Where Pride Goes From Here, In The Words Of Experts, Allies And Activists
Top row, from left: Mr Jonny Cota. Photograph by Ms Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Mr James Whiteside. Photograph by Ms Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for Hamptons Dance Project. Mr Alex Newell. Photograph by Ms Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for SCAD aTVfest 2020. Leland. Photography by Ms Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images. Mr Antoni Porowski. Photograph by Mr Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images. Bottom row, from left: Mr Zeke Smith. Photograph by Ms Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images. Shamir. Photograph by Mr Lev Radin/Pacific Press via ZUMA Press. Mr Russell Tovey. Photograph by Mr Gary Mitchell/Landmark Media. Ms Jaida Essence Hall. Photograph by Mr Ethan Miller/Getty Images. Mx Theo Germaine. Photograph by Shutterstock
In 2019, in honour of the 50th anniversary of the historic Stonewall riots, New York City hosted a historically massive Global Pride celebration. 150,000 parade participants (double the usual number) flooded the streets while a record 2.5 million revellers from all over the world lined the sidewalks. But this year – well, 2020 has been unusual. Along with the rest of the world, members of the LGBTQIA+ community face a very different set of circumstances, and traditional rainbow festivities have been shelved as we reckon with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. June used to be synonymous with Pride parades and celebrations; now, the global queer community is acutely feeling the absence of such moments to unite in person.
Not only are bars closed and parades cancelled, but queer performers, activists, allies and organisations alike are scrambling without the influx of funds Pride season typically provides. And as protesters around the world demand justice for black and brown victims of violence and police brutality, many members of the queer community are, at long-last, reckoning with our complacency and complicity. After all, Pride is a celebration that was fought for by the black and brown trans trailblazers who stood up against inequality and demanded their own justice more than 50 years ago.
To recapture some queer solidarity in the absence of in-person Pride, and to attempt to piece together where Pride goes post-coronavirus, this year, MR PORTER assembled a virtual roundtable of LGBTQIA+ singers, actors, drag queens, ballet dancers and more to discuss socially distant celebrations, the lessons we can learn from the Black Lives Matter protests and the queer history we must continue to carry with us.
Leland (songwriter, singer)
I grew up in a really conservative home in south Mississippi, so I didn’t know that Pride existed until moving to LA after college. Pride to me was, “Let’s get blackout.” But marching in the [recent] Black Lives Matter march on Hollywood Boulevard is what I feel like Pride should be. We can party whenever we want. But that felt like, “This is purposeful. We are honouring the people who came before us, which is why we are able to do this.” So now Pride means to me: remembrance and shining a spotlight on the work that still has to be done.
I didn’t go to my first Pride until 2016. I was performing – I was almost forced to have that celebration. Not to say that I ever denied my queerness, but it’s hard to celebrate when I felt like there were other things that I could do to improve. I was like, “There’s still so much to fight for, why are we dancing?” But it’s important to take a moment and celebrate being alive, because, especially as a black queer person, being alive is a feat within itself.
Mr Zeke Smith (Survivor contestant; writer, speaker)
I was in high school, doing my college tour of the East Coast with my mum. We happened to be in New York on the Sunday of Pride. I watched Queer As Folk and The L Word, and I’d always just wanted to go to Pride. I remember being so happy and so seen – all this tension and fear I carried with me eroded.
Mr James Whiteside (principal dancer, American Ballet Theatre)
Pride is usually my most performance-packed time of the year. Last year, after a performance of Le Corsaire, which is a beautiful but outrageously heteronormative ballet, ABT permitted the company to come out waving Pride flags. I took my bow and waved an enormous Pride flag around while the audience went nuts.
Mr Jonny Cota (designer, winner of Making The Cut season one)
The queer community has a certain amount of practice in finding community when there’s not necessarily physical spaces to do so – even underground gay bars, which is how gay culture was created. It’s almost embedded in us. I’m not saying this is a glorious moment for anyone – but LGBTQIA+ people are well prepared to weather the storm and still find moments to celebrate.
