Jamie Park fondly remembers the sense of belonging she felt attending her first Pride event in Chicago in 2016.
“I just fell in love with the culture and the vibe that they brought and just how everyone felt so free and liberated to be themselves and be proud of who they were,” she said. “I identify as pansexual, so I think it was just a way for me to kind of see my own community.”
Like so many LGBTQ Americans, the high school adviser from Lansing, Michigan, missed celebrating Pride Month in person amid the COVID-19 pandemic and looks forward to attending this year's festivities as more people get vaccinated and travel ramps back up.
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"This year, I am going to New York City Pride, which has been a dream for a while,” Park said, knowing that NYC Pride will look different, with a hybrid of in-person and online offerings. “I've never actually been to the whole shebang. Like I don't really know what I'll be missing, so I'll just go. I know I'm gonna have fun regardless.”
LGBTQ travelers ready to hit the road
A survey of about 6,300 LGBTQ travelers around the world found that 73% planned to take their next major vacation by the end of this year, and 43% said they were either likely or very likely to attend a Pride event.
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“In the big cities like Atlanta, you draw a lot of people from smaller towns in the Southeast, where they may not have Pride events or maybe they're not out at work or with their family," said John Tanzella, president and CEO of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, which conducted the survey. "So it's sort of an escape to go into a bigger city like a D.C. or Atlanta, where you can kind of be yourself, amongst other people that are like yourself.”
Tanzella said LGBTQ travelers from larger cities also attend events in smaller towns for a variety of reasons, ranging from small-town charm to supporting the local LGBTQ community and calling for policy changes and protections.
"It can be more of a political statement," he said.
Activism is at the heart of Pride
"Black and brown trans women started this Pride rebellion that led to everything that we have now," said Lilianna Angel Reyes, executive director of the Detroit-based Trans Sistas of Color Project. "Unless folks are focusing and pushing services with, not for, trans women of color, then the work is happening void of them."
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In the U.S., nearly 50% of Latino and Latina transgender adults, nearly 40% of Black transgender adults and 35% of Asian American and Pacific Islander transgender adults live in poverty, according to a study by the UCLA law school think tank The Williams Institute.
At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Trans Sistas of Color Project delivered care packages to transgender women of color around the Detroit area and sent financial support outside the region. For Pride Month, Reyes said they added rainbow or pink slippers, colorful shirts and other bright things to the packages, but "we didn't really get to celebrate Pride."
Reyes said she had been "nervous about COVID," even though she's used to living in fear. “Trans women, especially trans women of color, often live at a level of fear that is nauseatingly normal. You think, ‘Oh my God, this is a virus gonna kill people.’ I could be killed going in a gas station, simply for being me.”
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She said she had a difficult time with everything just being virtual.
“I’m really excited for this summer and to see my people again,” Reyes said.
She plans to both travel and attend events closer to home, like the Hotter than July Black Pride celebration and Motor City Pride in September, as well as events with Detroit’s ballroom community of drag queens of color.
COVID-19 concerns remain
Many Pride celebrations around the country will remain online-only this Pride Month, like Boston Pride and Seattle Pride. Others like NYC Pride and LA Pride will include a mix of online and in-person gatherings.
Before the pandemic, Seattle-area writer Ross Showalter would “typically go to the city parade” or grab drinks with friends.
This year, he said, “I might see a couple of friends and celebrate our queerness in a small gathering, but I won’t be going to any public events or restaurants.”
“Because there’s been so much news coverage and footage devoted to people who refuse to mask up or refuse to get vaccinated despite the numbers, it’s made me wary of people in general,” Showalter said. “I know my friends and their beliefs, but I don’t know a stranger’s beliefs and if they have empathy for someone who might be immunocompromised. I can’t trust strangers to care about those most vulnerable. Plus, I live with immunocompromised people, and I don’t want to bring COVID home to them.”
Just over 50% of the U.S. population had gotten at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine by early June, according to CDC data. And though the vaccine has been proven to protect recipients from COVID-19, it’s not yet clear whether it prevents recipients from spreading the disease to others.
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“I think being comfortable venturing out will come with time,” Showalter said, noting that he had taken his first trip out of state in more than a year just weeks earlier. “While I was in Portland, I kept my meetings to only friends I knew were vaccinated and taking precautions – which wasn’t a lot of people. I’m planning on visiting my sister on the East Coast this August, and I’ll probably be exercising that same caution then.”
A year-long celebration of Pride
Jamie Park usually tries to attend Pride events every weekend in June.
"I've been looking around for other events, but it is kind of few and far between because of the wacky year," she said.
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Some celebrations are regularly scheduled outside Pride Month, like Atlanta Pride, which is near National Coming Out Day in October. Other gatherings have been postponed, like Miami Beach Pride, which is usually in April but will now be in September, and Chicago Pride Fest and Parade, usually in June but now set for October. Chicago's Pride in the Park music festival is still on for June.
Park is actually moving to Chicago for grad school and expects to attend the city's Pride festivities in the fall.
“I'm excited to make Pride just last all year,” she said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pride 2021 events across US will look different as travel returns