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U.Va. community members commemorate Pride Month amidst the pandemic and BLM protests

How the LGBTQ+ community is celebrating and advocating for their mental, emotional and financial well-being during an unprecedented time

Despite the pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community is finding unity through a diversity of programs and projects to express solidarity with the BLM movement while also commemorating Pride.
Despite the pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community is finding unity through a diversity of programs and projects to express solidarity with the BLM movement while also commemorating Pride.

Since the murder of George Floyd by police, racial injustice movements have spread across the country as millions have taken to the streets to protest in support of Black Lives Matter. These movements — in conjunction with the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus — have garnered significant media and community attention around the world. 

Aside from these events, Pride Month — which runs for the month of June — has continued recognizing those who have contributed to welfare of LGBTQ+ individuals. Despite the pandemic, the LGBTQ+ community is finding unity through a diversity of programs and projects to express solidarity with the BLM movement while also commemorating Pride. Although the members of the University’s LGBTQ+ community may be physically distanced from one another, they are still finding virtual ways to uplift one another remotely.

The unjust treatment of Christian Cooper and the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and  Breonna Taylor, among others, sparked global protests to honor those who died at the hands of the police and to demand change in a racist and corrupt system. Although these moments may make it difficult to find a sense of joy and community as we celebrate Pride, it could be uplifting to commemorate the history of how Pride Month began.

Pride Month is an annual reminder of the Stonewall riots in 1969, which came about after a police raid on the New York gay bar Stonewall Inn. These were led by Black transgender women Marsha P. Johnson and Stormé DeLarverie, who are remembered during Pride Month for their courage and contribution in leading the first Pride riot that would substantially change the LGBTQ+ community forever

Tatiyahna Blakely, rising third-year College student and the Queer Student Union’s intersectionality advocacy chair, advocates for the simultaneous push of the Black Lives Matter movement during Pride Month because of the political origins of both movements. 

“Queer rights were born out of the civil rights movement due to early trans and queer Black activists,” Blakely said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Now is a great time to remind ourselves of all the ways that identity politics intersect due to the structures of oppression built into our society.”

As a member of the Black community and LGBTQ+ community, Blakely shares her thoughts on how the BLM movements affected the way she is celebrating Pride Month this year.

“Black joy is an act of protest, and without it our community wouldn’t survive,” Blakely said. “Queer joy is an act of protest, and without it our community wouldn’t survive. I’m trying to let that steadfast belief in the necessity of joy guide how I celebrate Pride this year.”

Blair Smith, a rising fourth-year College student and QSU president, encourages the University to remember and think about the emotions they are feeling during this Pride Month.

“Pride is always a time of profound emotion — joy, celebration and euphoria as well as insecurity, vulnerability, and loneliness,” Smith said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “During this time, I think many people are experiencing the latter feelings very intensely considering the extraordinary challenges that come with isolation, grief and inability to celebrate Pride in conventional ways.”

Considering the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, Smith was reminded of Black queer and transgender individuals — as well as other LGBTQ+ figures — who fought for the justice of all people. This Pride Month, Smith is trying to serve as an active ally to queer and transgender people of color by reading and educating himself on the history of the community’s oppression and their contributions to the cause.

“An important start has been recognizing that Pride began as a riot and progress toward Queer liberation has always been made as a result of resistance,” Smith said. “White LGBTQ+ folx should also recognize the importance of including Black and brown people in the Pride flag.”

As for George Sterling Clay, rising fourth-year Commerce student and Pride at McIntire president, the recent events and protests have allowed him to take the continuous struggle for civil rights and equality into perspective. 

“The Stonewall riots were a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights,” Clay said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Had it not been for the brave individuals who partook in them we might not enjoy the same rights we have today.”

In response, Clay advises the younger LGBTQ+ generation to acknowledge and embrace their predecessors’ courage they had shown when they fought for LGBTQ+ rights, and to channel that vitality in the form of a protest for the justice of those of color.

“Being a part of a community that has been discriminated against for who we are means it is our responsibility to stand up and fight for people in other communities who face injustice, regardless of whether or not we identify as a member of that community,” Clay said.

