Pride Month 2020: Virtual Celebrations to Embody the Transcendent Spirit of Pride
Across the world, the LGBTQIA+ community comes together to celebrate the Pride Month in June every year, with joyous parades, events, and peaceful demonstrations taken out to gain visibility and spread awareness. The Pride Month commemorates the historic 1969 Stonewall Riots — the rebellion against anti-queer policing — which was a turning point in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. Many decades later, today, this has grown into a larger global celebration of the queer community, and the concepts of freedom, inclusion, and diversity, signified by the rainbow symbol which has become synonymous with Pride.
The Pride Month this year looks starkly different from those of previous years. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with human interaction and gatherings restricted in most parts of the world, in-person celebrations are not a viable option for the foreseeable future. With the pandemic scrambling daily life across the globe, Pride Month 2020 has moved online, the implications of which are profound for the queer community. According to the European Pride Organizers Association (EPOA), in the month of May, about 280 Prides globally have been canceled or postponed because of COVID-19. But the spirit of the Pride Month transcends, and the show goes on in a different, unprecedented format this year.
A new format for a new normal
For many years, the LGBTQ+ community has raised awareness through informative offline conversations and discussions held during Pride Month. This year, such events have been moved to online verticals. The online celebrations will aim to virtually reproduce various events including visual arts performances, workshops, and talks. Global Pride 2020, a 24-hour virtual festival set to be held on June 27, is one of the numerous online events being hosted this Pride Month. It will feature musical and artistic performances and addresses from activists and public figures from all over the world in a 24-hour livestream. Local Prides from different parts of the world are to have 15 minutes of their own based on their time zones.
While most members of the community agree that online events cannot completely replace in-person events, there are both upsides as well as downsides to the 2020 Pride Month going online. Suresh Ramdas, Mr. Gay India 2019 and an advocate of LGBTQ+ rights, says, “With the pandemic forcing everyone to rethink their pride activities, I think many online events have done a great job in executing the events in such a short time.”
He says that he is especially looking forward to Global Pride 2020, and adds that the Pride Month going online has given many people including himself “the opportunity to attend some lovely events hosted out of India,” which otherwise would have been difficult to achieve. The online celebrations will also give people living in corners of countries, like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, where LGBTQ+ rights are still denied and criminalised, an opportunity to take part in Pride.
Is the online space safe and inclusive?
Pride events have always been an avenue for persons belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly first-timers, for self-expression and visibility, and more importantly, a space to feel a sense of safety, acceptance, and belongingness. Online forums and other spaces have often been a source of respite for many, by providing them with non-judgemental platforms to come out, express themselves, form connections, and feel accepted. In that sense, it is fitting for the LGBTQ+ community to embrace the online celebrations of this year.
However, with Pride moving online, many members of the community do not feel the same level of comfort and security in being a part of the celebrations. The shortcomings of a virtual setup and more significantly, the unsafe, surveillance-based nature of the online space are discouraging many from taking part in the online Pride celebrations. The internet is ridden with homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, and highly prone to the risk of trolling, though some event organisers have mentioned that comments during livestreams will be moderated to keep out trolls and other hateful content.
The security concerns associated with using online platforms have always been ubiquitous, but they have seen a resurgence during the pandemic. Chennai-based LGBTQ+ activist Delfina, who identifies as non-binary, points out that if the community is going to be doing a lot of work online, there is an urgent need to ensure that safe and secure platforms are being used. Referring to the numerous reports of “Zoombombing” — trolling and graphic content crashing video calls on the Zoom app — surfacing recently, Delfina adds, “Just as we will not meet in physical spaces that are unsafe or have hidden cameras or design features that make people feel uncomfortable, we cannot accept using a closed source software from an untrustworthy brand as the solution of choice for online communication, especially when it includes meaningful personal sharing.”
India’s inaccessible digital Pride
Pride Month 2020 is taking place amidst worldwide unease and tragedy, and organisers of online Pride events are careful in addressing this while trying to carry on celebrations online. The LGBTQ+ community cheers for the effort being taken and for the extensive reach that an online Pride will have. But, being a vulnerable community, these people have been one of the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequent lockdowns and economic distress. With the already sparse income coming to an abrupt halt, the community has been left devastated in many parts of the world, steeped in poverty and stigma.
Indian Pride is going digital this year too, with virtual events being organised with zest across various Indian cities. But the reach of these celebrations remains restricted to the same big cities, as internet accessibility still remains a distant dream in most rural areas. Malini Das, India’s first transwoman engineer and LGBTQ+ activist based in Jaipur, says that the online Pride events will barely reach anybody at the grassroots. She opines that with the distress caused by the pandemic and LGBTQ+ rights still to come a long way in most Indian villages, adequate funding, support, and spread of awareness with the help of organisations like NACO — National AIDS Control Organisation — at the grassroots level is the need of the hour. While she agrees that online awareness could contribute to progress within certain socioeconomic strata, “Change needs to come at the grassroots in India, and that is what is most effective in the collective progress of the community,” adds Malini.
While corporates continue to virtue-signal their support for the LGBTQ+ community through month-long rainbow-coloured symbols and token sponsorships, many, many individuals of the community are struggling for jobs and funds without any kind of support. With the havoc wreaked by COVID-19, things have only gotten worse for the larger, underprivileged section of the Indian LGBTQ+ community who still live bearing the brunt of stigma and discrimination. With a digital Indian Pride Month 2020 being carried out with fervour, let us hope that these lesser-heard voices of the majority of Indian LGBTQ+ people reach platforms that address their issues and hardships — devoid of the bright hues of the rainbow — in the true, inclusive spirit of Pride.
(As published in The Political Edge)