride to our community.”
The objective of the organization and its partners is to learn how to push forward, Bos says.
“With all the upheaval and violence in our community, it’s really shedding a light on some systemic problems that have been around for a while,” Bos says. “[With] things like the Pridemobile, the reflection there was, ‘How do we bring Pride and experience Pride in all areas of our community?’”
One organization featured heavily on the Capital Pride events calendar is Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, also known as SMYAL, a D.C. organization that supports local LGBTQ youth. SMYAL Director of Youth Housing and Clinical Services Jorge Membreño says the festivities are normally a huge cause of joy in their community.
“We march in the parade every year, and the youth members build the float,” Membreño says. “It’s been an interesting restructuring, just thinking about how to capture that same spirit and excitement we had before.”
Membreño says SMYAL has gone into planning mode in regards to cultivating an intimate but safe experience for the teens they serve. When youth enter the program, they find a sense of belonging, and it’s important to reinforce that while also celebrating who they are as individuals.
“We don’t want to paint the picture of: ‘Everything sucks right now,’” Membreño says. “Right now, let’s celebrate who you are, as people and youth and as a part of the LGBTQ community.”
Capital Pride didn’t plan on adjusting for the pandemic when they announced the slogan for this year’s festival, but couldn’t have landed on one more apt than #StillWe. According to the website, #StillWe acknowledges the struggles and celebrations that exist simultaneously within the LGBTQ community, stating “#StillWe must come together to support, love, honor, resist, vote, protest, and #StillWe must stand up to strive for peace and equality.”
“All of us feel a responsibility to figure this out and not go silent, and to be flexible and malleable,” Bos says. “We have to prepare to navigate this in the best way possible. Traditionally, June has been a month where people have a sense of safety or excitement, and we can’t let that go. Especially in this time, people need an opportunity to be inspired and gain some hope.”
For more information on the individuals and organizations mentioned in this story, visit these websites.
Capital Pride Alliance: www.capitalpride.org
DJ Farrah Flosscett: www.farrahflosscett.com
The Dirty Goose: www.thedirtygoosedc.com
Makers Lab: www.makerslabdc.co
Queer Artist Collective: www.aaronriggins.wixsite.com/donateqac
The Vagenesis: @the_vagenesis on Instagram
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