The QSU has had conversations on how to support those of color at this time and hopes to uplift oppressed LGBTQ+ individuals through various efforts. These efforts include donations to the Blue Ridge Community Bail Fund and spreading awareness of the issues through book clubs and film viewings.  Furthermore, to acknowledge the negligence of transgender people of color by the social structures of the U.S., QSU has written a statement of solidarity that calls on the LGBTQ+ community to stand in solidarity with their Black LGBTQ+ siblings via self-education, financial support and boosting Black voices.

“This year I hope we, collectively, will be able to both celebrate and commemorate LGBTQ+ history, highlighting the through line of world-moving contributions from Black LGBTQ+ folx and queer and trans people of color,” Smith said.

The LGBTQ Center will be sharing Black LGBTQ+ voices and stories on its Facebook and Instagram pages to support and recognize the contributions of people of color who are also a part of the LGBTQ+ community. To uplift LGBTQ+ individuals who fought for transgender and queer liberation, the LGBTQ Center will also be posting about the history of Pride throughout the month.

“Black trans and queer folx have consistently risked their own safety to further LGBTQ+ rights, and their contributions cannot be ignored,” said Alex Winkowski, program coordinator for the LGBTQ Center, in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “Their lives and their legacy matter and our community would not be the same without their sacrifice.”

Especially during this pandemic, financial concerns and the return to unwelcoming and unsafe environments for some LGTBQ+ individuals are pressing issues students encounter outside of school. In response, Winkowski addressed the realities of social distancing and its effects to remind students that there are financial resources and support available if needed. 

“The crisis has posed challenging financial situations for many students and concerns about returning home to unwelcoming [and] unsafe environments,” Winkowski said. “In this era of social distancing, it has been important to provide opportunities to come together and support one another.”

QSU adapted virtual methods to continue their celebration and commemoration of LGBTQ+ individuals months before Pride Month officially began. In April, QSU partnered with Flux Poetry and Spoken Word to host a creative writing workshop for LGBTQ+ members to express their emotions through conversations and writing exercises. QSU also partnered with the National Alliance of Mental Illness to coordinate a mental health training for the wellbeing of queer and transgender individuals in May.

Smith considered these efforts to be integral for LGBTQ+ individuals to promote acceptance during times of oppression. 

“More importantly, we grieved for our LGBTQ+ loved ones who were forced to return to homes where they do not feel affirmed in their gender, romantic and/or sexual identities,” Smith said.

To continue engagement with the community during the summer, QSU is hosting a book club starting from June 5 to shine light on LGBTQ+ individuals through a variety of genres. They are also organizing weekly queer classic movie viewings starting on June 6 in hopes to share the experiences of underrepresented LGBTQ+ individuals as a way to build community while celebrating Pride remotely. Although these events are currently scheduled for June, there is a possibility it will extend into the school year depending on the popularity and ability to obtain funding to remain sustainable. 

Throughout the month of June, QSU will also be accepting submissions from LGBTQ+ students to show their talents to the community. This initiative — known as Project Supercut — will result in a “supercut” video that showcases creative works varying from artwork, short films, musical performances, makeup tutorials, runway walks and works of all kinds from LGBTQ+ students. These submissions will be compiled and shared on June 27 with QSU members and those who submitted their work.

LGBTQ+ students who seek financial support during this pandemic can reach out to the University’s LGBTQ+ alumni network called Serpentine Society. The Serpentine Society has a Student Hardship Fund that students with immediate financial need can access by emailing Serpentine Society Board Chair Brendan Maupin Wynn at brendan@serpentinesociety.org and LGBTQ Center Program Coordinator Alex Winkowski at aw5uq@virginia.edu. 

In addition, there is a COVID-19 LGBTQ+ Emergency Fund that was created by the Charlottesville Pride Community Network for local LGBTQ+ members who were financially affected by the pandemic. To receive financial support to help pay for daily essentials and expenses, individuals need to apply for it.

QSU is also asking for donations to the LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit Youth COVID-19 Relief Fund through their Venmo via @qsu-uva to uplift LGBTQ+ youth who endure adversity in the foster care system, the legal system or due to homelessness.

Although this Pride Month is impacted by social distancing restrictions, Smith encourages everyone to dance with joy and lift the mood and spirits of one another.

“I know this sounds silly and perhaps frivolous given what is currently going on in the world, but I think it is important to seize joy where it can be found in difficult times,” Smith said. “Put on your queerest quarantine garb, listen to a great playlist [like Spotify’s Black, Queer and Proud compilation] and just dance with everything you’ve got.”

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