This Pride is a good time more than ever for queer people to look inward. All queer people have a lot of trauma tied to our queerness. We can use this time to look within that trauma as safely as we can. Use this time to heal. In the moment, it hurts, but anyone that’s been to therapy knows that the effects afterwards are so much better. I hope it’s how America comes out of this year, too.
Mr Theo Germaine (actor, The Politician)
This is my Pride: trying to help other people like me understand things that we maybe have not understood yet, or ways that we have refused to let go of our complicity or not knowing how we’ve been complicit. I don’t think that there should be Pride if we aren’t doing that.
Something that’s worked well for me is asking myself what I want from Pride. What do I want to say? What more could I be doing? What are the hard questions that need to be asked? I think Pride is a great time to reset your brain, in a New Year’s resolution-style process. What can I do better? What can I change?
Mr Russell Tovey (actor)
No. I think 2020 has been the strangest year in all of our lives. It feels like all the fights are slightly blurring now and now Pride is happening alongside Black Lives Matter. Everyone’s trying to educate themselves on their histories. And why can we not just have this common denominator for the greater good? Why can’t we share the same fight? We can’t go back to superfluous celebration, because what is there to celebrate right now?
Ms Jaida Essence Hall (drag queen, winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12)
This is the year that if you are not protesting, you’re really not celebrating the spirit of Pride. The same goes for the year marriage equality passed. You have to be speaking up, or you’re not getting it. At the end of the day, in order for us to celebrate Pride the way that we should, we need to be using our voices to stand up against injustices for everyone.
Right now, Pride is about education – learning who did what so that we are able to have these opportunities. Even though I came from a really conservative home, I now find myself in a position of privilege. It is my job to not only educate myself but do everything I can so that people of colour and trans people have the same opportunities and the same ability to not only survive but chase their dreams.
Mr Alex Newell (singer, actor)
You can protest sitting on your couch, including – especially with the Black Lives Matter movement – buying and using black businesses, and shopping there. That’s a protest in itself. Dragging racists on Twitter? That’s a protest in and of itself! There are so many ways of protesting; educating yourself is also a great protest against.
Mr Antoni Porowski (food and wine expert, Queer Eye)
There’s so much we’re learning about systemic racism that’s affected this country for more than 400 years. There’s no way we can detach. Now’s not the time – it’s just way too serious. None of the officers involved in Breonna Taylor’s death have been arrested yet. Literally millions of people have had signs up with her name on them, demanding justice, and that hasn’t been answered. If anybody feels like now isn’t the time, you just need to suck it up and figure out how to be an ally. It’s not the time to be complacent.
The concept of Pride can’t exist without its roots in people fighting. In the 1960s, there were no safe spaces for anybody who was gay or trans or in drag to just go and be themselves. Certain places that said, “It’s safe to come and do that here” were raided by police, violently. Then during the Stonewall riots, people were like, “Fuck this, we’re gonna fight back.” I hope that this year helps more people understand that Pride’s origins are so black. And they’re so trans. And they’re so lesbian.
What I challenge myself to do when I think of Pride and protest is force myself out of my comfort zone. Being an active person in society means you are protesting at all times. This is not news, but I think the internet has sped up the ability to organise the hive mind in a beautiful way. We should always be protesting things we disagree with.
This year, we’re gonna go back to Pride’s roots. It’s an overall awakening. It’s forcing a lot of white people to realise how much Black American pain has seeped into the cracks of this country’s foundation. We all know about Marsha [P Johnson]; the fact that she was a black trans woman should not have been lost on anyone. Last year, seeing Pride through the lens of late-stage capitalism felt like a bit of erasure and retelling of history. We’re gonna let the kids really know what’s happening.
Pride has come to celebrate the people who have the money to put it on, and not so much the people who started it. I think this needs to be part of Pride every year. Yes, we have corporations raining condoms down the avenues, but there also should be a political part of Pride that centres black and brown trans people, and other groups who remain marginalised. We need to have the serious solidarity moment, and then we need to drink vodka sodas.
