It wasn’t long into the COVID-19 pandemic that cities and countries around the world began cancelling their pride celebrations. This past Sunday, June 28, was the 50th Anniversary of the very first pride parade, Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day. But instead of a parade down 5th Avenue in New York City, instead of celebrations in Philadelphia, London, Berlin, Singapore, and hundreds of places worldwide, just like almost everything else in life right now, Pride went virtual.
On June 27 and 28, Global Pride, a partnership between pride organizations around the world, streamed 26 straight hours of performances, speeches, montages of past pride parades, and photo collages. The event was live on Youtube and on the Global Pride website, and it raised money for the Global Pride Relief Fund, which supports Pride organizations. Each hour was dedicated to a specific global region. The morning hours were dedicated to pride messages from Asia and the Middle East, then Europe, Africa, and the U.S. in the afternoon
Just before 6 p.m. EST, the board of New Hope Celebrates stood together holding a rainbow flag while board president Matthew Hanson read a message encouraging people to celebrate pride within themselves. The message also expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. “We’re stronger and better when we lift each other up,” Hanson said.
A few minutes later, performer Rainere Martin, representing Philly Pride, gave an at-home rendition of Donna Summer’s hit “She Works Hard For The Money.”
Other pride organizations from around the U.S. sent in videos from big cities and small towns, from New York City to Northwest Arkansas. Many showed community members speaking about what pride meant to them and the need to remain inclusive and engaged.
Former Vice President Joe Biden recorded a message that was replayed several times throughout the day. Biden spoke about the renewed hope at the recent advances in civil rights for LGBTQ people, but also the need for people to continue to campaign for equality.
“We have a responsibility,” Biden said, “to create a world where who you are or who you love is celebrated, not denigrated, embraced, not delegitimized…I assure you, America will once again become the beacon of hope for LGBTQ people here at home and throughout the world.”
Along with Biden, world and local leaders including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Erna Solberg of Norway, and the mayors of Prague, Tel Aviv and other cities, gave messages of hope, equality, and the need to stay vigilant during the COVID-19 pandemic and times of cultural change. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spoke about how the violence directed at members of the American LGBTQ community disproportionately affects Black and brown people.
“Since 2013,” Whitmer said, “at least 172 transgender and gender nonconforming people have been killed in the U.S., and 73 percent were Black…we’re being reminded that while we have made progress, we still have so much work to do.”
Many of the international speakers mentioned the fact that the Stonewall Riots and subsequent gay pride marches in the ‘70s created a movement that spread around much of the world.
However, some speakers alluded to the lack of LGBTQ rights and active persecution of queer people in some countries. Many people in the videos from countries in the Middle East did not show their faces, but spoke about their experiences nonetheless. A montage of people from Iran showed darkened rooms, street scenes, and non-face close ups. “Either you accept us or not, we are living with you,” said one man as he and another man joined hands.
One man, speaking from Syria, filmed himself from the chin down.
“We participate in Global Pride 2020,” he said, “because our voice is loud too, because we are builders, and we take this as a step in the way to ensure more visibility for Syrian queers. We will always be proud of who we are, and of the way that god made us, regardless of what anyone’s prejudice might say.”
Nemat Sadat, author of “The Carpet Weaver,” the first LGBTQ novel to come out of Afghanistan, spoke directly to people of countries who criminalize homosexuality.
“For those of you who are still in places where it’s still unsafe to come out, in Chechnya, in Brunei, in much of the Middle East, in much of Africa, I want to let you know that you’re not alone. There are people who wish for you to be free.”
On Youtube, alongside the video of the celebration, was an active comments section where viewers could share their thoughts. Most were positive messages of unity and love, cheers to stay hopeful, and remembrances of people who have been killed, including Tete Gulley, Dominique Rem’mie Fells, and the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Some people mentioned that Global Pride was the first pride celebration they’d been able to attend. Some mentioned that they’d come out to their parents that very day. Some called out the homophobic and transphobic policies of U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, as well as the populist governments on the rise in countries like Germany. Most people simply posted the rainbow flag emoji.
Occasionally, homophobic religious messages popped up, but were quickly reported and removed by moderators.
Along with the videos from pride organizations, politicians, and individuals, many celebrities submitted musical performances, including Elton John, Adam Lambert, Kesha, Pussy Riot, and the Village People. Todrick Hall’s video “Mask, Gloves, Soap, Scrubs,” featuring many contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race, was an entertaining musical number about the importance of keeping safe during COVID-19.
As the evening wound down in the U.S., the bigger name celebrities took over the brunt of the video playlist, mimicking how in-person pride celebrations often culminate with a mainstage performance.
But perhaps the most touching moment of the day was the sheer variety of videos from everyday people around the world who shared their experiences. One could tune at any hour and learn something new about the LGBTQ community in a country they’ve never visited. One could learn about the Pink Dot Pride rally in Singapore, or the Bella Ciao Rainbow choir in Italy, or Trans Pride in Pakistan. One could hear Pakistani trans people speak about how the transgender laws in Pakistan are some of the best in the world, or German people talk about helping their Polish neighbors as they defend themselves from their virulently homophobic government. One could learn about the gay mullah from Iran who was forced to flee the country for performing same-sex weddings.
More than ever before, showing the cumulative experiences of LGBTQ people from around the world, back-to-back-to-back for 26 straight hours, presented our community in a way it has never been seen before. It showed that LGBTQ people are truly everywhere, and it reiterated the point that has been all too present these past few weeks, years, and decades: until all are free to be who they are, the fight for basic human rights cannot stop.
The same day that people celebrated Global Pride, over 30 people were arrested in Moscow, Russia, for supporting an LGBT activist unfairly charged by police. It’s an unfortunate, stark reminder of the work that remains to be done.