Photo by Drew Simpson, Production Editor and Andrew Mrozowski, Managing Editor

Concerts, festivals and conventions are amongst a list of social gatherings currently cancelled by cities across Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At present, both Pride Hamilton and Pride Toronto are two organizations who have seen many changes to their annual pride festivities due to the new limitations.

While pride festivities in Hamilton have taken different forms over the last 29 years, this incarnation has been incorporated since November 2018. Their first festival took place in June 2019 with Pride in the Park; however, it was interrupted by a hateful protest, causing tensions between the queer community and the city of Hamilton to rise.

“We had planned for the biggest, boldest pride ever in 2020, especially to what happened in 2019 with the violence at Pride. We wanted to make sure that 2020 was a place that was more inclusive and that everybody was able to come out and celebrate at Gage Park,” said Cameron Kroetsch, a member of the Hamilton Pride Board of Directors who has been involved since 2018.

After the pandemic hit, Pride Hamilton did not know whether or not they had the capacity to run any events this year due to the ever changing nature of the virus. After both internal deliberation and community consolation, the organization explored the virtual realm of possibilities. A month before the initial festival weekend, Pride Hamilton announced Digital Pride, a three hour live-streamed event featuring performances, kids programming and political activism.

“The big thing for us is that [Pride is] really a physical thing. It’s about hugs, it’s about flags, it’s about watching people, it’s about singing, it’s about celebrating and a lot of that happens in person. So with a pandemic, it’s very, very different,” said Kroetsch.

Although a few technical glitches occurred, Pride Hamilton’s Digital Pride ran smoothly and was well received by the city’s queer community. Kroetsch did see some merits in a virtual festival this year.

“Safety is one of the things that immediately stands out as something that’s a little easier to handle, but I wouldn’t say that’s necessarily true. [Online platforms] are new kinds of celebratory spaces . . . no one has the tools to properly make sure that those are safe. That’s why we’re working with an outside company to help us fit [and] moderate this. It does mean that people can’t physically show up though and create the kinds of physical violence we saw last year and that’s one thing that has been better. It also meant that it’s given our organization the space and the time to allow conversations to happen about defunding police,” said Kroetsch.

Pride Hamilton has been very vocal on their social media about their support for the Black Lives Matter movement and for the Indigenous peoples within Hamilton. In a statement released on June 1, the first day of Pride month, the organization touched on three key ideals: sustainability through active listening and community engagement, ensuring there are safe spaces within the city and building trust. Kroestch elaborated on these topics.

“We can’t represent every person in Two Spirit or LGBTQIA+ communities and we don’t want to, but for people who find a home in the idea of Pride, who think it’s something to be involved in, we want to make space for there to be a celebration, but for it to always be political.”

While Pride Hamilton’s annual Pride Month festivities have come to a close, a recent collaboration with Pride Toronto has ensured a little bit of Steel Town is being represented at a larger scale. Two Hamilton-based drag performers, Karma Kameleon and Freddie Khalo took the virtual stage in this union of prides.

“We’re stronger together. We all face issues of homophobia, transphobia, erasure of identity, racism, systemic violence etc. Our community is stronger and more resilient when we come together to be seen, heard and understood. It is important to create a network to continue the Pride Movement, as there is so much progress to be made,” said Bobby MacPherson, Director of Operations for Pride Toronto.

“We’re stronger together. We all face issues of homophobia, transphobia, erasure of identity, racism, systemic violence etc. Our community is stronger and more resilient when we come together to be seen, heard and understood. It is important to create a network to continue the Pride Movement, as there is so much progress to be made,” said Bobby MacPherson, Director of Operations for Pride Toronto.

“Blood donation is still not even allowed in Canada, [you] have to be abstinent for [three] months and [there’s] no scientific evidence to support this discrimination. Trans people do not have the same access to health care. Queer and trans black folxs cannot even walk the streets safely without suffering police brutality. Bi+ invisibility, 2S lack of representation . . . it is endless. Queer people may be tolerated in today’s society, but we are far from being accepted,” they said.

We live in a time that feels like things are moving a million miles a minute, yet we’re not seeing change. COVID-19 and its impact has been felt by those across McMaster campus to across the world, especially for those who might not be in safe spaces. Both Kroestch and MacPherson hope that their organization’s respective virtual Pride celebrations will provide some optimism during these dark days.

“We get that it’s difficult and that nothing we can say is going to solve people’s individual problems or provide hope for people’s individual lived experiences. But we do hope that Digital Pride is one bright light in people’s otherwise digital world . . . that’s why we’re doing this because we want to make sure that we’re claiming some space for celebration even if we can’t do what we really want to do, which is get outside, dance and celebrate,” said Kroetsch.

“It’s important to celebrate Pride month during the pandemic because our fight for existence is far from over. We must say resilient, we must continue to support each other and must do what we can to keep the injustices of Queer known,” said MacPherson.

A recording of Pride Hamilton’s Digital Pride can be viewed on their Facebook and YouTube. Pride Toronto’s Virtual Pride concludes the weekend of June 26 and can be streamed live from their website.

 

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