Keep doing what we’re doing. I literally called out half the Broadway community yesterday. I was like, “If your profile is going back to normal right now, you’re fake. You’re part of the problem!” If it’s a hot topic, you want to talk about it. But if it’s not, you don’t want to talk about it anymore. You have to keep doing the work.
Ms Essence Hall
It’s like when you brush your teeth: you get the main spots, but also there’s all those little spaces you need to pay more attention to that you might not have thought about. Those places need to be reached, too. You can’t sit here like, “I’m proud and love my community,” and not think about trans or Latino people or black people in the community – and vice versa! One issue that affects one of us affects us all.
The focus this year is to remember the importance of diversity and not lose track of that. Last year, all these brands started saying, “We’re gonna put a rainbow flag on our beer” – when they have no history of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. On the one hand, they should be more proactive and ensure equality in the workplace. But at the same time, visibility is visibility and it’s still incredibly powerful. If you have a very conservative dad who’s drinking his beer and sees a rainbow flag attached, that may help normalise it.
If you want black friends, you have to cultivate the relationship. If you don’t water a plant, it’s gonna die. You can sit stagnant in your own ignorance and be perfectly fine with that. But there are so many books. And Google is a thing. Ask Jeeves is still a thing. Bing might still be a thing. You have the tools. If you don’t want to, the library is still open. It is a government-funded building. If you can see a cold sore on your mouth and type into WebMD, you can definitely type in “white fragility”.
If you are a white person, you have to accept that most of us start from a place that’s performative because of how white supremacy works. We have been conditioned to not comprehend how complicit we are. It’s not about doing a fuck-load of things in one month and then being like, “Whew! I can go back to normal now.” We live in a society that was founded on slaughter and enslavement and genocide. It’s not going to be fixed in a month. We need to be committing ourselves for the long run to being agents of change; and spreading the words of people who have historically and institutionally been hurt over and over again.
So many brands immediately turned their messaging to Black Lives Matter. But if you go through their grids on Instagram and they’ve never posted a black model, it does feel performative and cheap. Do I think that they shouldn’t have posted about Black Lives Matter? No. But I feel like this moment right now is gonna teach everybody a lesson about performative activism. It’s going to be seen in the receipts. It’s going to be seen in how brands move forward; how they constantly represent diversity in their imagery, their messaging and who they’re amplifying.
Before you do anything, ask yourself: who is this for? Is this helping anyone but myself? It’s very simple to see if it’s for optics or not. I understand that white people are going through it. I understand that it’s hard to start these conversations. Black people are sympathetic to that. But use all of those years of privilege that got you all those years of education to think for a second.
Ms Essence Hall
I think we have to continue to think about the ways in which we communicate with people of colour, and among people of colour. We have to make sure we understand and are there for each other. That’s the best way to make sure that it’s not performative. It’s a tough line, though. Some people show support in the best way that they can. It’s not about showing support in the way that everybody else is doing it. You can still speak up with the people in your life to say, “This is not right.” You can still use your social media platform, especially if you have a large reach. You can even donate money and support causes. Put your money and your actions where your mouth is!
I’ve always been vocal. But I’ve not been vocal enough. I feel like we have been asked to come to the table even more so than before. That felt like an invitation I wholeheartedly wanted to accept. You can be anti-racist personally, but you have to be vocally anti-racist. You have to let people know. You have to have these conversations. Let’s do as much as we can. Be on the right side of history.
We have to reach out to the people who don’t necessarily agree. Instagram and Twitter are relatively safe spaces where everyone is gonna agree with me. Facebook, on the other hand, is where I’m still friends with people I grew up with. All of my family, including my grandparents, are on Facebook. That’s the more controversial place for me to post things. That to me feels like these things are being put in front of people who it will change from the inside out.
