Coronavirus

Local Organizations Celebrate Pride Amid Pandemic, Protests

Pride celebrations went virtual amid the pandemic

Staff from the Diversity Center Santa Cruz County gather on Zoom as part of Santa Cruz Pride's virtual parade Sunday. PHOTO: COURTESY santacruzpride.org

On the morning of June 28, 1969, a group of police officers raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, New York City. As police dragged patrons and staff out of the bar, residents responded, leading to a week of protests and violent confrontations.

The Stonewall Riots have been credited as the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States. The first Pride was held in 1970 in commemoration of the uprising. Gradually, cities across the U.S. began to hold their own events. 

In 1975, the first-ever Pride was held in Santa Cruz. Organized by Cabrillo College’s Lesbian and Gay Men’s Union, it is the third-oldest such event in California after San Francisco and Los Angeles. Now, 45 years later, thousands of people flock to downtown Santa Cruz for the event every year.

But with the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and subsequent shelter-in-place orders this year, the Santa Cruz Pride organization’s 2020 parade—usually held the first weekend of June—was canceled. However, that did not stop local LGBT+ groups from celebrating. Santa Cruz Pride instead held a virtual parade dubbed “Nothing Can Stop Our Pride.” People submitted photos and videos and tuned in to a large Zoom gathering Sunday.

“It was incredible,” said Sharon Papo, executive director of Diversity Center Santa Cruz County. “It was a powerful gathering of the community, coming together virtually to celebrate Pride and its history.”

The connection between Pride and the Black Lives Matter movement was not lost on participants, as many spoke about the ongoing protests in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

“The Stonewall Riots were led by Black trans women,” Papo said. “They have always been our leaders. Black Lives Matter is not a separate movement because of that. We have to honor that intersection.”

Pajaro Valley Pride President Jorge Guillén had similar thoughts.

“It is so important to understand that Pride began as a riot,” he said It began as queer people fighting against police brutality.”

Pajaro Valley Pride held its first event in 2016. While this year’s gathering has also been canceled due to Covid-19, the organization has been working closely with Santa Cruz Pride, Salinas Valley Pride and Monterey Peninsula Pride to organize a virtual event. Guillén said they hope to hold it in late July or early August. 

“We weren’t really sure anything was going to happen,” he said. “But then Dina [Izzo] from Santa Cruz Pride approached us, and we began a conversation.”

Papo said that the Diversity Center has been making a “big pivot” in the past few months to move all of its support programs online. A big reason for this, she says, is that the LGBT+ community is “disproportionately at risk” from Covid-19.

“We are more likely to have diseases such as cancer, AIDS and respiratory illnesses,” she said. “We’re more likely to live in poverty. Many are essential workers and do not have access to proper healthcare.”

Guillén said that Pajaro Valley Pride is also doing what it can to keep in touch with residents.

“This is a really challenging time,” Guillén said. “On top of Covid, the issue of racism, and everything else going on … it’s overwhelming. I think that’s why it’s important to stay connected [and] support each other. We’ll get through this.”

For information about ongoing events, programs and services that support the local LGBT+ community visit diversitycenter.org and pajarovalleypride.org.

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