Pride in the time of COVID-19

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Cathy Renna of Montclair New Jersey
Cathy Renna of Montclair New Jersey

The word “unprecedented” is being used a lot. And it should be

When 9/11 happened, I was working at glaad and vividly remember wondering in the aftermath when our work would be relevant again. It was, almost immediately. Whether telling the stories of LGBT heroes like Father Mykal Judge and Mark Bingham or exposing the challenges of same-sex partners who lost a loved one and had no legal recognition as family, our work was clearly relevant.

COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ+ population

I did not hesitate this time when the COVID-19 pandemic loomed. I knew there would be immeasurable ramifications for LGBTQ organizations and issues, from the obvious to the more subtle.

The truth is we are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, as was made clear early on by the National LGBT Cancer Network. Especially in LGBTQ media but also mainstream media, the open letter signed by well over 100 national and local organizations outlined how COVID-19 may pose an increased risk to the LGBTQ+ population and laid out specific steps to minimize any disparity. It was an educational eye-opener for all of us. So many who fought in the trenches of the early years of the AIDS pandemic gave voice to what was similar—and what was not—to better inform the coverage of COVID-19 as it dominated the media.

And it was critical to help the media understand that many of our organizations need to continue not simply despite of, but because of the pandemic. From the Ali Forney Center working their best to provide for homeless LGBTQ youth to SAGE revamping their SAGE Connect program to be there for elders in isolation to a shift in focus and resources by the National LGBTQ Task Force’s high stakes “Queer the Census” campaign, we all pivoted and came up with creative solutions to continue to serve, advocate and give voice to the LGBTQ community.

On the positive side, take Pride, for example. June is a month where LGBTQ people and issues dominate our time, resources and often the news cycle. Having worked with many Pride organizations and last year on WorldPride/Stonewall50, I immediately started thinking not only about the impact of what could happen in this surreal, frightening and isolating world we all now find ourselves. And I was not alone.

Interpride (a client), along with all the other major regional Pride organizations in the U.S., Europe and Asia, announced a virtual Global Pride 2020. Now in the planning stages, many of the hundreds of now postponed or cancelled Prides will participate, in a demonstration of the extraordinary resilience of our community and recognition that Pride, at its core, is about showing every member of the LGBTQ community that they are not alone. We may well be isolated this year, but we definitely not alone. Practically speaking, this can also be done in a climate where many traditional partners and sponsors are in no position to support our organizations as much as usual. We can engage them in creative ways for this online, virtual Pride. WorldPride, indeed.

I take great comfort in knowing that I am part of a community that has fought through another pandemic where government response lagged and brave individuals and groups confronted the status quo, from the White House to the pharmaceutical industry. We have a lot to teach the rest of the world and whether it is through advocacy, modeling community via social media or education through earned media, we should all be mindful that the LGBTQ community and the issues we care about are not only relevant, but integral, in this new paradigm we find ourselves navigating.