I would encourage people to ask themselves: why is this actually important? Get curious and ask yourself questions. Check your intentions. If you’re posting something out of white shame, question why you have that and how you’ve been complicit. Once you have that, it can be triggering to a lot of people – people don’t know what to do with conflict, but I’d encourage people to lean in. The only way is through.
We have to find this balance of celebrating our community – the art, the creatives, the music – while also recognising the work that still needs to be done. If that intersection can happen and feels authentic and doesn’t feel like it’s this corporate money grab? Then I think it’s appropriate. This is the year where people need to be doing their research.
I always say: support your local drag queens and tip your bartenders. RuPaul’s Drag Race has done such amazing things that we’ve started to forget our local drag queens, drag kings and entertainers. That’s not good. If you can, tip them now – CashApp, Venmo, PayPal, Chase QuickPay, Apple Pay, I don’t know if Samsung has a “Pay” but… pay!
I’ve been trying to raise a lot of money for The Okra Project, an organisation out of New York City that [supports] mostly black and brown trans folks. I’ve raised almost $1,000 off of selling my signed JK Rowling copy of the seventh Harry Potter book. What was the money that I would have spent at Pride? What’s the ticket to the drag show that I would’ve purchased? What’s the money I would’ve tipped my bartenders and my drag queens? What’s the silly little shirt I would have bought at a booth?” I still pay all those people. It’s about thinking strategically about your money and where you can spend it in a way that gets it back to the people who you would’ve paid in the first place.
There’s been a lot of online drag shows where you can make contributions – I’ve seen a few of them, especially with our RuPaul’s Drag Race UK drag queens like Cheryl Hole and Baga Chipz. And Zooms and IG Lives have been incredible. I did one where I offered to send people rainbow drawings if they donated £10 to the cause of my choice. We got 800 quid for Magic Brekkie, an organisation that gives food to school kids from low-income families. It’s fun!
Gay Pride and celebration and activism can’t be contained to a month, just like black history can’t be contained to a month. So many people in the queer community do make their income in June. Well, so much of the not queer community make their income off of gay people in June. Then they move on to their other things. This is an interesting example for queer people to look at and be like, “OK! We can’t rely on June!”
Who the people are who’ve fought the hardest and gained the least? Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson are credited with starting the insurrection at Stonewall, but if you look at videos of Marsha and Sylvia giving speeches, they were booed. These women were not accepted, even though they had done the bulk of the work. That quickly, Pride had been co-opted by white cisgender gay men. If we do the work and understand where we come from; that would evolve equality and inclusion much faster.
Ms Essence Hall
Pride is not a place. It’s not a time. Pride is something we carry around with us. This year, there will be no festivals. There will be no grounds to go and perform at. But we are still showing how proud we are of who we are. We’re still fighting – not necessarily the exact same fight, but we’re fighting. We just have to remember that Pride is in our hearts. Every Pride going forward, if we carry the same energy, even when there are festivals, it’ll make things 10 times better.
We need to totally rethink how celebrating is done, because I have friends who will never be able to go to a Pride parade or an event because of inaccessibility. That’s not Pride. That’s making it for only a certain type of person to be able to party. I think that we should refuse to do events unless they’re actually making space for more than one kind of person. Virtual celebrations are great starts – those are things that should be permanent.
I want to have people over, light a bunch of candles, talk about LGBTQIA+ history, do some readings and do something more educational. Let’s have a weekend to honour what Pride is, and the following day we can go out to walk the streets freely and be joyous. We can have both. There are atrocities going on that have necessitated such a shift. I hope we can take elements of the previous years and turn them into a more diverse Pride.
You have to look around and go, “OK, maybe we can go out and have a party, but what about that community over there? How can we lend ourselves to them and make right the wrongs that’ve happened there?” Knowing your history means you won’t make the mistakes of the past.
Keep the history and roots alive. We are having a second Civil Rights Movement, which is insane. That should’ve ended with Martin Luther King Jr – but it hasn’t. And realistically all black people knew. We’re tired. I’ve been marching since 2014. We can’t forgive and forget. We have to forgive, but we have to remember.